A housing association in Leeds has helped a group of adults with learning disabilities to make their mark in the world of fashion.
Unity Homes & Enterprise has given support to local community interest company (CIC), Leep 1 – which stands for Leeds People First – to launch a range of leisurewear featuring designs created by its members.
The CIC helps adults with learning disabilities to speak up for themselves and offers a wide variety of activities to develop social, health and educational skills.
It also runs the popular Café Leep, which in 2017 won the Yorkshire & Humber round of the Britain’s Best Café competition.
Leep 1 recently started a digital inclusion course, which enables participants to design, market and sell clothing carrying the hashtag #AbilitiesNotDisabilities together with their own artwork or slogan.
Unity offered to sponsor the first run of products which includes t-shirts and hoodies.
“Our 12-week digital inclusion course is devised to properly equip participants with skills that will be attractive to prospective employers,” said Mandy Haigh, Leep 1 manager, and coordinator of the #AbilitiesNotDisabilities project.
“As well as designing the clothing line, everyone is encouraged to come up with their own marketing campaigns, including the use of social media, to secure sales.
“We intend to make the clothes available to order online via a dedicated website. Each designer will have a biography which will make reference to their disability and how they came up with their unique design.”
Susan Hanley, who has Down’s Syndrome, is Leep 1’s chairperson and designed her own hoodie, which is part of the range now on sale. It is emblazoned with the words: “You’ll Turn Out Ordinary If You’re Not Careful.”
“The idea behind the clothing is to raise awareness of adults with learning disabilities and show people what we can do, not what we can’t do,” she said.
“We had a soft launch at one of our club nights which we hold every month and sold lots of t-shirts and hoodies, which got us off to a great start. It has been really interesting to see the process from coming up with the designs right through to seeing people wearing the final results.”
Leep 1 is based at Unity Business Centre on Roundhay Road, one of three business locations in the city owned and managed by Unity Enterprise, a not-for-profit subsidiary of Unity Homes & Enterprise, which provides 130 managed workspaces for around 80 employers.
The BME-led housing association’s chief executive Ali Akbor and Unity Enterprise manager Adrian Green visited Leep 1 to try on the new apparel and congratulate participants and staff on their achievements.
“We are honoured to support this initiative,” Akbor said. “It has brought great fulfilment to all involved, particularly the designers who are rightly proud of what they have produced. It was wonderful to meet them.
“The designs are colourful, imaginative and eye-catching. I hope the local community will get behind Leep 1 by ordering clothing for themselves or perhaps as presents for friends and family.
“Their central message, #AbilitiesNotDisabilities, is incredibly powerful and perfectly sums up what Leep 1 stands for.”
Adrian Green, Unity Enterprise manager, said: “Leep 1 has been a tenant at Unity Business Centre for nine years and we love having the team on board. Everything they do radiates enthusiasm and positivity.
“Café Leep, which teaches trainees a huge amount of skills and provides a path to qualifications in food safety and catering, is always busy and well worth a visit for a first-class lunch or hot drink.
“It is a pleasure to support #AbilitiesNotDisabilities which I know will be a major success.”
Main image: Ali Akbor (far right) and Adrian Green (second from right) with Angie Marshall from Leep 1 (centre), Susan Hanley (third from left) and other designers from the #AbilitiesNotDisabilities project