Meet 21-year-old Charlotte Elizabeth who launched a chic handbag collection two years after becoming paralysed

Launching a handbag line at the age of 21 is a feat in itself, but when you can't draw or sew and have been paralysed for over year, it would seem to be an impossible task. Yet that is what Charlotte Elizabeth Jones has done, building her accessories business from her bed.

The 21-year-old from Hertfordshire first had the idea to create her own handbag label at the age of 16. "I had a heart operation in 2012 and I had to leave school at 16 because of it. I couldn't get A Levels or go to uni, and it was hard to find employment because of my physical health conditions," she explains to The Telegraph. "I'm one of three sisters and noticed we were never happy with an every day handbag. I had such a clear a vision of what I wanted it to be - very clean cut, minimal and inspired by classic 50s handbags, when it was an experience to have a handbag."

Despite her strong ideas about what she would create, Charlotte had no design training or experience within the industry. In 2014, when she was 19, Charlotte attended a four-day Prince's Trust course to learn more about setting up a business, but two weeks later she suddenly became paralysed, meaning she couldn't even speak, let alone hold up a pencil.

Charlotte Elizabeth's Bloomsbury bag

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"I suddenly just collapsed," she recalls. "I had had flu-like symptoms for nine months before, but had been told everything was fine. I had a heart arrhythmia that was never supposed to come back after my heart operation, so it was a freak episode. I collapsed and basically lost all muscle ability within seconds. I remember gripping onto my sister's hands and I genuinely thought I was dying. I lost all ability to talk, I was shaking constantly and had gone so pale. When I went to hospital they thought I had had a heart attack or a stroke, which was obviously terrifying to hear at the age of 19. Then I was discharged and told I had anxiety, and finally after a tough battle I was diagnosed a year later with postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTs) and following on from that I was diagnosed with ME."

"The day it happened and I came home my parents had to hold me up as my feet couldn't work," she continues. "It was as if my heart had given up; I was at 200 beats per minute which is three times the resting heart rate. I remember looking at the stairs and seeing Mount Everest - it was honestly completely unattainable. I was carried up to bed and then remained there for a year."

"We have this place in our body called the autonomic nervous system," Charlotte says of the condition PoTs, which Ella Woodward of the food blog Deliciously Ella also suffers from. "If you imagine a car, that's the engine; the control centre that makes your body work. It affects everything from your heart rate to your digestion to even producing tears - I couldn't produce tears for six months, but I was crying. I couldn't go to the loo, I couldn't lift my hand off the bedside, I couldn't smell, I was just laying. I couldn't even have the curtain open a centimetre because the light would trigger me to faint. At one point I couldn't speak."

Unsurprisingly the situation left Jones feeling desperate, and led to depression and anxiety, which was exacerbated by her fight to receive a diagnosis. "At one point I gave up. I had lost most of my memories and couldn't think properly and thought 'what do I have to live for? If no one is believing me how will I ever be able to stand up again?' It's more terrifying than you could ever believe, especially when doctors disbelieve you and think it's all in the mind."

Jones explains that the idea of creating her own label was something that stayed with her throughout her paralysis and spurred her on to start pushing herself to try to get it started. "I thought if I can create something through all of this I can do anything," she explains. "That's why my business is so special to me as it started at the absolute rock bottom. It has been with me through my worst moments."

She became paralysed in June 2014, and in the Autumn of that year began thinking about her first designs. "Because I lost the ability to use my hands and muscles, I couldn't draw, so I was trying but it was very childlike," she says of those first designs. "My sister's boyfriend is a designer so he drew more specialised sketches so people would know how to make them."

She then spent a year finding her manufacturer and leather and brass suppliers, which are all based in Britain. "In January of this year I had my prototype come through and the final design. It seems quite a long time, but it was short for me because I was so unwell, everything was on a different time scale," she explains.

A year on from her diagnosis, Jones has taken her first steps outside and has set up her own online shop, selling her minimalist chic- and affordable- Bloomsbury bags for £129.

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