Words by Abi Scaife
From K-Pop songwriter to fundraising fashion brand creator, Claire Rodrigues Lee has done it all.
What started off as a hobby during lockdown to keep her mind off the state of the world has become a business - fashion accessories brand Neon Army. Though creating accessories has become her career, it's clear that Claire’s true passion is giving back.
Through toxic relationships, career changes and even the diagnosis of the BRCA (breast cancer) gene, Claire’s dedication to charity work has always been there.
When Claire met Lucy Jackson, Chief Executive of Spread a Smile, she knew it was a sign. Spread a Smile is dedicated to supporting seriously ill young patients through hospital stays, at home care, and more. They have celebrity visits, visits from fairies, face painters and therapy dogs, outings and events and so many more things designed to give a smile to children who are going through a difficult time.
Claire - who vehemently believes in ‘meant to be’ - met Lucy through their daughters. Though the two live relatively near each other in the same city in London, they met abroad and, as they started talking, realised they had more in common than just their kids.
"I said, ‘I don't know how it's gonna pan out, I hope it's gonna be amazing… but either way, I would really like to work with you in some way’. And that's what we did," says Claire.
“Having gone through so many things, I really felt [the] deepest empathy for any children that have to go through these medical procedures,” says Claire.
“It's not just the children, it's the parents. What they have to go through …I can't comprehend it. I'm a grown woman, and I'm quite a tough girl, but they’re babies and they're going through all these things. It's heartbreaking.”
To help Spread a Smile, Claire designed a limited edition smiley face bracelet set. The cheerful design helps to remind people to smile, even when things seem difficult - and all of the profits made from bracelet sales will be given to the charity.
“I just think that the Universe works in ways for a reason,” says Claire. “And maybe the universe wants me to help Spread a Smile. I think that I'm supposed to help breast cancer charities as well because that's why that happened to me.
“I want my business to be successful … because then I have a platform to do good. That's really important for me.”
The profits made from the bracelet set will go back to Spread A Smile, and help to provide joy for children who are struggling with ill health right now. These funds will contribute to visits from favourite fantasy characters, adorable therapy dogs, and even musicians to bring children some bedside joy.
In 2022-23, Spread a Smile will deliver over 8,000 in-person bedside visits and over 2,000 virtual visits, in partnership with 30 NHS hospitals – an increase of over 200% since the start of COVID-19 due to extraordinary demand.
“I think part of being positive is being kind as well,” says Claire. “I think it's all connected. Being a good person and being positive [are] all part and parcel of the same thing.”
To purchase Claire’s bracelet and donate to Spread a Smile in the process, you can visit the Neon Army website. To get involved with Spread a Smile through fundraising, you can do so on their website.