A SWANSEA-based designer who launched her sustainable fashion label during lockdown by upcycling old wetsuits that were destined for landfill is already making waves in the industry with multiple awards.
Ffion McCormick Edwards, 23, founded Barefoot Tech with the support of Big Ideas Wales to help manage the volume of old, unused wetsuits contributing to the environmental impact of landfill.
An avid water skier coming from a family of water sports enthusiasts, Ffion has built a business centered around her love of the sea and places sustainability at the heart of her business ethos by reclaiming unwanted wetsuits.
Ffion uses 80% or more recycled wetsuits in their products, sourced from surf schools, wake parks and outdoor activity centers across Wales. The wetsuit material, some originally made in the 1980s, is then made into Barefoot Tech accessories, including on-the-go backpacks and shoulder bags, ranging from £30 to £71; Notebooks with removable waterproof covers made from 100% recycled paper start at £22 and wallets from £8.
Ffion began considering a career in fashion in high school, where she began designing and producing garments that were later shown at Cardiff Fashion Week. This continued through university, where she studied fashion design and worked as a student union officer for fashion design.
Since their launch, Barefoot Tech’s products have not only been featured at London Fashion Week 2021, they recently won the Sustainability Through Innovation Award at the 2022 National Environmental Awards.
Speaking on the launch of Barefoot Tech, Ffion said: “It has been a dream to see my business grow here in Wales while remaining true to my core values of family and sustainability, while appealing to a community of surfers and athletes who are making conscious shopping habits. The recognition I have received so far through awards and appearances at iconic industry events like London Fashion Week has been so encouraging.”
Ffion started her business with help from Big Ideas Wales, which is part of Business Wales and is funded by the Welsh Government to support entrepreneurship in Wales. The offer is open to anyone aged 5-25 who wants to develop a business as part of their Youth Guarantee engagement, including students and graduates.
She heard about Big Ideas Wales through her partner and after reading about the free one-on-one support for Wales’ young entrepreneurs, Ffion attended one of the services’ free online events with Overseas Apparel, a Welsh company that also has the Service was founded and now have a shop in central Cardiff.
Inspired by Overseas Apparel’s business story, Ffion sought assistance and was contacted with business consultant Liz Hopkin, who has since assisted Ffion in guiding Barefoot Tech through trademark rights, insurance tax and sole proprietorship registration.
Ffion used her monthly meetings with Liz as the perfect opportunity to strengthen the company’s digital and social identity and plan social strategies to grow 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 fulfill her dream of starting her own business and Barefoot Tech from her own small workshop in Swansea to direct -time.
Discussing the benefits of Big Ideas Wales, Ffion said: “Big Ideas Wales has been such an important support system for me as an independent entrepreneur. When it comes to the essential requirements of starting and running a business – from registering as a sole proprietorship to taxation – Big Ideas Wales has stepped into action to support me.
“I would encourage any young entrepreneur in Wales with a business idea, big or small, to contact Big Ideas Wales. I have benefited tremendously from my monthly one-on-one meetings where I can put all my plans and ideas on the table and mold them into a strong business plan week after week. I always leave my meetings inspired and setting more goals. Without their support, I would not be where I am today as a full-time self-employed entrepreneur.”
Liz Hopkin, Business Advisor at Big Ideas Wales said: “When Ffion came to us they already had a successful business idea that had been showcased at industry defining events like London Fashion Week and which they knew was disrupting the circular fashion industry here could Wales. What she didn’t have was someone to support her with the basic elements of running a business. That is our sole aim at Big Ideas Wales and we look forward to continuing to support Ffion as they take on the entrepreneurship adventure.”
Business Secretary Vaughan Gething said: “Having received their results over the summer, many young people are now making decisions about their future. The Youth Guarantee aims to help them make the right decision, regardless of whether they are looking for an apprenticeship, an apprenticeship, a job or, like Ffion, are venturing into self-employment. We are proud to offer entrepreneurial young entrepreneurs the opportunity to start and grow their businesses and contribute to the business landscape of Wales through financial and advice-based support.”
Having seen her business thrive with over 200 orders to date, Ffion now dreams of expanding her product range and opening stands in the coastal areas of Wales where customers can have old wetsuits, swimwear and accessories repaired to keep the sustainable cycle ongoing.