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I have a beautiful granddaughter who was born with Down syndrome. She has enough challenges to face in her life and I want to make sure that finding appropriately fitting clothes will not be one of them.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Downs Designs Launches Kickstarter

(August 27, 2014) I’m heading back to the factory today and I've been sitting on this plane for 13 hours.  I have tried to sleep – can’t, tried to watch movies – boring, and spoken with some very nice people (in Chinese…yes …the best part).  So now I thought I would take a little time to get back to working on my blog that I have been neglecting lately.

Well, the buzz at Downs Designs is “Kickstarter”.  On August 15, we launched our first Kickstarter project.  Kickstarter can be a great opportunity for a business like mine to raise money.  I've been in business for 4 ½ years already and the business is not out of the red yet.  I've been using money from every resource we have and now I’m using our 401K. 

I first got the idea about trying a crowd funding program from a guy who wanted to make jeans for men and women who have large thighs from lifting weights.  He raised $735,000 on his Kickstarter program and I felt I could even do better than that (being that I have over 70,000 followers on my Downs Designs Facebook page).  I thought this would be so easy.

So we spent about 6 weeks preparing the Kickstarter website.  Chrissy and Jillian worked diligently to make the most professional and well-done site I've seen in a long time.  When it launched I really thought the donations would just start pouring in.

Boy was I wrong!  After about 2 weeks we only had 90 backers and raised about $9,000.00.  I was surprised at the little support from our followers, my friends, all my business associates and my customers.  So many people said they were going to donate, but as of this date, had not.  I think this is a life lesson I am supposed to be learning.

In the meantime, Chrissy had been sending out press releases everyday and doing a lot of Tweets on Twitter.  August 25 ago I got a call from Kiddnation radio and they asked if I would do an interview with them.  Of course I said yes.  So we taped an interview and it was to air the next morning…the morning I’m leaving for China.

I was driving to the airport at 6:30 Wednesday morning (August 27, 2014) when the interview aired and I never got to hear it.  When I arrived at the airport and got through security I hurried to my gate so I could check my laptop.  To my surprise the donations were pouring in.  I literally started to cry.  I couldn't believe that the ten minute segment was able to reach so many people who were all donating.  I am so humbled by the support of all those total strangers.  Then it was time to board the plane to Chicago.  When I got to Chicago my flight to Hong Kong was delayed for 3 more hours so my wait was now 7 hours.  I was actually excited that I would be able to keep an eye on our progress even longer.
Finally it was time to board the plane for Hong Kong and I wouldn't be back online until Thursday night. I was so excited when we finally boarded, I think I could have flown there without the plane.  So this flight has been particularly hard for me because I just want to get to my hotel room and get hooked up on Wi-Fi.  I have no idea what to expect.  The anticipation is killing me.

I can’t thank Kiddnation Radio enough for having me on their show.  They may have changed the course of Down Designs.  I’ll continue writing later when I have more information about our Kickstarter.

“It's now later” - Well, finally I checked into my room, hooked my computer and saw the new number.  The total was over 17,000 and rising.  So in the morning before the show aired, we had raised about $9,000 in two weeks and after just a few hours that number had almost doubled.  All the money that had just been donated was all from people I didn't even know.   My faith in mankind had certainly been restored!

I’m now back from China and have been home for three days.  The enthusiasm stopped by the time I left and not much has changed since I've been home.  When I left China, the total raised was $20,239.00.  That was September 3, 2014.  Today is September 6 and the total is now $21,150.00 as of this writing.  I’m sure not complaining about raising over twenty thousand dollars, but I had expected to raise a million.  I’m not sure what I was thinking, but we still have about 7 days left.  Who knows what will happen.  I’ll end this entry and leave you all hanging till I write next.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A New Beginning

Well, I haven’t written in about six months and I’m not sure why.  I've had writer’s block I guess.  Every time I sat down to write another entry…nothing came out.

