Close

In the bag: How Wellington designer Bridget Scanlan's KYT bags are making life more fashionable for people with diabetes

Wellington-based designer Bridget Scanlan has created a line of leather bags for people with diabetes to carry around the things they need in - proving that fashion can, indeed, also serve an important function.

It’s a fact many people with diabetes – or people who know folks with diabetes – know firsthand: carrying around the things you need is a major inconvenience. And here’s the other thing: for a lot of folks, chucking your supplies in a bag or purse with everything else in there is just asking for trouble, or at least painfully long fishing expeditions while everyone in the queue behind you gets antsy.

But guess what: Wellington fashion designer Bridget Scanlan is pioneering a new fashion genre: transforming everyday medical necessities into style-savvy items that unite fashion with function.

Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes seven years ago, Scanlan knows intimately the hassle of having to take a trove of medical equipment with you wherever you go. It’s essential, it’s life-saving, but it’s certainly not elegant. “There’s a lot of stuff you have to carry,” she says. “There’s a lot about diabetes that’s pretty un-glamourous.”

That’s one reason why Scanlan created KYT designer bags. KYT – short for “Keeping You Together,” and pronounced as “kit” – unites fashion with function. At first glance, what appears to be a contemporary black leather bag reveals an interior purpose-built to fit the unique needs of diabetes – making life, and daily care, easier.

A cross-body black leather evening bag – finished with brass hardware – that can also be used for work or people on the go, the idea is it can carry all the essentials while still looking stylish. “The inside of bags can get chaotic,” explains Scanlan. To help fix this, the bag has two pouches – a front pouch for “life stuff,” and a back pouch for the things a person with diabetes might need.

Based in Wellington’s Creative HQ, Scanlan has a background in fashion. Having studied at the New Zealand Institute of Fashion Technology (NZ Fashion Tech) in the capital, she took part in Project Fashion Wellington last year, creating a series of different bags for it. “I’ve always been a handbag lover,” she explains.

An estimated 42 million people around the world have Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes, including tens of thousands of New Zealanders.

Scanlan says the bags will soft launch online on May 21. A first run of 50 bags will be available, with delivery expected in late June – and with free worldwide shipping.

The bags are produced in collaboration with New Zealand company Duffle & Co, which supports an ethical and transparent workroom of leather artisans in Bali. The bag will retail for $345.

So far, reception has been overwhelmingly positive, says Scanlan, mentioning a woman who said she’d been waiting 50 years for a bag like this.. “It’s been really positive, which I’m quite grateful for. When it’s something so personal, a lot of your soul goes into it.”

So what comes next? Scanlan says she hopes to design more colours and styles, and possibly products for men and male-identifying people, too. She says she’d also consider making bags for other conditions, such as cancer kits and people who have allergies and need to carry EpiPens with them.

And along her journey so far, Scanlan naturally has some advice – for entrepreneurs, designers, and life in general. “Keep going,” she says.

And anything else? “Put customers first.”

It comes without saying that’s exactly what she’s doing with her bags.

Check out the bags here.

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription, an Idealog t-shirt and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).