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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.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Conference Begins

At last the doors open and slowly people start to wander into the exhibitor’s hall.  Finally, people began to stop by our table.  We would explain about our clothing line and show them our jeans and shirts.  We explained that we were here only for testing purposes and that we were not selling our jeans at this point.  The response was overwhelming.  Parents were so excited and couldn’t wait for us to have our jeans available.   
Our first jeans and shirts were strictly for adults.  Most of our conversations were with the parents but many of the adults with Down syndrome were also excited to hear about our clothes.   The parents would tell us about their struggles to find clothes for their children and we explained that, in time, we would eventually have a full line.
We finally started to get some volunteers to try on our jeans and some even tried on a shirt.  Sometimes we were met with resistance and a little stubbornness and the parents would have to talk a few of their children into trying on our jeans.  But after they changed their clothes, I would ask if I could take their pictures and they immediately turned into America’s Next Top Model.  They posed for me every time like a pro.
We were amazed at the transformations.  Some of the parents wanted to take our samples home and were ready to order from us right there.  But, at this point, we were not prepared to sell anything.  This trip was only an opportunity for us to see how our jeans and shirts fit.  Not everyone tried on the shirts, but our main focus was on the jeans.  Our sizing was very successful for almost everyone, although there were a few that the fit was just not good.   
We listened to the comments by the parents; we heard what they had to say about the challenges of finding clothes.  We listened to what they didn’t like about our jeans, too.  The one thing we noticed a lot was how some of our volunteers pushed the waistbands down under their bellies when they put on the jeans and their parents told us that they wore all their pants like that.
Seeing how often this happened, we thought this might be a sensory issue, that some of these people didn’t like having anything around their waists.  So Jillian and I decided to try to create a style just for them.  We decided to call them our “Dip Downs”.  We thought we could design a pair of jeans with a full elastic waistband that would cover the hips in the back but come done slightly under the belly in the front.  When we got home, we would have to see how we could create this style.
The other major change we decided to make was the waistband itself.  The ribbed band that we originally used just didn’t make the jeans look like jeans.  It made them appear more childish.  Even though they were comfortable, we wanted our jeans to look like every other pair of jeans you buy in the store, accept that ours would fit a person with Down syndrome.
The next changes we would have to make were some adjustments to the T shirts.  We decided we couldn’t have a man’s and woman’s shirt.  We saw a need to create a shirt just for the ladies with a fuller figure and make a unisex shirt for men of all sizes and for smaller ladies who did not need the extra width across the bottom.  Other small changes also needed to be made as well.
After three days of spending time with so many wonderful people, it was time to pack up and head home.  We knew we had more work to do on our adult sizes once we got back but we even found a little time to relax by the pool.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The NDSC Conference – our first event

At last Jillian and I are ready to leave for the conference.  I am so relieved that our last shipment arrived in the nick of time and the weather is perfect.  We leave Cleveland without a hitch and arrive in Orlando as scheduled.  A short ride to the hotel and we’re ready to check in.

After we settle in and unpack our clothes, we take a walk around the hotel grounds.  It’s a huge resort and there are people everywhere with Down syndrome.  They are every age, size and shape.  I look at all the body shapes and wonder how our jeans and shirts will fit them.  I hope we get lots of people to stop by our booth and try them on.  We’re just here to see how they fit, we have nothing to sell.  This is it, the big test!

We’re a little nervous about the next few days but we’re excited at the same time.  Here we are at last with a year’s worth of work behind us and have we no idea what the outcome will be.  We head to the registration booth and find out what the procedure is for the exhibitors.  I’ve never done anything like this before, so I must learn the “ropes”.  We get our instructions and pray that the package with our dressing room and half our clothes arrived here safe and sound.

Finally, we’re allowed into the exhibitors’ hall to prepare our booth.  There it is, the huge box containing our dressing room.  We breathe a sigh of relief.  We start unpacking and realize we’ve forgotten the instructions on how to assemble all the pieces.  Well, Jillian and I make a great team.  In no time at all (and lots of laughs) it’s assembled, we figured it out!  We hang the curtains, unpack all our jeans and shirts and prepare our display table.  We’re ready to go.

