Natalie Balmain is a fashion designer from England, and the creative force behind Type 1 Clothing. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 20, and this was ultimately her inspiration behind her debut line, designed to help people manage their multiple daily injections more easily and wear insulin pumps more comfortably.
Natalie has raised money for JDRF, Diabetes UK and other clinical research trials over the years and continues to pledge 5% of the profits from Type 1 Clothing. She talks frequently on the BBC as a diabetes and fashion expert, and has featured in The Guardian, Balance magazine and more, as well as her own series of vlogs raising awareness and education around type 1 diabetes. And today, she’s visiting SixUntilMe to talk about her fashionable advocacy efforts.
Kerri: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today! Can you let the SixUntilMe readers know a little bit about your connection to diabetes?
Natalie Balmain: I began my journey with type 1 when I was diagnosed T1D in January of 2007. At the time I knew nothing about the condition, nor did I know anyone who had it. Looking back, the first couple of years seem like a blur … it’s scary to think how little information I had in the early days.
Kerri: How do you manage your diabetes?
NB: Nowadays, I’m on a multiple daily injection (basal/bolus) regime, taking Tresiba once daily and Fiasp when I need to bolus. I also wear a Dexcom G5 to help me measure my glucose readings – for me that has been the toughest part of coping with type 1. I get a lot of spikes from causes other than food (stress being my number 1 glucose raiser) and also a lot of night time lows, so wearing a CGM has allowed me to have better control during these times.
Kerri: And you have a clothing line that’s geared towards people with type 1 diabetes! Can you tell me more about that?
NB: I’ve always had a side career in fashion and used to do part time work as a model and stylist. For years after my diagnosis, I kept being gifted lovely clothes from shoots but I just never wore them because it was easier to wear loose or stretchy clothes that I could pull down easily to inject. Feeling restricted in your clothing choices may seem trivial to some, but after a while it really has an impact on your self esteem and emotional well-being.
I remember sitting in my living room one day and there was a little hole in the side of my trousers in the seam. I’d been meaning to fix them but I just lounged in the house in them so I hadn’t. I did my injection through the little hole and I thought, actually this little flaw worked for me! I wondered if I could I apply this to other clothes, and then I looked to see if anything like that had been made, with little openings for diabetics, and there just wasn’t anything. So I started drawing. I’d always drawn fashion since I was a teenager, but never done anything with it. But these ideas just started coming and I instantly got really excited. All my designs feature zips to skin for easier injection access, as well as special pockets to hold insulin pumps, that allow you to feed your tubing directly through your clothing.
NB: I really just wanted to see if I could create a solution to a problem, I never started out with the intention of creating a business, it just kinda worked out that way thanks to the response i’ve had. I knew I couldn’t be the only T1D to face these problems, but I never expected a response on the scale that I received! t’s really amazing to have had such fantastic support from the type 1 community, but then we are one of the most caring community groups I’ve ever come across!
Kerri: What are the goals for your company, and for your overall advocacy efforts?
NB: I’m currently selling my pieces online for worldwide distribution, but I would like to step up to a larger model and hopefully see Type 1 Clothing available to buy in stores. I also pledge 5% of my profits to international diabetes research, and I will continue to do that until we have a cure! Finally, I would like to set up a support charity in the type 1 name too, to provide more access to information for newly diagnosed type 1s.
Kerri: What’s next for Type 1 Clothing and how can people support your cause?
NB: This year I will be bringing out a junior line and a teen line, and hopefully later in the year a men’s line too, which is really exciting. All of my pieces are available online at www.t1clothing.com and you can check us out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram too. I’ve also been filming a series of Type 1 diabetes awareness vlogs, which you can find on our YouTube Channel, called Type One TV, and these highlight some of the basics of Type 1 for people who don’t have any prior knowledge of the condition, as well as talking about some of the finer points of living with T1D, such as fashion, dating and alcohol!
Kerri: What do you wish people knew about diabetes?
NB: If I could tell people one thing that I wish they knew about T1D, it is that it is unpreventable, un-curable and potentially fatal. It really upsets me that in 2018, diabetes is still an acceptable topic for ridicule in the media, and it is one of the things that I am passionate about changing. I want to see type 1s represented in the media for who we really are: athletes, models, authors, parents, bodybuilders, everyone! We are stronger than people realise.
Thank you for sharing your story and for dedicating your days to designing for diabetes. The community is stronger with you as part of it! <3