So I've decided to face the beast and get back at it.  So much has happened since my last entry I don’t think I can get it all in one message so it may take several entries to get caught up.

So where did I leave off? 

Maggie Jeans were actually
being sewn at the factory
while I was there to see it!
Maggie in her first
photo shoot!
My favorite announcement is the arrival of our youth girl jeans, the Maggie Dip Down and the Bridget.  After two and half years of trial and error, they are finally finished.  They should be arriving sometime this week.  While I was at the factory on my last trip in May, I got to see them actually being sewn.  It was by far, the most emotional experience I've had to date.  My granddaughter’s jeans have finally been shipped and I can’t wait to get them in stock.  So many people are waiting for this size group.  It’s the last of all our sizes and this completes our line of jeans for all ages about two and up.  After four and half years, we've completed an incredible journey. 

Dan, showing off
his new NBZ Jeans
Well, our sister company, NBZ Jeans has launched and sales are finally beginning to pick up, but very slowly.  More work has to be done to figure out how we can market this new brand of jeans for men.  Amazon has been a complete waste of money and time.  Google AdWords has been my only source of marketing and that’s been almost a waste as well.  So, we decided to use the last two months of our Staples prize money on ads on Facebook for NBZ Jeans.  We started at 350 followers two months ago and now we have over 8,000 followers.  I think Facebook is where I need to focus our marketing dollars.  Sales have definitely improved since our Facebook advertising began.

My grandson, Patrick
is modeling our NBZ Jeans
for  boys, he looks fantastic!
When I was back at the factory in May, I was working on the boy’s line of NBZ Jeans.  The samples came in a few weeks ago and we have been testing them.  A few tweaks and I think they are ready to get into production; wow, are they fantastic.  I’m actually headed back to the factory in two days to approve the final samples and get them into production.  I also will be working on some new products while I’m there.

I’m not going to write any more tonight.  I have so much more to write about, but I’ll save it for another entry.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The New Year Is Off With A Bang!

How did the time get away from me since my last post?  I can’t believe I've missed December and January especially since there have been so many wonderful things happening.   I’ll have to try to squeeze it all in somehow without writing a novel!

December was a very busy month for us.  Sales were much improved because of Christmas.  So I expected January’s sales to be very minimal and to my surprise they were much better than I expected.  The Staples prize has allowed us to advertise on Facebook and our number of new likes during January was about 200 per day which has given us so much exposure to new people that the sales during the month of January were up more than I would have thought.  The best part was that almost all the sales were new customers, so I’m so happy to welcome many new customers to our Downs Designs’ family!

January gave me a little bad news, we didn't win the Chase $250,000 grant.  I was so hoping we could have landed the grant but it wasn't in the cards.  But something else happened by the end of January that took away the disappointment.  Huffington Post did a story on Down Designs!  OMG it was more valuable than money.

They posted the story on Friday, January 24 and by Saturday out website crashed.  Our site couldn't handle all the traffic.  By Sunday morning Eric had successfully moved our site to a bigger server and new orders started coming in.  We posted a sale on February 2 and that week we topped our best month in just eleven days.  I’m still digging my way out of the stacks of orders.    

That weekend our Facebook page “likes” jumped up 4,000 people and the emails and comments on Facebook and Twitter were nearly impossible to keep up with.  News stories and Blogs were writing all about Downs Designs.  Fox 8 came out and did a great story and ran it 5 or 6 times.  Radio stations called me and I was interviewed on several.  I've had a few Skype interviews and even an online paper in London, England interviewed me and did a story.  What an exciting time at Downs Designs.

The next really exciting news is my NBZ Jeans.  They are being delivered to us right now.  I expect our first order to arrive in about 2 weeks.  We got a sample of the finished pants and I’m amazed!  They look and feel fantastic.  So far they fit everyone I've been able to put them on.  I only got two pair as samples, a size 38 waist and 40 waist.  I’d post pictures but I want to wait until we launch them.   

