From sleeping on the office floor to tea with Richard Branson and taming Dragon Deborah Meaden

Rob Manley of Illuminated Apparel
Rob Manley of Illuminated Apparel
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Sleeping on the office floor for 18 months and walking a mile each day just to find a hot shower – an entrepreneur has been there and now he’s got the T-shirt.

Rob Manley, 24, who grew up in Brackley, believed in his “magic” product and so did Dragons’ Den investor Deborah Meaden.

Appearing on the hit BBC show, Rob explained how it all began in his mum’s kitchen when he experimented with chemicals and stumbled on a unique glow ink.

He then combined the ink with a T-shirt to create an interactive outfit which you can draw on with a torch. Illuminated Apparel was born.

Rob, who left Magdalen College School at 16, said: “I had some really tough times. I was working seven day weeks, around the clock, which meant I was pretty much sleeping rough, on my office floor.”

“I walked a mile to a gym each day just for a shower and with nothing but a microwave, I was surviving off ready meals.

“But it was because I felt so passionately about the magic of the product and how far it could go.”

Rob quit his job as an estate agent in 2014 and began to build his business. He even created his own printing equipment using scrap wood and connecting a rotisserie oven to a clothes rail.

But with minimal interest, manufacturing issues and and dwindling funds, Rob resorted to living from his London office.

He stuck it out because he believed in the product and by 2015, Illuminated Apparel was up in lights on The Gadget Show.

The ink, which is printed onto the T-shirts to create a canvas, is 10 times brighter and lasts 10 times longer than any of its competitors.

Rob’s T-shirts sold out on popular website Not On The Highstreet two weeks before Christmas.

And he had a cup of tea with Richard Branson at his house last year to discuss Rob’s new role as a Virgin StartUp ambassador.

But it was his backstory and determination which saw Meaden pump her fists as Rob accepted her £50,000 investment offer for a 20 per cent stake in the business.

“It felt like a big moment,” said Rob, who is on track to hit a £250,000 turnover this year. “Of course it was nerve-wracking but I thought to myself: ‘Just keep calm and if I can sleep on my office floor, then I can tame the dragons.”

The future looks bright for Illuminated Apparel, with plans in place to develop a range of products to include an interactive whiteboard and wall stickers.

Follow Rob’s progress and check out the range at www.illuminatedapparel.co.uk