The room is filled with all kinds of displays.  We wander around the room for a while and meet some of the other exhibitors.  There is such a variety of vendors such as educational material for new parents, special toys, jewelry made by people with Down syndrome who have started their own small business, books, even special glasses frames made for people with Down syndrome; there must be more than one hundred exhibitors.

Just across from us, there is a young man with Down syndrome setting up an unusual display.  We watch with interest as he and another man, who appears to be his father, put up a huge net.  We also see a set of golf clubs sitting there that look like they may be for children.  The young man looks like he may be in his twenties and is dressed in shorts and a golf shirt.  His stature is not like a person with Down syndrome at all.  He’s very tall and looks like an athlete.  When they are done setting up their display, I finally ask the father about what they do.  He tells me his son is a golf pro for people with Down syndrome and they sell specially made golf clubs as well.  His son travels the country giving lectures and teaching golf.  I was so impressed by this young man’s special gift.  He was also one of the speakers at the conference. 
There are no limits that I can see for people who have Down syndrome.  Being at this conference and seeing all the people in attendance made me realize how much opportunity and support there is available and the endless possibilities for people with Down syndrome.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Special Angel

My first experience with Down syndrome didn’t begin with Maggie.  It really began on September 17, 2002, when my daughter gave birth to her premature twins, Bridget and Brendan.  They were about 3 months early and were very tiny.  Bridget only weighed 3 pounds and, unbelievably, didn’t need any life support; but Brendan was not so lucky.  He was even smaller yet, weighing only 2 pounds, but had to be intubated immediately.  Brendan also had Down syndrome. 

As Bridget grew and got stronger, Brendan struggled for life.  He remained in the NICU on life support for weeks and went through some very traumatic times.  Bridget continued to thrive and came home from the hospital but little Brendan had to stay behind.  By January, he was finally released from the hospital but still remained on oxygen.  He was the most beautiful child and, somehow, always managed to find a smile. 

Our family did all we could to help my daughter and her husband.  Even my parents, who were in their late 70’s, were amazing.  I remember how they spent every day at the hospital sitting in the waiting room after Bridget was released.  My dad would hold Bridget for hours while my daughter would tend to Brendan.  She also had two other children at home that needed her attention but was the most amazing mother to all of her children that I had ever seen.  My son-in-law's love and devotion for his family cannot be compared: and even though he was a busy physician, his family always came first.  The times were very difficult for all of us, but for my daughter and son-in-law, I just don’t know how they did it!  I believe their strong faith in God held them together during these exhausting and worrisome times.

We thought things would get better once Brendan got home, but his time at home would be short lived.  His lungs were very weak and a sniffle from a sibling would soon turn into pneumonia and he would be back in intensive care.  This went on for months and on June 1, 2003, he lost his battle for life.  Our family was devastated to say the least.  This is very painful for me talk about even now, but I feel that without knowing about Brendan, my story is not complete. 

My amazing daughter and her husband did not let Brendan’s life pass without giving his life an even bigger purpose.  Two years later they adopted a child with Down syndrome.  Maggie is that special child who was blessed to be given two of the most wonderful parents any child could ever have.  She was born March 29, 2005, and they brought her home just a few days later.  From the moment I held her in my arms, my heart began to heal.  My love for her was instant and she has continued to bring us so much joy that words cannot express.

All the wonderful things that have happened since I began my journey with Downs Designs are because I have a guardian angel watching over me.  I know there have been no coincidences and I could never have planned for things to work out so well.  It seems that whenever I have a problem, there is an immediate solution.  If I need to know something, the answer finds its way.  If I need help with something, just the right person comes along.

Brendan was only here for a short time, but he touched our lives in so many ways.  I think he will continue to touch many more lives as he watches over me during my efforts to build this business.  At age 62, most people are thinking about retiring but I feel that I've just begun my true life's purpose.  With a little help from my special angel, I hope to continue to find a way to develop this clothing line for people with Down syndrome.  Little Maggie faces many challenges in her life ahead, I hope that as she grows up, her wardrobe won't be one of them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Preparing for the Conference

As the weeks pass, we really learned a lot about our models.  We enjoyed our visits with them and actually had became good friends.  Our desire to create these clothes becomes more important as we see the struggles of their wardrobe challenges on a daily basis.  There is so much work to be done in just a few short months.

