Diagnosed at age 20, Bridget Scanlan began making prototypes of her unique handbags on her lounge floor with the support of a mentor (a fourth-generation leatherworker no less). And now, finally, she is ready to start shipping her creations worldwide. These luxe leather bags aren't just for carting around your wallet and iPhone, though.
For those living with type 1 diabetes, having Bridget's KYT bag by their side will give them the freedom to better manage their condition in an organised, hygienic and – for the first time ever – stylish manner. We talk to Bridget about her journey towards making a life with diabetes not only look better, but feel better, too.
What is type 1 diabetes?
It's a condition that causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin – the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Without insulin, sugar lingers in the bloodstream and causes serious trouble. I give myself insulin to regulate my blood sugar, taking multiple injections through the day. Others use a pump that delivers small doses often, and wear it attached to their body at all times. I use finger-prick tests to measure my blood sugar and check that it stays within a safe range.
A surprising number of factors affect blood sugar: activity, stress, food intake and illness are a few. I will test if any of these are at play, or if I start to feel off. Normally this works out to be around five injections and finger prick tests a day, but for others it can be more than 15.
How did you carry your equipment around before you created KYT?
Diabetes follows me everywhere and so does my equipment. There's a lot to take: two insulin pens, a blood-testing meter, finger pricker and canister of test strips, food and sweets for low blood sugar, spare needles, batteries and pump accessories for pump users.
Before KYT, I used a battered nylon case that wouldn't fit in most bags, which I was constantly packing and unpacking to get at my equipment. For evening events, I would ditch the case for the largest clutch on the planet – I had to play Tetris to pack it, close it, or get anything out. It's hard to find space for all of this equipment, keep it organised and make it discreet enough to avoid uncomfortable questions.
What makes KYT so special?
I wanted to create a bag that worked hard and looked great. Our first style is a cross-body bag with two pouches that pull apart, so that life stuff and diabetes essentials are organised separately.
The diabetes half has specific slots for all your equipment, along with space for medical ID, a trash pocket for old test strips and sharps, and a wipable lining for the inevitable blood stains you get with blood-sugar tests. It also opens completely on your lap, for easy access and to quickly identify if anything is missing or needs replenishing. This is especially important when blood sugar is low, as decision-making and dexterity can be affected – everything needs to be easy to use.
What kind of freedom do these bags offer diabetics?
With KYT I know my life-saving medical equipment is well-organised and within easy reach (I've even dipped in to do a blood test during my weekend vege market shop, with my bag hanging at my side). The bag's aesthetic feels so much more like 'me' than my old case.
I have had compliments from complete strangers, unaware of its purpose, asking where my bag is from – my diabetes is hidden in plain sight.
What has the feedback been like?
I've been trialling different prototypes along my journey and shared them with other T1Ds. I've had great feedback in person and over social media; people are excited to see a premium diabetes bag – they love that we've used leather and the overall look and feel. I get a buzz when people tell me how excited they are to get their hands on a KYT and how long they've been looking for a bag like ours.
What are some obstacles you have had to overcome?
I've had to learn to trust the process and accept that getting the small things right takes time. Bringing a handbag to life means poring over tiny decisions and making many attempts at the same thing. I thought it would take a few months to get off the ground but it's actually taken a year of research, refinement and conversation with the diabetes community. I get nervous about how the bags will be received, but I try to focus on the positive feedback I've had about what KYT means to others.
Why has it taken so long for someone to invent this practical – and stylish – solution?
I think it's a case of timing. Diabetes isn't an experience that people have traditionally shared, but with the power of social media, there is now a close-knit international community that talks openly and supports each other.
This has sparked a lot of new thinking and lifestyle-centric products for diabetes. There are some diabetes bags out there already, which mostly address functionality. I wanted to take this a step further and create the first premium diabetes product – with a distinct, elegant aesthetic.