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20th May 2019

Madlug: Life goes inside

Victoria Evans highlights the positive activism of ‘Madlug’: a brand fighting to end the stigma many children in care experience
Madlug: Life goes inside
Photo: Gareth Rees, Madlug

In 2015, Dave Linton registered Madlug as a social enterprise. With a small sum of £500 to finance such a quest, Madlug luggage brand was born with a vision; to give dignity to children in care.

Dave’s background as a youth worker and respite foster carer prompted him to conceptualise the brand ‘Madlug’. After seeing first hand many children transporting their belongings in bin bags, he knew he had to do something to fix the problem. Madlug’s strategy is simple: ‘Buy One, Give One’.  With every bag purchased, they give a bag to a child in care.

An acronym for ‘Make a Difference Luggage’, Madlug is quickly becoming a recognisable brand and an effective way to communicate a story. Surprisingly, only two people currently run this enterprise. Dave Linton and Gareth Rees’ work is touching with a phenomenal goal in mind. This is undoubtedly how they have seen so much success in the first four years.

Northern Ireland is not known as a hub for brand innovations, so it has been a creative working progress to date. Part of the manufacturing process takes place in Belfast, allowing for the production of local and more ethical stock. With the help of Queen’s University, Belfast (QUB) students and various pilot schemes, Madlug has expanded since 2015 to create and give more bags in Northern Ireland and the UK.

To date, Madlug has produced over 5,000 bags across the UK with current finances set in place for the distribution of 10,000 bags. To put these figures into perspective: there are 90,000 children in care in the UK; 3,000 of which are in Northern Ireland. So far, Madlug has donated over 1,000 of the bags to kids in the Northern Irish care system. Dave and Gareth are about to send 1,000 more bags to a local authority in England.

And, with plans to go into charity partnership, the brand shall continue to multiply its distribution. Although the company gives the bags directly to local authorities, young people and foster carers can also request bags directly from the website. Bags are unbranded to avoid stigma, but say “you’re incredible” when folded up – exactly the message the brand seeks to promote.

For purchasers, a plethora of backpacks, gym bags, luggage, and smaller day-packs are available. They come in a variety of colours, making the brand a versatile and worthwhile choice. There is something to suit everyone’s tastes.

Madlug’s marketing success owes much to the impact of social media – Instagram in particular. Dave told me in four years they have spent no more than £8,000 on marketing. This is a comparatively small sum to that of other businesses. Instagram has allowed the brand to expand, offering a platform for organic marketing. The increased content of #madlug posts capture travellers and their Madlug bags, far beyond the UK. The virtual and physical worlds are thus exposed to Madlug, creating further opportunities for dialogue.

The objective of the first four years was to begin to tackle the bin bag situation. Dave and Gareth want to continue to grow. Their goal for the next five years exceeds raising the funds in order to do so.  There is a focus on growing the brand as a non-verbal symbol of communication. As a visible marker of empowerment, it is not just about funding the bags. It is about ensuring the brand becomes a physical metaphor displaying care.

There is one child in care moving every fifteen minutes. By purchasing a Madlug bag you will be helping to minimise the amount of kids transporting their few belongings in bin bags. By dually giving and conveying a message, you will be ensuring that every child in care is helped to feel valued and incredible.

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