This article is published as part of our CSR initiatives.
Sasha Radwan, a maverick entrepreneur with a mission very much in mind to change the world of autism and special needs. She intends transforming it from being hidden, perceived as a challenge, to one of positivity, openness, acceptance and familiarity. She is approaching it with a certain amount of dogged determination and conviction.
Sasha aims to do this in the first instance by challenging the marketplace and its lack of offerings of specialist and adaptive clothing that actually serve children who deal with a variety of conditions and issues. Ultimately the clothes she offers are making the lives of parents and carers a whole lot easier and less demanding but for the child, the impact could be huge.
When people first meet Sasha they invariably want to understand why she has chosen to focus all of her entrepreneurial talents and energy at this particular market place. Parents look on in anticipation of being able to nod in sympathy as she recounts a tale of struggles, celebrations and specifically pertinent moments that they themselves only know too well.
The answer they get is not what they expect. Traditionally, personal experience and a deep sense of empathy for others in the same situation as themselves often provides a powerful motivation for setting up such a business. So when they hear that for Sasha this was less about a personal experience and more about an inner drive to do something important.
For many people doing something like this does not even occur to them. When attending events, she gets questions such as, “Are you a therapist? “No!” “Are you a parent?” “No!” and then in a much more puzzled tone “are you lost?” Such is the expectation of those in the industry. It’s a different world, often hidden from the mainstream existence outside.
This puts Sasha into the realms of the exceptional and extraordinary as she saw something that most of us would pass by oblivious to the potential waiting to be explored. She saw a problem and knew that this was an opportunity to make a real difference to people who are desperately in need of a solution.
The reality is that Sasha began her career in the rather masculine world of Materials Engineering. Born and raised in Australia by her Egyptian parents she is no stranger to being somewhat different to her peers. Her Arab home life was a contrast to the Aussie lifestyle. Throughout her life she has always had a soft spot for the underdog or the more unusual individuals. They interested her a lot more than the more obvious ‘popular’ people. She loved to take time to dig deeper and get to know who they really are carefully listening to their stories and understanding their journey of how they have got to where they are now.
Sasha will tell you that sometimes one’s purpose isn’t clear at the time. When you come from an Arab background and grow up in Australia, finding one’s purpose can be confusing. Having very little daily contact with the Arab world except at home, she often didn’t know why certain things were the way they were…. but it’s not until you dig a little deeper or stumble across a conversation by chance that you find out there’s a little bit of history in the family that is deeply buried.
Of course life teaches you nothing really happens by chance! So when you learn that a distant family member had special needs as far back as the 1920’s/1930’s, it raises so many questions as to why she never knew. Sasha couldn’t take it personally and with certain conditions, so much shame was attached and blame pointed to the parents (often the mother) for such outcomes and hence buried, dismissed and not talked about.
Years later it explains why growing up in a family so much emphasis is put on social acceptance…not just at home but throughout her extended Egyptian family. Nobody in Egypt wanted to talk about it, to the point that denial ran deep. To her knowledge this particular family member did not make it to their 25th birthday.
As a result of this unusual combination you have a woman who demonstrates that extraordinary mix of being able to approach the problem solving with super-logical practicality, combined with immense sense of empathy and compassion. Couple this with her genuine interest in real people and their stories you have a recipe for someone who can make a significant difference in the world and change it for the better.
Sasha chose to leave a very successful career in the corporate world as an employee of a global multi-national to focus on making a significant impact to the quality of life of individuals rather than corporations.
This entrepreneurial journey originally began in partnership with another company but it quickly became evident that following an independent route was the surest way to make a real impact.
Market research revealed a market seriously under served with 1% of the UK population (US is higher) affected by autism alone. Add to that the multitude of other conditions such as tube feeding, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and you have a lot of people to consider.
Clothing for children with other special needs – where every child should be seen and not hidden
Hearing stories about the challenges that many parents face, especially with the more extreme conditions and behavioural issues that come with them highlighted just how big the demand is to cater for these children. She saw first hand how parents were not only relieved but also very grateful to have found garments that were designed for functionality yet aesthetically discrete. Vital for both parent and child.
The intention is to become the go-to company for all special needs clothing by continually seeking to expand the range of garments catering for an increasingly diverse group of conditions. The long-term vision is to bring happiness to children and their families and to expand the range of clothing. Whilst there is no such thing as normal in this sort of environment, Sasha’s attitude is that the clothing should be the easiest part of a challenging lifestyle.
Sasha's attitude is that the clothing should be the easiest part of a challenging lifestyle
Sasha works collaboratively with parents and healthcare providers. Together they are developing new designs that deal with the practicalities of different requirements as well as allowing children to feel included in mainstream society and school. Attention to detail is paramount ensuring quality of manufacture meets with her expectations. With a strong focus on quality, she chooses materials which last, do not shrink or distort and are essentially fit for the purpose they were designed for.
Sasha is determined to change the culture in which children with special needs are hidden from society as defective and unable to contribute. Whilst she has a soft spot for the underdog, she is often left in awe of the incredible parents who are themselves dynamic, pragmatic and practical preferring to have a ‘roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-on-with-it’ approach rather than be victim of extraordinary circumstances. This inspires her to keep empowering parents and children to be able to enjoy better lives as a result of age appropriate clothing.
Sasha is the first to tell you her journey to date has been rewarding, fun and challenging having learnt so much about the clothing requirements of children with special needs. Running her own business allows her to be agile, enabling her the flexibility that comes from running a small business to meet the needs of other businesses and customer needs.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, chicageek.
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