By Jenny Gibbon
A Leeds graduate has seen increasing demand for her award-winning obesity training suits.
Ashleigh Rodda founded Bariatric Training Suits Ltd last year – but started out as a fashion student designing for the likes of Dorothy Perkins.
The 24-year-old attended Leeds University to study fashion on the advice of her secondary school tutor. “My art teacher told me it would be a great option as I am creative and it spiralled from there,” she says.
So how did a woman so passionate about fashion end up creating a suit to train NHS staff in the moving and handling of obese patients?
“I started out designing hosiery for a local business before my designs began being sold in major high street stores, including Dorothy Perkins. It was a total accident that I designed this suit. I started working freelance for a company that specialise in bariatric care. They were looking for something to help demonstrate the use of bariatric equipment, large wheelchairs etc, and my idea developed from there.”
As demand for the fat suit grew, this was her call to launch her own company.
Barely two years into her business venture, Bariatric Training Suits Ltd has already had 20 orders and demand is growing. Ashleigh herself has been recognised with a Duke of York Young Entrepreneur Award, and was one of ten young entrepreneurs from across Yorkshire presented with their prestigious prizes by Prince Andrew at a ceremony hosted by Hull University.
She was also invited to Buckingham Palace to help develop the awards further, and discuss helping more young people into business.
Bariatric Training Suits Ltd will also receive assistance in achieving its goals to fight childhood obesity through mentor provision.
Ashleigh says: “My dream is to work with Jamie Oliver to fight childhood obesity. Not only would this be fantastic celebrity endorsement for the brand, it would also be incredible to work with a man who can really rally the troops when it comes to beating obesity.”
But for the woman who left university just two years ago, developed her suit and turned it into an award winning business, this is not enough. Next September she will be completing a doctorate in Enterprise at the University of Huddersfield, focusing on childhood obesity, whilst continuing to expand the market her product is aimed at.
“I am looking to sell to the education sector to help children see and feel the implications of being overweight, but also to help trainee health professionals at a higher education level too.”