Our first jeans and shirt
 Our first pants and shirts were purely experimental.  We finally complete our patterns and send them off to our factories in China.  I had the jeans factory make one of each size jeans in all the styles and the shirt factory make a white T shirt for men and woman in all the our shirt sizes.  We have a deadline to get these completed by mid-July.  When we designed the first jeans, we used a ribbing material for the waistband not denim.  It was very soft and comfortable, but didn’t quite look like jeans.   We used a full elastic band for the woman and a partial elastic band for the men with a full zipper.  
We made many mistakes along the way.  I can’t tell you how helpful the pattern maker was at our jeans factory in China.  He had 20 years’ experience in the industry and really worked with us as we created our first pair of jeans.  The shirts were not that complicated and the shirt factory didn’t have as many problems.  At this point I knew Jillian and I would need to make a trip China before we actually placed our first order.  We would have to pick our fabrics that we would be using.  I knew that seeing, feeling and touching the fabrics would be important to our selections.

Our portable dressing room
 Next, we would need a place for people to try on the jeans and shirts.  I reserved a larger, corner booth knowing I would need some sort of dressing room.  I knew just the right person who could create a dressing room for us that we could transport.  Wow, next thing you know we have 6’ x 6’ x 6’ dressing room made out of PVC pipe that we could assemble and disassemble with ease.   It worked beautifully and Jillian finished it off with black curtains.  All I needed now were the jeans and shirts and we would be ready for the conference.  
The factory had our patterns and they are unlike anything they had ever seen before.  (Remember these factories are used to making “skinny” jeans!)  They have nothing in their designing system to relate to this type of garment.  My contact there is so helpful and is committed to getting this order to us on time.  (I’ll to tell you all about him in another chapter.)  By now, we’re running right down to the wire for completion of these clothes.  Time is drawing near and the jeans are not completed.  The jeans and shirts are going to be shipped together. The conference starts FRiday, July 23 so I'm hoping to receive the shipment by Monday, July 19, 2010.  If they arrive Monday I can have UPS ship them via truck to the hotel in Florida and the cost would be fairly inexpensive.  If they arrive Tuesday, I’ll have to pay extra for faster shipping.  If they arrive Wednesday, they can still be overnighted and get to the conference by Thursday, but that would have been very costly.
Good news, half the order arrived the week before and I ship the partial order and our dressing room down to the conference center in Florida in plenty of time. But the other half of the order is still not here yet.  Here’s what happened next…My contact in China shipped the remaining order on Thursday, July 15 by express delivery and it should arrive by Monday.  I breathe a sigh of relief!  But my relief is short lived.  Tuesday comes and my package hasn’t arrived yet so I start tracking the package and find out its flying all over Europe.  Then I find out the shipper sent the package by economy class by mistake.   
I’m trying to remain calm and not panic, but I must admit, I was a little nervous.  If I don’t have the entire order, there would not be much point in attending the conference with only half of our pants and shirts.  But I stayed focused on good thoughts and visualized the package arriving on my doorstep sometime on Wednesday.  I refused to belief anything bad was going to happen. 
My most important "Special Delivery"
I contacted the carrier, which was DHL, as soon as I realized what had gone wrong.  The customer service people couldn’t have been more helpful.  I told them how important this package was and they said they would do all they could to get it to me on time.   The plane carrying my package finally lands in Cincinnati on Wednesday morning about 5:30 am.  It had to clear customs, fly to Cleveland Hopkins International and then be trucked over to the DHL distribution center in Strongsville.  By the time it reached the DHL center, all the trucks had already left for the day with their deliveries, but they made a special delivery to my doorstep anyway…the package arrived Wednesday afternoon…just as I had visualized it would.  I knew this shipment had flown in on the wings of an angel.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why Downs Designs clothes are so different

