Plugging a gap in the incontinence swimwear market
After successfully selling incontinence swimwear through her company Incy Wincy for 14 years, founder Daksha Mistry decided to take the plunge and begin manufacturing her own range after discovering a gap in the market. Launching the Kes-Vir range in 2010, she has now secured an order with catalogue distributor JD Williams. Daksha discussed with THIIS about working with the direct home shopping company, ambitions for her brand and the changing views on incontinence.
Can you tell me more about the Kes-vir range? What inspired you to start your own range of incontinence swimwear?
Originally, I started my company, Incy Wincy Swimstore, in 1996, selling baby swim nappies and from 2001, sold other companies’ incontinence swimwear. It started from there. After selling incontinence products for a number of years, I noticed a gap in the market for adjustable incontinence swimwear and started doing research in 2009.
It came about from customers requesting to have their swimsuits altered because sometimes the items weren’t the correct fit, commonly in the leg and waist region.
So, I started looking into creating my own range, something that was adjustable in the waist and leg area, and launched the Kes-Vir range. My goal was to create something that was more fashionable, colourful and fitted more into the mainstream.
At the time most of the products available on the market were very clinical, dull and really quite unattractive. I just wanted to provide swimwear that was both attractive and discreet for customers whilst being versatile and affordable as well, so I went for it.
How did you first come to the attention of JD Williams?
In Autumn last year, JD Williams contacted me via email asking about the incontinence swimsuits because they were interested in the ladies’ style we produced.
The majority of their customers are female and around the 60-age group, so they contacted me in November and said they were interested in stocking the range and enquired if I was selling to the trade.
I put forward the Kes-Vir lady swimsuit as it had received second place at the ACA conference in 2017 and they said they were interested.
What has it been like working with such a large, national online and catalogue retailer?
As it is the very first time they have included an incontinence range of swimwear into their catalogue, I’m proud they selected my brand and working with them is completely different to working with other retailers that I have been involved with so far.
One of the biggest challenges is the amount of information they require before they can sell your product. They need details of your factory to ensure it meets quality controls, standards, ISO certifications and packaging, size, weight, dimensions of packaging, type of packaging and more.
There was a lot of paperwork to complete before they even accepted my swimwear, so I had to ask the factories I use to complete some of their forms, provide certificates etc, and submit everything to me by the deadline.
In particular, JD Williams also required test and standard certifications for the fabrics too.
Did you have to change or adapt any of the packaging or the product to meet their requirements?
99% of JD Williams’ requirements we met, there were just certain labels that had to be on each product, such as a ‘suffocation warning’ label on any polybags used and their codes for the product. Their system is automated, so all picking and packing is done by machine, meaning the package had to be quite flat so as to not catch on any of the machinery. Apart from that, everything was fine.
Did you find there were any challenges working with a large catalogue retailer?
Not particularly, JD Williams have been good to deal with and all my contacts there have been very helpful. In that type of organisation, due to its scale, you aren’t just dealing with one buyer. You are dealing with several people, such as buyers, a merchandiser, a packaging technologist, a quality assessor and marketing.
The one thing I would say is that because of all the various parties involved, it can become very time consuming and hectic. Luckily, they don’t all contact you all at once. So, although I work on my own, I have managed to deal with all the requests and, importantly, I have met all their deadlines.
They wanted to add my products to their health and wellbeing category of the spring/summer 2018 catalogue, so everything had to be in place three months in advance to provide time for the catalogue to be prepared and printed.
Making sure to keep on top of everything they needed and not miss anything with the tight schedule was a bit of challenge, so it meant I had to ensure all my products were packed and ready for dispatch.
That was probably the most challenging aspect of it.
Incontinence is somewhat of a hushed topic. Does the approach of JD Williams looking to expand their range suggest there is less of a stigma around incontinence in society?
There is still a stigma around incontinence but as people see that there are products out there to help them cope with it, they realise that they are not the only ones suffering. Subsequently, they have the confidence now to ask for this type of product.
