From overcoming cancer as a child to starting his own company: Project North founder Aidan Tregay talks business
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All of a sudden, Aiden wasn’t eating his food, he was lacklustre, and he kept throwing up. Worried, his mum took him to the doctor. When the test results came back, it was the worst news imaginable: cancer.
Diagnosed with a Wilms' tumour, a rare kidney cancer, Aiden underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy, lying in bed amidst a mass of tubes and wires with the steady beeping of machines ringing in his ears. But, following 18 months of treatment, he recovered.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” says Aiden, 22. “I can still smell the chemo, see the ward, and hear the noises. When I went to sleep, it felt like I was sleeping on wires - I still can’t go to sleep with my phone charger near my bed because it takes me back.
“But I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those doctors,” he adds. “They gave me a second chance at life and, because of that, I’ve always wanted to give back, but I wanted to make it a regular thing. I knew I’d feel guilty if I didn’t even try to do something.”
That something is Project North, the apparel company Aiden founded to give him a creative outlet whilst also providing him with the means of making regular donations to charity. Hence the name: it’s Aiden’s project to fundraise for the North Manchester General Hospital
“I’d always been interested in design and had a creative mindset, but I’d not gone to fashion school or anything like that, so I went into engineering originally,” says Aiden. “But, during lockdown, I was watching Dragon’s Den with my mum and that inspired me to give it a go.
“I made a few sketches and designs and it was then that I realised I could use the brand as a way of giving back to charity, too,” he adds. “My grandma was a big help: she believed in me and gave me some money to get it started and we’re doing okay now.
“I’m investing back into the business, but I also put some aside for annual donations: we donated £1,000 in August.”
Having taken to designing for up to 18 hours a day during lockdown, Aiden soon had a collection of over 120 designs and started a UCLan foundation design course. For the first time in his life, Aiden was enjoying academia.
But he soon came to a crossroads: the business was taking up too much of his time, so he made the decision to drop out. “If the business had teetered because I was busy with uni, I’d have been devastated,” Aiden explains. “I had an entrepreneurial mindset and it worked.
“I have my lows and get designer’s block sometimes, but then I look at where I’ve come from and I know I can’t give up,” he adds. “I told everyone I’m going to be a millionaire and that I’m going to do a lot of good for people, so that’s what keeps me going.
“The brand really is part of me.”