After months of working with our models, here is our basic conclusion about the many differences in their body shapes that makes wearing clothes made for typical body shapes almost impossible for most people with Down syndrome.  The upper leg bone is much shorter in a person with Down syndrome (about 5-7 inches).  In pants, this makes where they taper in a completely different place.  In typical pants, the knee tapers below the knee of a person with Down syndrome so the fit is very inappropriate. This is why just hemming a pair of pants doesn’t make them fit well.  It creates a “stove pipe” look in the pant leg.  This also creates the big difference in the inseam length.  In just the people we worked with, we found the average inseam to be between 20” and 26”.   This is why just hemming a pair of pants doesn’t make them fit well at all.  Pants made by Downs Designs have been designed with these issues in mind.  We may not be able to fit every single person perfectly, but I think our pants will be the best fit they have ever had.  And by offering to hem each pair per order, the length should be a perfect fit. 
Regarding the shirts, there are many differences in them as well.  The upper arm bone is much shorter in a person with Down syndrome, so the taper at the elbow on typical clothes is not in the right place.  Shoulders are usually very small which also adds to the poor fit at the wrist.  Most long-sleeved shirts are way too long and need rolled at least 3 or 4 times.  Necks can be a little bigger around and we find that most do not like tight fitting collars.  Also, we find that as we scale up the size around the mid-section, we have to keep the shoulder size smaller. Creating these shirts around these particular issues is important for a proper fit and using a raglan sleeve solves the problems where the sleeves hang on the shoulders.    My goal is to make sure that rolling up long sleeve shirts will be a thing of the past.

I call our special sizing, “downsizing”.   The name of our styles and sizes has to be different from typical size clothes.  We must distinguish our pants and shirts sizes from typical ones?  The first jeans we designed we simply called them small men and large men for the style names and the sizes we use letters A,B,C,D, etc.  We did the same for the women.  The shirts we merely named them men’s and women’s and used S,M,L,XL,etc.   Later we had to change the name of the shirts because the men's shirts were actually for both men and woman but the women's shirts were only for the full-figured women.  We also changed the name of our jeans, too.  I decided to name them after our models.  It was one way to  show how much I appreciated all their help. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jillian Meets the Models

Appointments are in place and we start to meet with our models one by one.  Jillian is fantastic with everyone; her kind heart radiates.  She loves working with our models and begins to understand the purpose of her new job. She first starts with muslin fabric to use for the fittings.  It’s inexpensive and she’ll go through a lot of it as the weeks go by.  When making the pants for each fitting she makes a pair out of muslin, then adjustments are made to that pair of muslin pants and then she makes another a pair based on the corrections of the last pair.  

This goes on for many weeks and when she is satisfied with the fit, she makes a pair out of denim.  She explains to me that designing an article of clothing for a person in not that easy.  Sometimes it takes several attempts to get a good fit and maybe even more after that.  But creating a size of clothing for these unique body shapes is like being Christopher Columbus; she is discovering a new world in unchartered waters.  As we return to our models, the fittings are not always very good. A change in one place, changes how it fits in another.  Also, some of our models are more difficult to fit than others.  The unique shape of a person with Down syndrome definitely becomes apparent.  What an awakening for us both.  By the time Jillian and I are satisfied with the fit for our models, she will have made over 80 pairs of pants.
During this fitting process, I realize that just a pair of jeans in not enough.  We would at least need a T-shirt.  How I could possibly have a picture on our website of our models wearing a pair of our jeans with an inappropriately fitting shirt.  We must have a basic shirt for sure!  What pair of jeans doesn’t need a T-shirt?  So, not only does Jillian have to create a pair of jeans, but also a T-shirt like no other.  What has she gotten herself into?
But the next problem with this overwhelming task is that these pants she has created only fit our models.  We must create a pair of pants that will generically fit a mass of people that are all so uniquely different. If we are the only source of clothes for people with Down syndrome, we will have to create several different styles to fit several different body shapes.  The next big issue is creating a size for each of our styles.  We cannot use typical sizes; we already know they don’t fit.  So we have to invent a size, I named our sizing “Downsizing”.  We have to come up with a way to label our clothes with a size that is unique to our clothing line.  Even after that, how do we know they will fit a population of people with Down syndrome?
As luck would have it (but for me I think it’s more than luck) I learned about the National Down Syndrome Congress Convention being held in Orlando, Florida in July.  What an opportunity!  This could be the perfect venue to test the fit of our jeans.  So I purchased an exhibitor’s booth.  I felt if we could complete a pair of jeans in several styles and various sizes for adult men and woman, and finish a simple long-sleeved T-shirt, we could use this event to see how a variety of different people would look in our jeans and shirts.  We already knew how much better our models looked in proper fitting clothes; but what a way to see how they might fit many others.
This gave us a target date to finish designing a pair of jeans and a simple T-shirt.  Now, we must complete these patterns, get all samples of each style and size manufactured, have them shipped here from our manufacturer in China and then ship them to Orlando by the end of July…no pressure here!  Am I out of my mind; what was I thinking.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finding Jillian

