Vanessa Bell Mumbition the Podcast


The Podcast By Mums & Co

Episode 52: Finding dignity & independence

Penny Weber

Founder of Recovawear

November 22, 2022
Penny Weber is the founder of Recovawear and The Shapes United, adaptive clothing lines.



The Shapes United


Produced & Edited by - Morgan Brown
Interviewers - Carrie Kwan and Lucy Kippist
Guest - Penny Weber

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00:01:34:00 - 00:02:00:03

Carrie Kwan

A terrible accident was the catalyst for the two businesses today's guest successfully runs today. Penny Weber is the founder of Recovawear and The Shapes United, adaptive clothing lines that can help you regain some independence during a recovery from injury or accidents, and with a mission to improve the dignity, health and choice for everyone. We're really pleased to have you Penny welcome to Mumbition.

00:02:01:17 - 00:02:03:23

Penny Weber

Thanks for having me Carrie, I really appreciate being here.

00:02:04:18 - 00:02:12:13

Carrie Kwan

Now, for those that don't know the incredible work that you do, can you tell us a bit more about your two businesses?

00:02:13:05 - 00:02:27:15

Penny Weber

Sure. So I have two businesses, Recovawear and The Shapes United. We do adaptive recovery clothing for people who are post-surgery for Recovawear, and everyday adaptive clothing for people for The Shapes United. 

00:02:28:20 - 00:02:59:18

Carrie Kwan

And when I first came across your business, I really got thinking about how a lot of women led businesses create products and services that are born from a need to create a bigger impact or to solve a significant problem. So what was your inspiration behind setting this up?

00:03:00:09 - 00:03:30:17

Penny Weber

I guess you could call this a needs based business, is probably the best way to put it. So I was in a car accident and I was in hospital and I was given the big, audacious goal of getting to rehab, and I very literally had nothing to wear. So I was in a hospital gown and I was like, “I am not going to rehab in this hospital gown if it kills me.”

So very literally, I spent the night thinking about it and came up with the first sort of set of prototypes, which ended up being the basis behind Recovawear.

00:03:32:09 - 00:04:09:04

Carrie Kwan

Wow, and I can just imagine because right now our listeners, we are a little bit of that sandwich generation in some sense, or we've all got someone to care for. And I'm at the point where I’ve got elderly family members to care for as well as the two young boys and extended family, so it's really top of mind, and I just thought gosh, it's brilliant because everyone's used to the hospital gown. 

00:04:09:08 - 00:04:12:20

Penny Weber

Yeah it’s not a good look, it looks good on absolutely nobody ever. It’s such a demoralizing position to be in a hospital gown and being told to do something, like it almost sort of removes all of your independent self and we all of a sudden become like a “patient”. It just sort of takes away that individuality of ourselves.

00:04:35:01 - 00:04:41:24

Carrie Kwan

And can you describe the actual Recovawear product? Like, what does it look like? What are the features of it?

00:04:42:01 - 00:06:01:21

Penny Weber

So we have hidden openings in the clothing so that we actually did testing with Cabrini Rehab back quite some time ago now, to really kind of find out the highest need for people in that kind of circumstance. Because obviously I had my own unique circumstance and I wouldn't wish that upon anybody.

But in terms of the biggest need, were things around hip, shoulder and knee reconstructions because I don't know if you've ever been in a situation of trying to put underwear on after a knee reconstruction…but that's a challenge that some people have, and it's not an easy one. 

So we developed magnet and velcro based clothing for the core group which is a boxer short, a pant, a polo shirt and a t-shirt. So it’s all beautifully made and it's super soft, it's all ethically, sustainably produced and we've gone through a huge curation process to get to this point. 

But the t-shirt looks like an everyday t-shirt and so it should, because these are everyday situations and particularly when you look at disability…one in four people have a disability or a low mobility situation, it's our normal life so therefore it should look like normal clothing.

00:06:03:11 - 00:06:46:03

Lucy Kippist

And I absolutely love that mission statement I was reading on your website yesterday to improve the dignity, health and and the idea of choice for everyone, which is something that you’re describing there, that if you haven’t experienced injury or haven’t been around anyone who experiences injury or is living with a disability you can't really understand how important those everyday choices obviously become.

Which leads me to my next question, because obviously that mission statement is so central to in fact, the creation of your business, but how much does why you exist as a business influence your work ethic as a small business owner?

00:06:46:05 - 00:07:45:18

Penny Weber

Yeah, hugely. So I always sort of look at making sure that there's, you know, do no harm, and making sure that there's ethical, sustainable production so that we're not hurting anyone else by the choices that we make in our consumption as well. The last thing I would want is to have any sort of slave labor involved in the clothing manufacturing because that hurts a community, when we're trying to empower our community here. So making sure that people have that independence and dignity. 

