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Young entrepreneur sets up sportswear company to raise mental health awareness  

A 22-year-old from Caerphilly has set up a sportswear company with the aim of helping raise awareness of mental health and is donating 10% of his yearly profits to mental health charities.

Ellis Smith, in his final year of Business Management at Cardiff Metropolitan University, has ADHD and OCD and found that exercising, in particular CrossFit, manages his condition day to day. He has used this personal experience to create his fitness and leisurewear brand, The Barbell Club, which also aims to promote mental health.

The Barbell Club sells a range of products including t-shirts, hoodies and hats through an online shop. The brand’s slogan, ‘Physically Fit, Mentally Strong’, was created by Ellis to reflect the ethos behind the company in raising awareness of how exercise can help mental health.

Ellis said: “I find exercising, and CrossFit especially, keeps me feeling level-headed and controls my OCD and ADHD. When I was younger, I played a lot of sport so it seemed to mask itself. But as I stopped playing football and exercising, the conditions seemed to come on stronger. I had more spare time and wasn’t releasing energy. Looking back now I can see how much exercise helped.

“There is so much research that says exercising can drastically improve your mental health and because of this and how exercising has helped me, I wanted to set up The Barbell Club. I’ve called the brand 'The Barbell Club' because I want people to feel like they are never alone, they are part of a club. Through this business, and by donating 10% of my yearly profits to mental health charities, I hope I can make a difference to people struggling with their own mental health.”

Ellis is also launching new products for women very soon including sports bras and workout vests.

Ellis started his business with the help of Big Ideas Wales, the youth entrepreneurship service in Wales. Big Ideas Wales is part of Business Wales and is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government. The service is aimed at anyone between the age of 5 and 25 who wants to develop a business idea.

Ellis found out about the service through Steve Aicheler, entrepreneurship engagement manager and Enterprise Champion at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Ellis recently secured £1000 of investment from the Centre for Entrepreneurship at Cardiff Metropolitan University. The Centre works in partnership with Big Ideas Wales to provide support for graduate start-up businesses.

Talking about Big Ideas Wales and the support received so far, Ellis said: “I found the service really helpful, it opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t considered before about business. Mark Adams, my business advisor, was particularly helpful and guided me on what would work for the brand I had envisaged.

“It was great knowing I had the support for peace of mind and understanding they were there for me during the whole process made such a difference in my confidence as a new business owner.”

Mark Adams, Big Ideas Wales business advisor, said: “Ellis is a very driven person with a flair for business. He has turned his passion for CrossFit and his compassion for mental health into a business. I can’t wait to see where the business goes and I wish him all the best for the future.”

Talking about why he wanted to start his own business Ellis said: “I’ve always wanted to own a business, to make my own career, to be my own boss and make a mark on the local community.

“Now I have been able to make this dream a reality, all I want to do is continue growing and developing the company. In the immediate future I am attending a variety of CrossFit and sporting events including Inferno in Cardiff taking place in August where I will be selling my products.”

Ellis has ambitions of being able to employ members of staff as the business grows. He continued: “My ultimate goal for Barbell Club is to help people who are suffering with mental health. If just one person decides to talk to someone about their own mental health because of the company, all the hard work would be worth it for me.”

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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