I am seeking outside funding for this new brand and preparing to find investors.  NBZ has a potential market of millions and millions of men who may need help with dressing due to one disability or another or there may be men who just want a comfortable, stylish pair of jeans … which will open up the market to so many more. 

We've also decided to market them on Amazon as well.  We’ll market them as elastic waist jeans with no buttons or zippers and there is not much else available so I think Amazon may be an awesome outlet for us. 

Well, I think I managed to cover all the updates without writing a novel.   I’ll be writing again much sooner!  There will much more news to share once the new jeans arrive!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

New reason to head back to the factory

Downs Designs is launching a sister company… NBZ Jeans (no button, no zipper jeans).  We’re hoping to have our new line of jeans in stock by early next year if all goes well.   These new jeans are being designed for men only at this time.  We also have plans for a similar jean for boys later next year.    Research regarding disabilities that affect dressing is overwhelming.  The number of men and boys with a disability that makes manipulating a button and zipper difficult is in the millions. 

With the success of our stretchy men’s jeans without buttons or zippers for people with Down syndrome, I thought why can’t I make typical sizes with the same design in mind?  Women have no problem finding elastic waist jeans with spandex but a similar kind of jean for men is nearly impossible to find.  In the adaptive wear world, what is available in elastic waist jeans for men is not very stylish and are mostly for the elderly.  But with the rise of autism and other disabilities, millions of younger men and boys are faced with challenges in dressing as well.  Downs Designs jeans offer a comfortable, stylish jean that aids in independent dressing but do not fit typical men.  So the need for typical sizes in this type of style is one I hope I can meet.

So I just spent a week in China at the factory, preparing our new line of jeans for men.  I’ve chosen the fabric, pattern, accessories and stitching for 8 sizes of men’s jeans.  I hope to get samples of these jeans made in the next month and try to get them into production before year end.  I hope all goes well.

With the high costs of Downs Designs’ “try-on” service, its overhead is very high.  NBZ will share expenses with Downs Designs which will be a great help to Downs Designs’ bottom line and allow me to continue to give every customer our very special, individualized service.   My goal is to grow Downs Designs but it’s a slow, expensive process.  Having help with overhead expenses will allow me to build it just a little faster.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Five new styles are now available

New items arrived last month and I've been so busy, I just haven’t had time to catch up on my blog.  I try to post at least once a month, but the time has flown by!

So, here’s what’s happened over the last two months:    

We received our Youth boy jeans, the Alex and Patrick.  These two styles have been selling very well and customers have been very happy with them.  The fabric is amazing and they look great.  I’m so happy to have another age group available.  The Youth girl styles are still not in production which really saddens me to say.  The last samples that came from the factory still had some design problems but I think we've finally solved them and we may begin production very soon.  This means they won’t be available for about two months or so and that’s if there are no complications

Two more styles for the ladies are now in stock - the Diva and Sheryl in black denim.  We completely redesigned these styles so they will need another “try-on service”by our customers.  We made these two lades styles in much bigger sizes and I’m happy to have them available.

We also have 5 sizes of the Timmy style in black denim.  We originally were going to make another style for the ladies, but we had some design problems and chose not to make the third style.  With the leftover fabric, I had the factory make the Timmy in black in size A, B, C, D and E.  They look great and make a nice casual dress pant but the sizes are limited.

So, how’s our Staples prize coming along you may ask?  I must say it’s taking a little longer than I had expected.  A portion of the prize was an agent from Gannet Local and that part has been a little slow.  They finally assigned us an agent and we've been working on a marketing strategy which should start to kick in sometime this month (October).  I’m anxious to get this going as the Christmas season is just around the corner.

I have some more exciting news:  Last month I was contacted by Karen Watts who owns a hair salon in Arkansas especially designed to cater to children and adults with special needs.  As a mother of two boys (one with autism and one with Down syndrome) and a hairdresser, she saw the need to create an environment that would address the challenges of getting a haircut for people with disabilities.   Her salon helps make getting a haircut a more pleasant experience. 