After Carrie told me she would not be able to help me with the designing, I didn’t get upset at all, I just knew I hadn’t found the right person yet.  So the next day I called back to the design school and spoke with the person in charge of job placement.  Carrie had been kind enough to call the school as well, and told them what I needed.   The woman at the school already had a name for me.  She told me about a girl that had graduated the previous year and still had not been working in her profession.  She said she might be available.  Her name was Jillian.
I called Jillian right away and it was truly my lucky day.  I spoke with her for quite some time and knew immediately that I had found my designer.  She was very kind and sweet and was not working at the time; she was certainly available to start working right away.  We set up an appointment the very next day and I couldn’t wait to meet her in person.
We set up a meeting the very next day.  She was not only very sweet but very beautiful as well.  She was tall and dressed like a designer.  She came prepared and brought some of her work to show me.  She had graduated at the top of her class and, as an extra bonus, her mother was a seamstress.  She was ready to start anytime.  She did live quite far, but she didn’t mind driving at all.  It looked like I’d had another divine intervention.  As I realized later, Carrie had made the right decision not to get involved because she worked a full-time job.  The job for me became full time right away.  Once I found Jillian, she began working everyday and Downs Designs was moving forward!
Together we agreed to meet with the models.   I told her I had taken the measurements already, but now that I had her, I wanted her to start from scratch.  She knew what she was doing, and I was not the expert in this field.  So now that I had her available to work full time, I thought we could start from the beginning. 
So it began, we called all our models and set up a time to meet.  I decided that I would take pictures of our progress.  I wanted to start documenting our work.  What I was doing seemed to be going too well to be just a coincidence.   I thought maybe that five years from now I would have wished I had kept good records and pictures and by that time it would be too late.  Downs Designs is like a baby in the womb.  Right now it’s just beginning to develop.  The DNA is in place and it’s starting to take form.  Soon the arms and legs would begin to take shape.  I didn’t want to miss a thing!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Taking Measurements

Well, this next chapter is a bit of a challenge!  I have now made appointments with several parents and their adult children to take measurements…but to tell you the truth; I’m really clueless about this next step.  So, I set up another meeting with Carrie about how to take measurements.  I thought a little tape measure wrapped around someone’s hips was probably going to be very easy…little did know!
Carrie and I met again at my office after she finished work one day.   She brought me a little bag of accessories that I would need to use for taking proper fitting measurements…OMG!  She started to explain the procedures of how to wrap elastic around certain parts of the body, and then showed me how to mark various spots with tape and from those markers, hang a weight on string to get a straight line down from one point to another.  
It took about two hours for her to explain this procedure and I was really nervous.  So I decided I would practice on my mother a few times.  After several tries I actually got more and more comfortable with wrapping and taping and taking lots of different measurements to areas of the body that had many different names.  Okay…what does Petite Hip mean? 
My first appointment was with Rae Kinnaird’s daughter, Kelleen.  What a delightful and beautiful girl she was.  I really enjoyed my visit and felt very confident about my measurements.  I took pictures of everything and the position of the markings.  I thought it would be helpful to show them to Carrie.   It actually turned out to be a wonderful experience.  I couldn’t wait to meet more of my models.  After about 3 weeks, I had gotten measurements from all of the them. 
Shortly after I finished measuring, Carrie calls me with some shocking news.  She told me that she didn’t feel she would have enough time to help me; she had been offered a job at the design school teaching a few nights a week.   What was she saying?  She was quitting before we had even gotten started.  Now what was I to do? 
I couldn’t believe how calm I was.  I told myself that Carrie must not be the person that I was supposed to be working with, there must be someone else out there that I just hadn’t met yet!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Looking for "Fit" Models

