“I kept getting bitten, I was covered in hives, and I reacted badly to my anti-malarials,” says Naudia Salmon, founder and Chief Executive Officer of We Drifters.
“Restrictive nets and sleeping bag liners weren’t practical. I just wondered why there wasn’t a more comfortable alternative.”
Naudia’s struggle with insects during her travels in Southeast Asia seeded the idea for We Drifters: specialist sleepwear that uses anti-insect technology to keep bugs away without sacrificing the comfort of a good night’s sleep. Inspired by a traveller’s love of nature, the brand keeps sustainability at the forefront by using environmentally friendly materials – and fulfils a social purpose by donating £2 from every sale to Malaria No More.
The challenge was to develop a product using sustainable materials that would offer effective protection, be durable enough to be carried around in all weathers during the day, and feel luxurious and comfortable to wear.
Although bamboo was becoming more popular in the luxury sleepwear market and a host of other sectors, it was relatively untested as a performance material for travel equipment, which meant an opportunity for Naudia to offer a genuinely innovative new product.
“Most of the products on the market are intended for hiking and day trips – they’re not thinking about sleep or any other applications,” Naudia explains.
“We’re making sure you can attach our tops to our bottoms to cover the midriff while you sleep and thinking about how to store valuables overnight in a hostel. It’s really practical and very effective.”
In the first six months of trading We Drifters launched its e-commerce site and started developing wholesale partnerships, before the first national lockdown brought most operations to a halt. Naudia used the time to grow direct-to-consumer sales and double down on product development, as well as a new opportunity for support through the BUILD accelerator programme.
Inspired by Leeds City Region’s involvement in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (REAP), BUILD focused on offering support and mentorship to startups that combine profit with purpose.
Naudia was matched with two mentors: Professor Stephen Russell of the University of Leeds and Suzy Shepherd, founder of Yorkshire Textiles. As Director and Co-Director of Future Fashion Factory, they were well-placed to work with Naudia to identify challenges, solutions and opportunities in the fashion and textile industry.
The accelerator combined intensive workshops and mentoring sessions, enabling founders to refine and develop their businesses.
Each startup then pitched to the panel of entrepreneurs and advisers, and Naudia’s presentation was so impressive that We Drifters won its category.
“It’s difficult when you can’t hand people samples of your products, but the audience for an online pitch is much bigger,” Naudia says.
“I could see how I had grown throughout the programme, being able to pitch that way and feel like it had gone well. It was great to be recognised for how well we have done.”
New contacts were formed through the pitch day and one of the judges even offered to connect Naudia with retailers – a stepping stone to building the wholesale business, alongside the direct-to-consumer model. The next range of We Drifters products is also being finalised, including childrenswear, an enhanced version of the current adult range, and complimentary products.
With an eye on the future, Naudia is even looking into research and development for new botanical insect-repellent fabric finishes, putting her biochemistry degree to good use.
Although the focus is currently on the staycation market around Scotland and the UK’s national parks, Naudia is excited by the global potential as travel restrictions begin to be relaxed. Driven by her own experiences in Southeast Asia, she is excited to grow We Drifters as an international brand.
“We’re passionate about solving real-world problems with great design,” she adds. “Domestically and internationally, we want to be travellers’ first choice.”