A SWANSEA-based designer who launched her sustainable fashion label during lockdown upcycling old wetsuits destined for landfill is already making waves in the industry with multiple accolades.
23-year-old Ffion McCormick Edwards founded Barefoot Tech with the support of Big Ideas Wales in a bid to tackle the volume of old, unused wetsuits that are adding to the environmental impact caused by landfill.
A fond water skier who comes from a family of water sport enthusiasts, Ffion has built a business that centres around her love for the sea and puts sustainability at the heart of the business ethos, reclaiming unwanted wetsuits.
Ffion uses 80% or more reclaimed neoprene wetsuit materials across her products, which she sources from surf schools, wake parks and outdoor activity centres around Wales. The material from the wetsuits, some of which were originally made in the 1980s, are then turned into Barefoot Tech accessories including on-the-go backpacks and cross body bags, ranging from £30-£71; notebooks with a detachable waterproof cover that have 100% recycled paper costing £22 and purses from £8.
Ffion started thinking about a career in fashion in sixth form where she started designing and producing garments which went on to be featured at Cardiff Fashion Week. This continued through to university, where she studied fashion design and took on the role of a Student Union Representative for Fashion Design.
Since its launch, Barefoot Tech’s products have not only featured at London Fashion Week 2021, but recently won the Sustainability Through Innovation Award at the National Environmental Awards 2022.
On the launch of Barefoot Tech, Ffion said: “It has been a dream to see my business grow here in Wales while also staying true to my core values of family and sustainability and targeting a community of surfers and sportspeople that are conscious in their buying habits. The recognition I’ve had so far through award wins and featuring at iconic industry events like London Fashion Week has been so encouraging.”
Ffion launched her business with the help of Big Ideas Wales which is part of Business Wales and funded by Welsh Government to support entrepreneurship in Wales. The service is aimed at anyone between the age of 5 and 25 who wants to develop a business idea, including students and graduates, as part of its commitment to the Young Person’s Guarantee.
She heard about Big Ideas Wales through her partner, and having read of its free one-on-one support to Wales’ young entrepreneurs, Ffion accessed one of the services’ free online events with Overseas Apparel, a Welsh business who also launched through the service and now have a store in Cardiff centre.
Inspired by Overseas Apparel’s business story, Ffion reached out for support and was put into contact with business advisor Liz Hopkin who has since been supporting Ffion in officiating Barefoot Tech through trademarking, insurance tax and registering as a sole trader.
Ffion used her monthly meetings with Liz as the perfect opportunity to boost the business’ digital and social identity, planning social strategies to increase her audience. As Barefoot Tech grew, Liz introduced Ffion to the benefits of the Business Wales Start-Up Barriers Grant which helped her register as a sole-trader and fulfil her dream of becoming self-employed, running Barefoot Tech from her own small workshop in Swansea full-time.
In discussing the benefits of Big Ideas Wales, Ffion said: “Big Ideas Wales has been such a key support system for me as an independent entrepreneur. When it comes to the nitty gritty requirements of launching and maintaining a business – from registering as a sole trader to tax – Big Ideas Wales jumped into action to support me.
“I’d encourage any young entrepreneur in Wales with a business idea – big or small – to contact Big Ideas Wales. I have benefitted hugely from my monthly one-one-one meetings where I can put all of my plans and ideas on to the table and mould them into a strong business plan week upon week. I always find myself leaving my meetings inspired and setting more goals for myself. I would not be where I am today, working full time as a self-employed entrepreneur, without their support”
Liz Hopkin, a business adviser at Big Ideas Wales said: “When Ffion came to us, she already had a successful business idea that had featured in industry-defining events like London Fashion Week and that she knew could disrupt the circular fashion industry here in Wales. What she didn’t have was someone to offer her support in the fundamental elements of running a business. That’s our sole purpose at Big Ideas Wales, and we look forward to continuing to support Ffion as she takes on the adventure of entrepreneurship. “
Minister for the Economy, Vaughan Gething, said: “After getting their results over the summer, many young people are now making decisions about their future. The Young Person’s Guarantee is here to help them make the right decision, whether they’re looking for education, training, employment or take the steps into self-employment as Ffion has done. We’re proud to offer entrepreneurially minded young people entrepreneurs the opportunity to start and grow their businesses and contribute to the business-landscape of Wales through financial and advice -based support.”
Having watched her business flourish with over 200 orders placed so far, Ffion now dreams of extending her product range and opening stalls in local coastal areas in Wales where customers can have old wetsuits, swimwear and accessories repaired, in an effort to keep the sustainable cycle ongoing.