Without really knowing anyone with Down syndrome except for my 5-year-old granddaughter, I had no idea how I would find volunteers to be a “fit” model for me.  First I called The Upside of Downs, our local Down syndrome organization.  I spoke with the director; her name was Robin.  I briefly told her of my plans and asked if we could meet.  She was very gracious and agreed to meet with me. 
Next, I stopped by our local rehabilitation center.  I found out that I wasn’t actually allowed to speak to anyone there due to privacy laws.  So that avenue was not an option.   I would have to wait for my meeting with Robin.
Our meeting was at a Starbucks in Beachwood on my next day off.  She told me to look for a woman wearing a black hat.  When she walked in I knew right away it was her.  What a lovely lady she was.  We sat and talked for a while and I told her of my plans.  She was very excited and offered any support she could.  I told her I was looking for adults who might be willing to be “fit” models for Downs Designs.  She suggested that I contact Rae Kinnaird.  She told me that Rae had an organization of adults with Down syndrome and other special needs that got together regularly for different events like bowling, jazzercise and karaoke night.  She gave me her phone number and suggested I contact her.  She told me more about the Upside of Downs and what the organization was all about.  She was so helpful and I couldn’t thank her enough.  She even agreed to put an article in the USOD Newsletter about Downs Designs.  I was so appreciative of all her help.

After I left, I couldn’t wait to contact this woman named Rae.  I actually made the call on my way home from our meeting.  I was able to reach her right away.  I introduced myself and explained how I had obtained her phone number.  I told her what I was trying to accomplish and that I was looking for adults to allow me to take their measurements: she was also very helpful.  She explained a little bit about her group.  She said I might want to attend their karaoke night.  They met at Toth’s Bar the first Wednesday of every month.  Their next event would be Wednesday, December 2, 2009, and she said I would be welcome to stop by.  She said that some of the parents would be there and I could possibly talk with them.  You won’t believe where this place was…Toth’s Bar was in a strip mall just a short walk from my house.  Another accident…I think not!
There was nothing more I could do at this time but wait.  The night finally came but the weather that night was very cold and icy.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  With the weather being so poor, I thought it would be a small crowd.  Armed with business cards and a notepad, I was ready to go. 

When I walked in the door, I was greeted by Rae Kinnaird.  She was at the door taking money for the buffet.  I introduced myself and we talked for a while.  She explained that there was a buffet and a disc jockey here and everyone would eat first and then the singing would begin.  Later there would also be dancing.  I couldn’t believe my eyes…the place was packed!  People with Down syndrome and other special needs filled the room along with parents and caretakers.   

Timmy and Lori

The atmosphere in this place was amazing.  The air was full of excitement.  Everyone was just starting to line up for the buffet.  So I sat with Rae for awhile and we talked about my plans.  I explained what my business was all about and told her that I would need to find several people who might be willing to help with my project.  I was hoping to talk with several parents tonight and try to set up a time that I could come to their homes and take a few measurements of their son or daughter. 

Kelleen, "The Diva"

Rae’s daughter was my first volunteer.  She was 33 years old and was born with Down syndrome; her name was Kelleen.  What a beautiful girl.  I talked with her for a little while and explained what I was doing.  She was happy to help.   Wow, that wasn’t so hard! 

Charlie and Sheryl

As the night went on, I began to feel a little more comfortable talking with people.  I met quite a few parents who were dropping off their adult children or were just hanging out at the bar with some of the other parents.  By the end of the evening I had found my volunteers.  I’d made appointments with all them and looked forward to the next step.  By the end of the night, I had been completely enlightened by the whole experience.  I had just enjoyed a lovely evening with some of the nicest people I had ever met. 

