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Thursday 17 December 2015

Joanne White Launches into Fightwear

Mature student and single mum Joanne White is one of the first budding entrepreneurs to take advantage of Southampton Solent University’s new enterprise crowdfunding platform, Launch Pad.

Third-year fashion graphics student Joanne and her partner Jon, himself a Solent alumnus, are using Launch Pad to kick-start Rainha – a new brand of ‘fightwear’ sports clothing for women, focused on martial arts like Brazilian jiu jitsu. “It initially started as a form of self-defence,” Joanne says. “I went along to see what it was all about and fell in love with the sport. But after being there for a while I noticed that the women’s kit was massively lacking in its variety – and the cuts didn’t fit properly.

“I joined forums and pages on Facebook and kept seeing the same complaints over and over again, and I was still struggling to find a solution. So we thought: why not do something about it?”

Named as one of Britain’s top 20 universities for graduate start-ups in the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction Survey (HE-BCI), Southampton Solent is always looking to provide inspiration, information, advice and guidance to enterprising Solent students and graduates.

“The idea behind Launch Pad is to challenge the students and graduates to think in an entrepreneurial way and raise funds themselves,” says Richard Sant, Solent’s Employability in the Curriculum Manager. “It’s an opportunity to showcase their projects and business ideas to a larger audience, and gives donors and supporters an easy way to get involved.”

Rainha Fightwear’s first sample, freshly delivered.

Starting a business had always been in the back of Joanne’s mind, but after she started talking to people beyond her gym and even those in other combat sports, they realised there was a gap in the market.

“We had heard bits and pieces about Solent’s support for start-ups and funding, so we found an email address for someone that works in that area and basically flooded them with questions.

“The uni has given us plenty of advice, but due to how much I’m juggling I can’t make it to all the workshops that are supplied… so I’ve taken on an extra business unit this year, to fill any gaps!”

As well as working on her studies and looking after her daughter, Marlee, Joanne also suffers from fibromyalgia, a painful rheumatic condition. “It’s a crazy amount to deal with. It’s meant that I have to be beyond organised with my uni work, and I often move the deadline forward for myself by a week just in case I end up with health problems that put me out of action.

“The University have been great, all my lecturers understand that I have fibromyalgia and that I have other big responsibilities outside of University. My mentor Jackie has been amazing – having someone there for an hour a week to help me with my work or my time management – or even just to let me vent when I’m struggling… it’s been great, and it’s helped me stay calm and focused.

“Everyone I train with are more than understanding about my health, too. Thanks to my team mates and the sport itself my health and confidence have improved massively in and outside of training.”

Joanne’s daughter, Marlee, in training.

Getting the Rainha brand started was quite an experience for Joanne and her partner Jon – designing their clothing range, working with professional pattern cutters to ensure their garments deliver on the promise of a perfect fit, and working to secure the funding they’ll need, they’ve also been working to promote the brand where it matters – to the martial arts community.

“Our main way of reaching people and getting donations is social media; we have 500 followers on our Facebook page, and almost 200 on both Instagram and Twitter.

“We won’t be naming any names as yet, but we are in talks about working alongside some existing brands and artists, sponsoring events. And keeping our eyes open for up-and-coming female fighters in the Brazilian jiu jitsu community for sponsorship – we want to support and help women in the sport as much as we can, and of course it also helps get our brand out there!”

The University’s courses and enterprise efforts have always had a focus on helping students and alumni build practical experience, from freelancing to business skills and self-reliance. Says Richard Sant, “The enterprise team offers support and guidance in areas such as business planning and protecting your idea, through workshops and boot camps.

“We also offer start-up funding – we are aware of the advantages start-up businesses will have if they receive a little seed money to get the ball rolling. Students can pitch to the University for a contribution to their crowdfunding efforts, pitching their idea in person before a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style panel made up of external entrepreneurs as well as university staff.”

Joanne’s Rainha Fightwear pitch was the first project on Launch Pad, and several others have joined her since. To students who might want to follow in her footsteps, bringing their ideas to the marketplace or starting their own business, Joanne says: “Make sure it’s something that you love and are passionate about.

“Things won’t always go to plan but just keep going. With all the different challenges I have faced, it’s shown me that I can get through anything no matter how hard things get!”

To find out more about Launch Pad, or to see Joanne’s Rainha Fightwear project and other enterprises from Solent students and alumni, visit