But it’s also about amplification. It's about making sure that people who are amazing humans can show how amazing they are in the world and not hide away at home because they don't have the X or the right clothes to do Y. We've all experienced it to some degree being mothers, like our bodies have changed and you go to the wardrobe, you pull out the clothes and you go “I don't have anything today”. So it's about finding the right clothing for that particular purpose and need. 

00:07:46:05 - 00:08:19:00

Lucy Kippist

Yeah, and we've seen this in the last couple of episodes. A couple of episodes ago we interviewed one of our members who is a personal stylist and she was talking about something that's really in line with this, in terms of even what you wear when you're working from home and nobody sees you, and the impact of that on your psychology and your motivation and your feelings of, not only self esteem, but also your output so we can totally resonate with those messages.

Penny Weber
Yeah Absolutely

00:08:19:17 - 00:08:33:01
Carrie Kwan

And she kind of mentioned that it's like an armor that you're wearing, right? 

Penny Weber
Well it's an identity.

Carrie Kwan

Mm Yeah.

00:08:33:06 - 00:08:57:15

Penny Weber

You put on your identity, you know you've got your work outfit, you put on your work identity, you go out to the gym, you put your gym identity on, you know, there's these kind of roleplaying things that we do when we go to different circumstances and we've got the outfit for each of those moments in our life as well.

You know, you put the big dress on and you become the princess for the day. There's a whole lot of cognitive psychology around the way we wear our clothes.

00:08:58:23 - 00:09:36:08

Carrie Kwan

So you've got a product which is probably as you know, maybe in a medical sense I imagine there's more sort of gates that you have to go through or considerations when developing a product like this. I'm wondering, how has your industry shaped your response to the concept of risk in a business, and is there any sort of specific set of processes or logic that you adhere to when looking at that?

00:09:37:17 - 00:11:14:16

Penny Weber

Yeah, I think with any business I think the risk is still the founder, which sounds terrible, but it's true. Like if the founders health and wellbeing is absolutely sort of central to making sure that the business’s health and wellbeing is functional. I've got a slightly different circumstance where I actually had my own businesses when I went through my life changing environment/situation.

And they were service based businesses and there was nothing left of me to give to these people, so pretty much that the entire business model died. And I actually just parked running a business for quite a number of years while I did my recovery process and I did two master's degrees while I just kind of went through that rediscovery of who I was and what I wanted to be in the world…and how I wanted to sort of give back and make lemonade out of lemons if you like.

And that whole process of making sure that I'm not the risk is really important and because this business died, the first businesses, I realized that I needed to make sure with this business that there was people to support me around it and make sure that there was good processes and policy and make sure that everything wasn't just sitting in my brain, but that there were other people around in order to make sure that that information was passed on.

And, you know, if something happens like my son is sick for a week, which happens to all of us, then the ball can keep going and there's ways to move around those kind of short term impacts on time.

00:11:15:08 - 00:12:32:24

Carrie Kwan

Single Woman risk is a real thing, especially in the early days when you're, you know, your micro-business, you're setting things up etc. but you're right. I think it's really prudent to go through that scenario of “what happens if I'm not here for an extended period of time and what would actually be different?” Like could the business continue operating as business as usual?

Like you said, are there processes in place? Is there documentation? Are things automated if possible? You know, who can step in? So that's a really, really important thing, and I'm sorry you had to go through that experience. It’s almost one of those things where you don't know what you don't know yet. 

And having that scenario play out, I think that's something that we are really encouraging our community to think about, the most likely scenarios that could play out and then you're prepared for them because you’ve got a plan of how to address that scenario.

00:12:32:24 - 00:12:45:09

Penny Weber

Yeah, I mean there's things you obviously can't plan for, like pandemics and all the rest of it. But there's some things that are known, which is, you know, short term interruptions, all the rest of it. So yeah, putting all of those pieces together is really important I’ve found. 

00:12:45:17 - 00:13:14:07

Lucy Kippist

Penny you mentioned there your son and we love children here at Mums and Co, but also the Co in our name refers to the community around the business owner. So the children, the partners, the family, the friends and even the clients. Can you tell us a little bit about your Co and how they all support you to do the work of both your businesses?

00:13:15:18 - 00:14:41:00

Penny Weber

Yeah, absolutely. I love this question because so often we kind of look at the solo entrepreneur on stage or on the panel or whatnot and we wonder how they got there, and the real truth is that they could not get there without the community around them. I'm really thankful to my partner and my child and obviously the grandparents to step in and help when they can.

It's an interesting situation. When we were pregnant, my partner turned around to me and said “what does this look like for us and how are we going to kind of move forward?”. Because at that time, the business was very micro and I could have quite easily just closed it up.  

We sort of came through the discussions, we sort of came through that thought pattern of a “happy mum, happy child” and we kind of looked at “what does happiness look like for me?” in terms of my mental health and wellbeing moving forward in the world? And we came to the conclusion that, you know, I'm happiest when I'm learning, and obviously parenthood is a massive learning curve anyway.