Michael and Emily


There were so many adults with mental and physical challenges there, but I didn’t see that at all, I just saw lots of people having fun.  Whatever challenges they had, they left them at the door.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My First Designer

It’s now the middle of November, my office is finished and I’m ready to get down to business.  I need to contact the designer that the school told me about; her name was Carrie.  After a little phone tag, we finally set up a meeting.  We agreed to meet at my office one evening after she finished work and she would go over what I would need to begin the design process.
Carrie was a beautiful girl.  She worked for a company in Cleveland that made work clothes.  She said she was very busy and worked a lot of hours.  But when she heard what I was doing, she said she would like to help me.  I told her of my plans to start with just jeans for now.  She thought that it was a good idea to start with just one thing.  She explained that creating a special size would be very difficult and there was a lot work involved.
She explained that first I would need to find “fit” models as she called them. The fit model is used as the template so a designer can create an article of clothing.  The designer takes many, many measurements from the fit model and then creates a pattern from that person’s measurements.  From that pattern, the designer creates an article of clothing like my jeans, for example.  It would take many visits with the fit model (called “fittings”) to get a proper fit.  Once the designer is satisfied with the fit, the pattern is “graded” up and down into various sizes.  I would need more than one fit model because not all body shapes are alike and various styles would need to be created. I would also need men and woman, boys and girls and also small children. 
I did not realize then how much time this would actually take.  I just thought she would take some measurements and then make the jeans…sounded easy to me!  Boy, what did I know!  So the next thing I had to do was find a few people to stand still long enough to get a few measurements. Where would I find people with Down syndrome to be a “fit” model?  I only knew my granddaughter and I knew that she would never stand still!  This is when I decided to start with adults first.  Mmmmm, where do I go from here?   Karen

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Finding Office Space

So far, I have some idea where I’m going to get financing, I have a designer in mind and I have a marketing person I like … now I need a place to work.  I definitely wanted something close to home so when I’m 90, driving to work won’t be too difficult.  I decide to search the internet first.  I found the number of someone who had commercial office space for rent in the area.  I called the number posted on the website and got an answering machine.  It may have been a day or two later when I got a phone call from Ted, he was responding to my phone message.  I explained what I had in mind and he said he had a place that just might be perfect for me.  So he gave me the address and we set up an appointment to meet the next day.   
When I got there, the place was about 5 minutes from my home.  I really liked that feature for sure. The address was on Tyler Blvd. in a building that had many similar units.  Each unit had a large garage door and a glass door to enter.  There may have been about 8 or 9 units in all.  We went inside to look around.  We first walked into a small room which led into another room that was about twice the size of the first room.  There was a small bathroom and a little kitchenette.  The office area was fully carpeted.   From the first room, a door opened out into a warehouse area.  It was huge!  The last tenant was a small construction company Ted said.  It definitely needed some decorating if I was going to use this space, but the space itself was perfect.  I knew it was exactly what I needed for this type of business.  When he told me how much the rent was, I just couldn’t believe it.  Totally affordable!  I signed a one-year lease that day!  I knew I wasn’t really ready for an office yet, but I had to grab this place because I may never find anything this perfect for this price again.  Besides, I thought I would use this office to have my weight loss meetings.   It was much closer to home than our medical office in Willoughby so it wouldn’t be a total waste if I didn’t need it right away.   
It didn’t take long for me put my own personal touch into the place.  I hired our favorite handy man, Bill, to turn this office and warehouse into a suitable environment for my clothing business.  I decided to use the first room for a reception area and the back room for an office.  The warehouse needed a lot of work, but Bill performed his magic.  I had the whole warehouse floor carpeted and he painted the entire area.  For those who know me it was ... pink ... of course!  Part of this area would be the shipping department and the rest would warehouse the clothes I would be distributing.  I had Bill hang a few more cupboards in the kitchenette and finish painting the offices.   He did a beautiful job. 
Next, I bought some furniture for the reception area and hung some curtains on the window.  I contacted a young woman who photographs children with Down syndrome to see if she would sell me a few photographs that I could hang on the walls.  She agreed so I bought four beautiful black and white photos that added the perfect touch to the reception area.  The rest of the office equipment and furniture would come later when I needed it.  For now, this was perfect.  Did I find this place by accident…I think not! … Karen

