Sustainability, Financing back

Cloth with pump

Cloth with pump
Photo: © Ruby Limes

Around 8 million people in Germany live with diabetes. Over 70,000 of them wear an insulin pump - which is usually neither practical nor good-looking. Frida Lüth, actually a journalist, wants to change that: She founded Ruby Limes and develops underwear for insulin pump wearers - fashionable, functional, inconspicuous. How does it all work? How do you set up a company like this?

INTERVIEW   Jens Thomas 


CCB Magazine: Frida, you founded Ruby Limes. Please tell us: What is Ruby Limes? And what do you do?

Frida Lüth:We make underwear with hidden pockets for insulin pump wearers. Very simple and very chic. The pump is stored in a pocket that is not visible from the outside. The pocket inlet at the waistband offers the possibility to remove the insulin pump inconspicuously. For the additional strain of frequently sliding the pump in and out, the inlet is reinforced with a soft elastic band as well as a particularly firm seam. This is how we solve a medical problem fashionably.

CCB Magazine:How did you come up with this idea?

Frida Lüth:I'm a career changer. Originally, I come from journalism. Since I was 18, however, I've been sewing my own underwear. In my late twenties I had a writing crisis - that's when I took up sewing again. An acquaintance who is an insulin pump wearer came to me one day and asked if I could sew a bag for her pump that could be integrated into her underwear. Suddenly there was a demand for my things. That's how it all started.

Got an idea: Frida Lüth. She makes underwear for insulin pump users. Photo: Ruby Limes

CCB Magazine:And the product works how exactly?

Frida Lüth:The insulin pump is about the size of an IPod or a pack of cigarettes, about five by nine centimeters. The pump must be accessible at all times and connected to the body 24 hours a day with a tube and a catheter. The catheter usually sits in the abdominal region. However, there is also the option of wearing belt clips or abdominal belts. Men also often put the device in their pants pockets. Some insulin pump wearers also make their own mounting options. Our approach is to create a product that doesn't look like a medical device, but functions medically. The pump is not visible from the outside. It sits in a hidden pocket.

CCB Magazine:There are currently around 8 million people with diabetes in Germany. 340,000 people in Germany are affected by type 1 diabetes, over 70,000 of whom wear an insulin pump. Not everyone wants to aestheticize their health problem right away. Were there people who felt disturbed or even complained?

Frida Lüth:No, not really. However, women in particular often feel restricted in their choice of clothing by the pump. We have also been asked by men at trade fairs and events why there are no boxer shorts of our product. We thought men were more pragmatic than women. Well, we were wrong. The great thing is that our product is flexible. There are customers who wear our underwear every day and on all types of clothing. Others say, oh, that's a great option for sleeping, so I don't have a tangle of wires. Still others - even non-diabetics - put their keys in the pocket when jogging or money when dancing. We just offer an option for how to wear the insulin pump - fashionable, functional, unobtrusive.

CCB Magazine:What does the name Ruby Limes stand for?

Frida Lüth:The name is based on our corporate colors: Ruby stands for ruby red and Limes for lime green. We wanted something that didn't sound like diabetes and illness, but fun and joy.

Pumps: The underwear for insulin pump wearers from Ruby Limes. Photo: Ruby Limes

CCB Magazine:The project requires a great deal of expertise, both health and fashion-aesthetic. How does that come together? And how many people are working on Ruby Limes?

Frida Lüth:I work alone, but draw on the expertise of others. For example, I work closely with insulin pump users, doctors and diabetes advisors. Through the Berlin Startup Grant, through which I was funded and which runs through the universities FU, TU and Charité, many diabetologists and doctors were at my side within the first year. So I was able to clarify important questions, which clothing materials I can take, which technical aspects it needs, etc. In the end, we tested 60 fabrics until we found one that fit. Because the fabric has to offer support. At the same time, it must not be too thick. The tips must be able to hold the weight of the pump and still remain soft so that they don't cut into the skin. I had the help of many test subjects, all of whom work in very different professions. I simply have an insanely grateful target group who are happy that someone is doing something for them. Again, I do the designs myself, as well as the product development. Last year, I also worked with a PR agency. But I am the only one who is permanently employed.

CCB Magazine:Is Ruby Limes your only product?

Frida Lüth:So far, yes. But there are different styles. I started with two panty styles for women. At some point I added short tops, later long ones and the men's boxer shorts. We also developed sensor covers, in case you want them to be invisible for a change. I always respond to requests from customers who come to me with suggestions and requests. I also do surveys to decide which product to tackle next.

CCB Magazine:Around 60 percent of all creative companies fail within the first five years. 78.4 percent of startups in Germany are financed partly from their own savings. In addition, there are government subsidies, borrowed money from friends, family and business angel capital. How did you finance the project? Can you live off it?

Frida Lüth:I would say that I'm well on the way to being able to make a living from it. Setting up a company like Ruby Limes on your own is an insane amount of work, and the crucial question is what happens after the initial period. I was lucky; I received a grant for a year. Unfortunately, there is little support for the time after the start-up. Business angels or something similar is more for larger medium-sized companies. I actually wonder why there is no funding for the first years. So far, the request has doubled every year. At first, I was just selling online. In the second year, it started with retail partners, two big and two small ones in Germany. I'm growing - slowly but healthily.

CCB Magazine:You talk about trading partners. Who are they?

Frida Lüth:Companies that sell my products in their stores. In the meantime, there are also diabetes supply stores and specialty stores that sell my products in Germany and Denmark. In addition, there are doctors' practices and diabetes consultants who support me. The goal is to work increasingly with partners abroad as well.

CCB Magazine:To what extent does the concept of sustainability also play a role here?  

Frida Lüth:With us, everything comes from Europe. Every single supplier is consciously selected. I pay attention to high quality and fair production. Likewise, I look that things are certified and regularly visit the production facilities with which I work. Currently I have two small ones in Berlin, one of which is an integrated sewing workshop and a family business abroad.

CCB Magazine:Final question: How great is the risk that the product will be copied by others?

Frida Lüth:This danger always exists. And there are certainly brands that offer something similar. But my product is clearly distinguished from others by the fashion aspect. My approach is that none of the products are externally different from lingerie from conventional manufacturers. Basically, the best protection against copying is to be a good strong brand of your own, and that includes strong customer loyalty. But if someone wants to copy the idea at all costs, they'll do it anyways. At the moment, I still feel relatively safe. The niche is too special for the big industry to care. Smaller companies first have to follow this long path of development and quality assurance. I also have loyal and great customers. A small community that is open to me. That makes the work all the more fun.

Category: Innovation & Vision


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