Being chronically ill, it’s hard to keep up with “normal” life, “normal” jobs and the “normal” pace of life. I wasn’t fitting into “normal” society, something needed to change. And it did. Not only for myself, but for hundreds of thousands of others as well. And this is how it started…
Trying to make ends meet
The Unchargeables community started as just one shirt. I wanted to sell shirts online to provide for myself and my daughter, because I kept getting fired from my regular jobs for being sick too often.
For weeks I tried making shirt designs about various topics, moms, cats, dogs, teachers, and so on. None of them sold though. I got frustrated and reached out to a marketing friend who I knew was already selling shirts successfully. I asked for his help. In return he asked me: so what are you good at? What do you do all the time? What do you already know a lot about? The only answer I had for that question was “living with my invisible illness”
I had just moved countries with my daughter and had no support system at all. I started making some friends, in the three months that I had been in the new country. Since nobody can see on the outside what is wrong with me at this moment in time, I had to tell people that I am chronically ill from the moment I met them. Just in case bad times would strike again. I did this to protect myself and forewarn them. At this moment in time I still had a lot of unaccounted for symptoms, mystery symptoms that I really didn’t know what to do with.
And then there was the shirt….
Back to my marketing friend. I answered him: I know a lot about Fibromyalgia and living with invisible illness and started laughing. But I can’t make a shirt about that! “Why not?” He replied. Let’s search for some images and memes online and see what we can come up with. Within an hour we came up with what is now known as the first The Unchargeables signature design ever.
I made a Facebook post and advertised it to people that might be interested in it. And it worked! I was happy it sold, but something else happened too. Something I didn’t expect. The post got thousands of comments and in these comments I found a lot of people that needed support. When I started replying to them, they gave me support in return too! I didn’t even realize I needed it at that time. That’s when The Unchargeables community was officially born.
I turned the Facebook page into a support community page. After six months we had 19,000 members and I couldn’t handle supporting this many people by myself any more. Something needed to change, I was burning out.
The end is near!
In telling the community that I wasn’t able to support them as much any more, people started offering to volunteer to help out. From there it grew from just me running a Facebook page to a team of volunteers running the page, opening a closed support group and opening our very own shop.
At first I picked the most affordable vendor for our products, but soon found out that was not the best choice. It’s kinda like the saying you get what you pay for. The feedback I got from the initial customers was not pretty. The actual shirts were fine for healthy people. Chronically ill people have specific needs though that most healthy people don’t. For example the fabric was too stiff and uncomfortable on their sensitive skin.
They were asking for bigger sizes, more style options, super soft fabric and all of that was missing.
I knew I needed to give the community what was absent, because nobody else was doing it yet.
In the next months I was searching and searching for the perfect vendor that catered to our communities needs. But I didn’t even know where to look! How would I ever be able to find a vendor that provides all of this?
I looked for examples to model after, but nobody was doing this yet. I had to figure it out all by myself. I asked around a lot, but all the advice I got from fellow marketeers was useless. Because they didn’t understand our specific needs.
Every day I got up and kept searching. I sat behind my computer until my body ached so much that I couldn’t take it any more. I had to lay down again. But even then I kept going from my bed. I knew I would make it happen but didn’t know how yet.
I needed to step away, because I was draining myself completely.
One day I was talking to a friend that I hadn’t spoken to in a year. He asked me what I was up to these days. And I told him about my shop and how I wasn’t happy with my current vendor. Immediately he suggested that I use this amazing vendor and he could hook me up. OMG!
And that’s when everything changed.
This new vendor could offer me everything I needed and then some. I realized I could offer so much more than just shirts. Because in talking to community members and sharing my story I was pointed in the right direction to figuring out what was wrong with me. I had all these symptoms that I couldn’t place nor did I know what to do with. People that I didn’t even know started telling me that they thought my symptoms sounded like something they had.
My miracle baby
A community member with Hasimoto’s pointed me to a website about Hashimoto disease. I went there and found an article about Miracle babies. I read it and recognised my pregnancy completely, the bad moods, the negative attitude, the utter exhaustion and how I felt like my body was trying to get rid of the baby before it was time. The last two months of my pregnancy I was on complete bed rest on doctor’s orders. They did not know what was causing any of my discomforts and assured me everything would be fine. I didn’t really believe them, but they are doctors so I took their word for it.
Back to the website, when I read about the Miracle Baby stories. I knew in that moment, this was what was causing my unexplained symptoms. I took my suspicions to another specialist and found out that I indeed had Hashimoto’s disease. They gave me the correct treatment plan, now I finally knew what I could do to help myself feel better.
Because of this experience I didn’t only want to sell shirts any more. I wanted to make The Unchargeables into a brand. I wanted to create a brand where people like me could find clothes that fit comfortably. I wanted it to represent the life I live with, on a daily basis and raise awareness, while still being positive, funny and have a strong message. I wanted to make stylish awareness apparel that you can wear proudly and represents the fight against chronic illness. Part of my purpose is knowing that I am creating not only just a community, but lifestyle wear in which people can show on the outside how they feel inside while at the same time being super comfy.
You are not alone!
The Unchargeables community grew from a t-shirt. Our community grew into a brand. And now being a Chargie is a “proud” lifestyle chronic illness fighters can identify with and know they are among others who truly understand their battle while showing the world their strength.
I developed all the different aspects of The Unchargeables brand because I want people to have a safe place to share their stories and symptoms with each other. Not simply just to remind them they’re not alone, but so that they may share in other people’s experiences and stories to help point them in the right direction so they can advocate for themselves and seek the proper care they need.
So they don’t have to be like me searching for years to be pointed into the right direction and see the correct doctor. I knew there was more going on with me then I initially thought. My mystery symptoms suddenly made sense to me and I knew where to go from now on.
I could have never guessed in my wildest dreams that my hours of research to create a shirt would grow into providing more than just a service, to so many of my fellow chronic illness fighters. I am so grateful for the chance to share with chronic illness warriors all over the world that they are never alone, and never will be. I love being a Chargie.
Natalie, Founder The Unchargeables