Many companies have social objectives, but then there are those businesses that make it their mission to change the world for the better - it's central to what they do. Known as social enterprises, these companies pursue a broader purpose, rather than just profits, so the business becomes a force for good.
UCQC is one such company. The Slovenian-Croatian start-up designs and manufactures functional, trendy and affordable fashion for wheelchair users.
Business Planet spoke to the firm's Croatian co-founder Maja Simunovic.
What was the inspiration behind the business?
"I've been working in the fashion industry for about 15 years and have participated in a number of challenging projects. One of those was a collaboration with experienced product designer Hedvig Af Ekenstam to create clothes for people with disabilities. This project inspired me to do more research on the subject. We realised that in terms of what the market has to offer, there are either functional clothes that don't exactly allow you to express individuality, or fashionable clothing that isn't a good solution in terms of functionality and what a wheelchair user needs. By listening closely to our users we believe we can fill a gap in the market, combining fashion and function."
What's is UCQC's vision?
"UCQC would like to create a community where our customers become involved in the creation process, expressing their needs, wishes, and to give us feedback on our work. Together we want to create fashionable garments that our users enjoy wearing because of its functional design which facilitates their lives."
How did your collaboration come about?
"I was very lucky to meet Hedvig at the Design (Dis) ability workshop in Ljubljana, Slovenia. There we worked on a jacket for a young woman called Katarina who became tetraplegic after a car accident. Her wish was to be able to put on and to take off a jacket without any help from other people. Working closely with Katarina we managed to make a prototype of the jacket that solved many of the challenges she faced and by the end Katarina could put on and take off the jacket herself. Hedvig and I continued to collaborate and the opportunity to apply for the Worth Partnership Project appeared."
What support have you received from the Worth Partnership Project?
"We are happy Worth recognised our project and supported us through a mentoring programme, webinars and lectures in business strategy and business models, entrepreneurship, value innovation, marketing, branding and communication. We have participated in two International design events, Fuorisalone ( online version of Milan Design Week) and Dutch design week - also an online version. In addition, we have received financial support from Worth."
How important was this support?
"Thanks to the Worth Partnership Project we learned a lot in terms of business, we produced a new set of prototypes, jackets, jeans and t-shirts, we tested them on our users and we built our website www.ucqcinclusive.com Worth provides designers with an excellent opportunity to bring out a product/prototype from the idea stage; to showcase it to the wider audience and to create an international network. I would encourage all creatives keeping ideas in drawers, to take them out and apply to the Worth Partnership Project."
What are your plans for the future?
"Our users are our inspiration - their strength and the struggle they face each day. We plan to translate what they've told us into fashionable and functional clothing items that will give them both self-confidence and independence."