I think, therefore, the market is taking notice of this demand.
This opportunity has probably come about because JD Williams’ customers have been enquiring about these types of products. Also, people who love to go swimming can do so, without any worry. Not so long ago people just wouldn’t go swimming if they were incontinent.
We’ve still got to reach the point where this type of product reaches the high street shops and I don’t know how long that will take, but I would certainly say that things are heading in the right direction.
You also stock overseas, are other markets interested in the Kes-Vir range?
Other markets are very much interested in the swimwear. In Europe, at the moment, there is one company that I am aware of that sells this type of swimwear and some of my trade customers who have been selling their swimwear for the past decade or so are now thinking about switching to Kes-Vir Swimwear. Their reasoning being that the competitor is too expensive and my design is more attractive.
They want something functional but more fashionable. I have two distributors in Europe interested in the swimwear who are presently trialling them and, so far, the results have been positive and will hopefully trigger more orders. I also have trade customers in Ireland and the Netherlands who have been selling my swimwear successfully for several years.
What are some the challenges you have found as a manufacturer?
Many people who have their products manufactured will be aware of the challenges you can face. For me, coordinating purchasing of materials and components in time for production is one of the biggest challenges.
Suppliers can let you down without a word of warning. This means the production could be delayed for months. Getting the best price possible for the materials, making sure all printing work is ready, and the quality of packaging, labels, fabric and components all have to be policed and checked and double-checked.
There is so much that needs to be done in preparation for sending the shipment to the factory. We pack the pallets ourselves for each production, with all the customs documents and forms completed correctly so that the shipment is not held up in customs for anything. Not inputting the price or tariff code of an item can hold up shipment.
Finding a reliable factory is also a challenging task. Making them understand my swimwear was very important as the factories I have dealt with had never made incontinence swimwear before. So, I had to make them aware that re-stitching the garment was not an option as any holes, even needle holes, would mean that the swimwear would not be effective or fit for purpose.
Moreover, I still need to find the time to run my daily business affair for my online company Incy Wincy Swimstore. I still need to reach out to my customers, keep in touch with the running of the website, market, and respond to customer calls and queries as these are all just as important.
It can also become slightly lonely working by yourself as well and it can be difficult keeping myself motivated to keep pushing forward. I would say I spend 90% of my time working on this alone and really the other 10% is when I actually get to interact with customers which is what really helps keep me going.
Are you interested in working with more retailers in the UK?
I am and I have approached a few small businesses in the UK mobility market and they have stocked my swimwear but I would love to hear from more.
Why should mobility retailers stock the Kes-Vir range?
My range is, to my knowledge, one of the only types of incontinence swimwear available in the UK that is adjustable. There is another company in Germany that produces a product similar but at a price double to mine because they manufacture in Germany. I would love to manufacture my products in the UK, but the result would be that my prices would immediately double, making the product inaccessible to many customers.
The range is adjustable, affordable and fashionable with opening style for children with limited limb movement and I think it is a great addition for retailers to add to their portfolios. It is still quite a new and niche product, so many customers are simply not aware of it but when they get a chance to see what it is all about, it is something people with incontinence issues really do respond well to.
The feedback at exhibitions is always positive from customers who see the swimwear and all its features. They really feel confident about buying it, so I know the market is there, now it is just about getting it in front of people.
Almost every week, I receive a phone call from someone who found out about Kes-Vir, telling me that they didn’t know the product existed and how much they like it.
What does the future hold for Kes-Vir?
To continue to grow the business. I have so many ideas for distinctive styles which I haven’t had the chance to put into action yet; I would love to create them and bring them to the market sooner.
I would like to continue to increase the export side of the business. Customers contact from USA, Australia and New Zealand, wanting to know if there are distributors in their country and until I find distributors, those that can afford to, will continue to buy it from me directly online.
Now I am just searching for the right distributors.
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