Friday, September 17, 2010

Meeting Michael

I belong to a local gym in the neighborhood and workout about 3 or 4 times a week.  One morning last October, I was on a treadmill chatting with a young woman named Rebecca.  Rebecca is a pharmaceutical representative who used to call on my husband from time to time.   I talked with her about my business idea and she thought I might be interested in meeting her fiancĂ© because he had a small marketing company.  Later she introduced me to him, his name was Michael Cardamone.
Michael and I talked for quite a while that day; I explained my idea for a clothing line for people with Down syndrome.  His first question was, “Why do they need to have special clothes?”  This is a very common question asked by almost everyone.  I explained about their different body shapes and what a struggle it was to find clothes that fit appropriately.  His first comment was:  “This sounds like a public awareness issue more than a marketing idea for a clothing line”.   After he made that comment, I knew at that moment I liked him!    In the months that followed, Michael would become a major part of the business.  His experience would be very valuable in the development of my clothing line.   Another chance meeting?  I don’t think so!  …. Karen

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Okay, I know for sure I’m going to build this business and I also know I’m going to need money.  But, I never gave that much thought at all; I would just go to the bank and borrow it.  My credit was excellent and I had never been turned down for a loan in my life.   How could this be a problem? 
I made an appointment with my accountant and told him all about my plans.  He said when I was ready he would write a business plan for me.  My accountant had been with me for years; he knew I had a great sense for business and that I was a very determined woman.  I have no formal education in business, but I do have a natural gift.   He warned me that times were very different now and banks weren’t loaning money as easily as they had in the past. But I never thought for a second I couldn’t get a loan.  So, he gave me a list of all the information he would need to write a business plan and off I went.
First I had to gather the cost of manufacturing clothes.  What did I know about manufacturers?  So back to the internet I went.  I typed in clothing manufacturers in the United States.  There was a long list and most were in foreign countries, but I narrowed it down to a few companies that were fairly close to Ohio.  I felt travel would be much easier if this place were closer.  The most helpful company I found was in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  When I called there, I actually spoke to the owner.  I told him that I knew nothing about manufacturing clothes and would really need a lot of guidance.  I shared with him what I wanted to make and he took a lot of time to explain what was involved in manufacturing clothes.  Then he explained the costs; there were charges for everything.  There were minimum orders per every color fabric, set up fees, marking fees and pattern maker fees.  Once we got past all the set up fees, then there was the cost per item.  Of course, he couldn’t quote any actual prices without patterns but he did give me a ballpark cost. 
In my mind, I think I’ll make a variety of clothes for all the ages. But, after speaking to the factory owner and realizing what this may cost, I narrowed it down to four or five items.  He had mentioned to me that I should probably start with just one thing.  Was he crazy?  How could I only make one thing?  So I calculated that I may need as much as two or three hundred thousand dollars just for manufacturing 4 or 5 different items.  Okay, I need to visit the bank and see about getting a loan.  I can do this, no problem!
The reality of my request came very quickly.  There was no way any bank was going to loan me that much money for a start-up business!  I couldn’t believe it!  What was I going to do now?  I left the bank with my head down to my knees.  The feeling I was experiencing really couldn’t be put into words.  It was as if someone had just punched me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me.  I never dreamed a “little” thing like money would stand in my way!
But that devastating feeling was very short lived, my spirits began to rise again and I felt my enthusiasm returning.  I realized I had a fairly large line of credit at the bank already and I could do this without a loan at all.  I wouldn’t need that business plan after all!  I remembered what the owner of the factory said, “Why don’t you start with just one thing?”  A light bulb went off in my head and I said to myself, “I’ll start with jeans; everyone needs a good pair of jeans!”  I was back…and I could do this!
I called factory owner back and talked about just making jeans.  He told me very few jeans were made in the United States.  He also told me they were very expensive to make and that he was one of the few manufacturers left in the U.S. who still made them.  I pressed him for a ballpark price and he guesstimated about $20.00/each to make a child’s pair of jeans.   Can you believe that price…I can buy a nice pair of jeans for Maggie at Children’s Place for $14.00.  So, I called a few other manufacturers around the country trying to find someone who might give me a quote but without success; one place even hung up in my ear and told me, “Honey, nobody makes jeans in the U.S.”  click…Karen