But you know, you're also sort of balancing that within the house and outside the house and we sort of decided that moving forward with the business idea was worth doing and making sure that we managed it in a manageable kind of way as well. So sort of returning to, I guess, entrepreneurship part time, which sounds like a great oxymoron, but that’s what it is. 

00:14:42:06 - 00:15:17:22

Lucy Kippist

It sounds sensible and very balanced and probably most people should be, yes and congratulations on that. Very grown up and sensible conversation to have with your partner too because you know, taking that view from the beginning before the baby had even arrived is such an important step because we know so often we interview women who are running their own businesses here on the podcast, and they all talk about that relationship with their partner being so pivotal to the success of the business, and it's setting those parameters really early on that's going to determine their success.

00:15:17:22 - 00:15:22:06

Penny Weber


00:15:22:06 - 00:15:46:13

Carrie Kwan

And kind of a nice segway into this question…but we know that over half of that community are within the first 2 to 5 years of building their business. 

So you've mentioned those conversations with your partner and good communication, but to those who need some direction, what is the most important lesson that you would like to share or pay it forward?

00:15:47:02 - 00:16:56:24

Penny Weber

Hmm, it's a good question. I think on a personal level, I would say get a cleaner. Make that not your problem or manage the big things in your world and delegate where you can. 

Planning and budgeting I think is really important for the business, but I think the biggest pay it forward thing is to plan that you don't know everything and plan that there is like 20% of it that is probably unplannable, and to allow for that financially as well. 

Quite often we have these amazing kind of opportunities that kind of fall from the sky. I'm very thankful for them, but they're not in this business plan and all of a sudden then you're trying to work out, okay, well, how do I manage this, do this properly, make sure I can meet my business as usual, as well as being able to move forward with this great opportunity and having that 20% kind of leeway in both the business planning and the budget allows for that?

00:16:56:24 - 00:17:25:20

Lucy Kippist

That's great advice, thank you so much Penny for sharing all that. The last question I have for you is we know that business introductions are pivotal to growing our businesses, regardless of stage and industry. If there was something that you needed help with at the moment or there is a connection that you needed at the moment, who would that be? Who could we help you find that you need in your business at the moment?

00:17:27:06 - 00:18:04:20

Penny Weber

Business is in a really interesting place at the moment, which I'm very thankful for. But I'd say with The Shapes United being launched in the US right now, they're looking back sort of more locally. I really would like to bring more manufacturing in locally, but everyone has the same idea. 

So if there's someone who knows someone who has a manufacturer who has exceptional skills and is ethically, sustainably produced, I’d love to have a conversation with them because I too would like to bring it locally.

00:18:05:19 - 00:18:22:13

Carrie Kwan

Was there anything that you would like to add at this point Penny? I don't usually ask this question, but I wanted to try it. Is there anything that you want to share that we haven't covered today?

00:18:23:20 - 00:19:39:08

Penny Weber

Yeah, so Recovawear obviously came from a personal experience and we were very kind of lucky to have the people around us to be able to bring that forth into the world. 

The Shapes United came from a slightly different sort of point of view or perspective. So with Recovawear we are obviously working in adaptive clothing, obviously providing clothing for a certain circumstance.

My partner's cousin came up to me and said, “Look, I'm having trouble wearing pants.” And he does have trouble wearing pants, and he’s this beautiful person who can't actually physically wear pants and has to look for alternative clothing sources. So that was kind of the big audacious goal that I was given was to be able to create a piece of clothing that would be able to be suitable for him.

And he's looking for something to wear for, you know, going out into pubs and clubs, which is where he loves to spend his time. So we're in the process right now of developing a piece of clothing for him to be able to do exactly that. And the reason that is, I guess, the Genesis piece behind The Shapes United is because he is an unusual shape and it creates a different piece of material or a different design specifically for him.

00:19:40:07 - 00:20:23:16

Lucy Kippist

Fantastic story, very clearly meant to be in this, where you are is exactly what you meant to be. Obviously continuing on that invitation to create something else in that same sphere, it's beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that Penny, we will wrap that into I think we'll take it up to the beginning, I’ll work it out when I'm listening back.

Thank you so much for joining us on Mumbition today, and if you'd like to find out more about Penny and Recovawear and The Shapes United you can find Penny on LinkedIn and if you haven't already, please come and join the thousands of business owners just like you at mumsandco.com.au 

00:20:24:02 - 00:20:25:07

Carrie Kwan
What's your favorite colour to wear?

00:20:26:01 - 00:20:54:21

Penny Weber

Oh what's my favorite colour?

I really like, I've got two favorite colors and it's a little bit funny of me, but I really love Burgundy and I really love green. But it's funny, my son has this funny story about green. He has this lovely little story where he talks about how the baddies stole the green, so his favorite color then became pink. So whenever I think of a favourite color, I always think of the baddie stealing the green colour and leaving him with the pink and therefore was his.