Besides doing hair in her salon she carries many items that cater to people with disabilities and thought our jeans would be another great service she could offer.  So we decided to set up our first “try-on” station.  I sent her one of each size of our children’s, youth and teen jeans.  She won’t have to carry stock or do any sewing, just determine which pair fits the best, then help place the order.   She’s an incredible lady and I’m proud to be associated with her.

Getting the new jeans in last month (September) really boosted sales.  I was so busy with shipping I was struggling to keep up, so when we entered into Down Syndrome Awareness month (October) and we had a store wide sale and things really picked up.  Our turn-around time is taking a little longer these days, so please be patient.  

With the increase in sales I hired someone to help me in the shipping department.  I’m happy to introduce our newest member of the team, Mary Diemert.   Mary has a lot to learn about our unique business and I’m so confident that she will do a great job.   

Well, that about sums it up, I’m glad to report that sales have improved and we've added new styles.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can finally complete the youth girl style and hope for a busy holiday season.   

Monday, August 12, 2013

Winning the Staples "Push it Forward" Contest

Can I be more excited about the month of July!   I have to say that July was one of the most amazing months Downs Designs has had to date.  I don’t even know how to keep it short because so many events occurred that are major changes for us.

The biggest news of all is that Downs Designs won the Staples National “Push It Forward” Contest.  Laura saw this contest on Facebook and entered it by chance.  She had to write a small paragraph about why Downs Designs could use their prize.  Well, their prize was $50,000.00 worth of the digital marketing and boy could we use it!

Because I’m still a struggling young business, there hasn't been money in the budget for much marketing.  So winning this prize at this phase of my business couldn't have come at a more opportune time.  What we won is $35,000.00 of digital marketing and an agent from Gannett Local, a digital marketing advertising agency; and one year of Constant Contact and all their extra add-ons.  We also won a one-hour session with Steve Strauss, one of the country’s experts on small business.  Then, on top of that, we won a check for $10,000 to cover the extra taxes.

OMG, can you see the value in this for us.  This is really an opportunity for Downs Design to learn ways to grow the business.  

So with all the work ahead in marketing, I brought on board another amazing person, Chrissy Lorenzo.  Chrissy is a journalist with experience with Pinterest, Twitter and other social media networks.  She will be able to expand our marketing in other ways.   We’re all happy to have her as part of our team.

The second great news is the success of our attendance at the National Down Syndrome Congress Conference.   It was our fourth year and by far our best.  Jillian and Laura are completely responsible for its huge success.  They suggested that they take all our pants and shirts (3 of each size), our dressing rooms and a sewing machine to the conference.  They wanted people to not only be able to try on our jeans but get fitted and get the jeans hemmed right there.

So I rented a huge van for them, they took Jill’s sister and boyfriend along for extra help, loaded the van with all our “stuff”, and drove all the way to Denver (Wagon’s Ho!).  They were one of the busiest vendors there and sold lots of jeans and some shirts.  I couldn’t be more proud of my staff for the hard work and sacrifices they make to help grow our business.  They go way beyond the “call of duty”!

Well, the last good news will be hard to put on paper. I cannot express in any words, or get across the value of what happened next!!!! 

Here’s what happened:
A few months ago, one of my customers from Chicago called to reorder some jeans for her daughter.  She told me her daughter lived in a group home and lived a very independent life.  I mentioned that we may be able to set up a trunk show if there were enough people there with Down syndrome.  She told me there were about 600 residents and maybe 200 with Down syndrome.

How could there be any facility that big?  This place in Chicago is called Misericordia.  It was started about 45 years ago by a nun, Sister Rosemary.   You can visit their website www.misericordia.com and learn more about it but I can tell you that there is absolutely no place like this anywhere is the U.S. 

