Designer Bridget Scanlan from KYT. Image supplied.
Bridget Scanlan is the Wellington-based designer and founder of KYT (Keeping You Together) which launches today and makes stylish leather bags specifically for those with diabetes. Bridget was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes seven years ago and knows how tricky it can to manage medical supplies with everyday life items and the chaos that handbags can become when everything gets mixed up. She has designed her bags to keep things organised on the inside and look fashionable on the outside, so the 33,000 New Zealanders who have diabetes and carry medical equipment everyday can benefit from them.
It’s a clever idea and we were curious to find out more so we caught up with Bridget to ask her how KYT was created, the process of making the bags and what the response has been like so far?
How did you go about designing the bags and getting them created?
I started designing KYT (although it didn’t have a name back then) when I was at fashion school. I was learning to sew and pattern make, and started to channel my new skills towards improving the battered, nylon diabetes case I was hiding in a big tote bag everyday.
My early prototypes were pretty rough, but I was lucky to find help from a fourth-generation leatherworker who taught me the finer points of bag making. I created my first range of six bags as part of Project Fashion Wellington in 2017 – which were showcased in a public runway show.
I then went to the global diabetes community for their feedback on the bags. It started a conversation about what diabetes bags need to do in order to best manage diabetes and everyday life. I turned my focus towards one bag style that was the clear favourite, and refined it with all of their thoughts in mind.
I’ve moved away from sewing every bag myself, and have found a production partner to help me make KYT on a bigger scale. Like my first mentor, they’re leather artisans who have been crafting bags their whole lives. It’s an ethical, family-run workroom in Bali and the connection has been made through another Kiwi company, Duffle & Co.
All of this has culminated in to a year of hard work, constant refinement and lots of learning. I’m equal parts excited and nervous to finally be able to get KYT onto the shoulders of people with diabetes around the world.
What were the key considerations to make sure the bags worked for your purposes?
The biggest gripes I heard from the diabetes community were around how much space diabetes equipment takes up in a regular handbag, and how tricky it is to find anything when it’s strewn amongst other life stuff. I wanted to make sure diabetes and life stuff could stay separate, and that equipment could be easily accessed and accounted for. The simplest way to do this was to make a bag with two separate pouches: one designed for life, and the other for diabetes.
In terms of look and feel, I also wanted to keep the size of the bag as small as possible, so that it would be useful for everyday as well as sleek enough for evening wear. The pouches actually pull apart and each can clip to the crossbody strap on their own – so the bag can get smaller still.
What has the response to your bags been like so far?
KYT has always been an extremely personal project, so I was pretty nervous when I began showing it to others with diabetes – what if no one liked the bags? I’ve been amazed with how kind people have been about me and KYT. I’ve also heard some incredible stories about how much managing diabetes and equipment can impact everyday life.
Recently, I’ve even had several people contact me to say that they’ve waited decades for a bag like this, ever since their diagnosis. Reactions like this fuel my purpose to design in a way that enhances life with diabetes, and offers a bit of feel-good factor.
Where do you see your brand going and do you have other ideas for production?
We’re launching with the KYT Crossbody on May 21, so I’m excited to hear how KYT fits into peoples’ lives and diabetes management.
In the short term, I plan to expand the range to include more styles and provide options for men. But there’s a bigger purpose developing for me: to champion a new fashion genre that improves wellbeing through better design. I’ve already been approached by people who live with other chronic conditions, who could really use a bag like KYT. For all of these conditions, that people all over the world tend to manage quietly and bravely, I think there is plenty of room to enhance the experience of daily care and management – because once people feel better about taking their equipment with them, treatment and care will hopefully become that much easier, too.
KYT bags are available online from today.