I also mentioned that I was looking for an investor.  So, this amazing woman invited me to Chicago to meet with her and her husband.  Her husband sat with me and reviewed my business plan and said he was going to help me find an investor, that there were plenty of families there that would be willing to help…can you believe this?  That would be the best possible situation….to find an investor who has a child with a disability that would totally get what I am doing.  She also planned a small cocktail party for me and I met some wonderful people. 

I’m not sure I can express my excitement these days.  Good things are coming!  For me every day is a new adventure.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Our new website has launched!

Since my last writing, there has been so much activity going on that I’m not sure I can explain it in a few pages of writing.  But, the website finally launched and I couldn't be more proud.  It looks amazing and I’m so excited how it turned out. 

The pressure of creating a new website was unbelievable.  I didn't know it would be so intense.  Laura and Jillian did an amazing job preparing and reviewing all the photos and text that went into the site.  The site builder, Sean, worked relentlessly for several weeks and I must admit, the pressure mounted and finally exploded.  But I couldn't be happier with the results and everyone’s hard work is really reflected on our new site.  I can’t thank everyone enough for the time and effort that they put into it.

I also want to introduce Devon Beckwith to our Downs Designs family.  Devon is a photography major at Purdue University.  She is helping us out this summer with new photos for the site.  I can’t believe the pictures she has been taking and how great they look.  I hope by the end of summer, she will have improved our site photos completely.  

We actually did a photo shoot recently with two of our models, Emily and Michael, and it turned out to be so much fun.  We shot them in our shorts, capris and short sleeve tees in Emily’s beautiful back yard.  We have more models yet to photograph, so stay tuned to see how they turn out.

We also ran a Facebook campaign which brought our “likes” to over 15,500 as of this writing.  In about a month we added over 10,000 people to our page.  Now I’m hoping to see an increase in sales as a result of these efforts.   

Our next big event is just around the corner - The National Down Syndrome Congress Conference.  It’s coming up in mid-July and will be here before we know it.  We have some really big plans for this year’s event.  Laura and Jillian are really going all out to make this year’s event our best ever.  What would I do without those gals; they continue to amaze me with their hard work and love of their jobs and what they do to help build this business.   

With the introduction of shorts and short-sleeve t-shirts, Doris, our seamstress, has been working extra hard as well.  Her idea to shorten the sleeves on our shirts and hem our pants into shorts was brilliant.   It’s an opportunity to offer a little more variety for the summer.  I love how the shirts look in short sleeves and the pants make great shorts or capris. 

We’re also trying to prepare a small catalog as well.  It’s another project Jill has been working on.  We hope to have it completed by the conference and put it on the site as a downloadable item, just like our brochure.  With everything else going, I hope we get it done in time.

Here’s the latest update on what is in production.  The ladies black jeans had some design problems.  So, we are only going to have two styles coming out in black.  Since we redesigned our ladies patterns, there were some problems with the “dip down” style.  It just wasn't possible to make it like we wanted.  Since we added larger sizes, it created some difficulty in the pattern.   With these problems at hand, we decided to just go with the Diva and Sheryl styles in black.  We’ll have to see how our new styles work out once we start selling them. 

The youth girl style continues to be a problem.  We are now having our other factory attempt to make the samples.  We cannot explain the problems we've had with the youth girl pattern.  One problem after another has plagued us. The factory has finished the youth boy styles and they will ship with the two ladies styles that are in production now.  We hope to have the youth boy styles and the two new ladies styles available in the next 6 weeks or so.  But with regret, the youth girl styles will not be ready by then.  Our other factory is also preparing the Jacob and Danny styles in black denim.  We hope that they will arrive in about 6 weeks as well. 

We finished shooting our new video.  It should be finished by the conference.  It was way more work than I would have expected and I’m anxious to see the final results.  How do you fit your entire story in a 3-minute video…challenging to say the least. 

The last big item that I’m working on is preparing to seek out an investment company or even a private investor.  It’s time!  I hope to find more funding to help grow Downs Designs to another level.  I think I've reached a point that I've done all I can do at this level and if I want to expand this business and build our sales, I need help.