I’m always inspired when I see others turn their love of embroidery into something more. Sometimes it develops out of a love of a great hobby; sometimes it comes from somewhere completely unexpected. When I came across today’s Urban Entrepreneur, it was accompanied with the thought that I would have loved something like this as a kid, because like many kids all over the world, I had pretty bad food allergies when I was young.
You see, in the hands of Ann from Alert Wear, embroidery is not just decoration. It’s an important part of making sure information and medicide that allergy prone kids need is close at hand. Not only can embroidery convey allergy information or warnings to adults, it also serves the vitally important function of getting kids to willingly wear the very important but admittedly cumbersome holder for their meds. By giving what was once often hidden or dreadfully dull a bold new statement, kids can wear their packs with pride, and parents can know their life-saving meds are close at hand at all times.
Ann joins us today to talk about what started this amazing little company, and how embroidery fits in to what she does…
Explain how your store got started. What’s the story behind Alert Wear?
Like many businesses, I got my start by creating something my children needed. Both of my children have life threatening food allergies and asthma. When my daughter was little, I was petrified to take her anywhere or leave her in anyone’s care for fear that she might take food from someone. I searched for a product that would scream “I have food allergies DO NOT feed me.” When I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, I started sewing. I wanted to create a smock with a huge medical alert symbol in the middle and “Do Not Feed Me – Food Allergies” around it.
My daughter, then a toddler, went with me to the embroiderers to drop off the smock. When I picked out the design, she let me know right away that she would not be wearing snakes. The idea to have kids design their own alert gear was born right there.
Our doctor advised us to have our kids’ meds with us at all times. When my son started school, we dropped off the medications and assumed that they kept them with our son throughout the day. On the last day of 1st grade for my son, I volunteered for field day. We were a good two city blocks away from the nurse’s station and I asked the teacher where my son’s meds were. They were back in the classroom and she saw no need for the meds to be with us since we were still on school grounds. Anaphylaxis can kill quickly, so that was not acceptable to me. That day, my son started wearing his medicine in a fanny pack.
Everything was going well until 3rd grade when the kids started making fun of him for this big pack that hung on him. It was then that I started making epi-pen cases that could be hidden under clothing, could hold 2 epi-pens and looked cool. The very first case I made was using a design from your site that my son picked out: Get Inked. He still loves that design!
How did you get into embroidery? Do you think it helps your product work better for your audience?
I have always loved personalized things but, had no clue how to embroider and did not have the money to invest in a fancy machine. I had had numerous requests to make a smock like my daughter’s for others but, when I added what her smock cost with fabric, time and having a local professional embroider a design on it, no one would be willing to pay for it.
So, I watched for a home embroidery machine on Craigslist and finally found a decent one for a great price. It didn’t come with lessons or a manual and I didn’t have funds to invest in lessons so, I taught myself from online videos, just playing with the machine and lots of help from my friend Christy, from Chunky Monkey Diapers, who lives in another state.
Embroidery is absolutely essential for my products because the designs and emergency information need to be very durable. These items are expected to last a school year and yet are worn more consistently than any pair of tennis shoes or jeans. And what kid *wants* to wear their medicine or smock?
If they have a part in designing it, the fight to get them to wear these items is gone. I have even gotten reports back from parents of kids sleeping with their medicine packs because they love what they created so much!
Where did you first find Urban Threads?
My good friend Christy tipped me off to your company a couple of years ago when I was looking for designs that would appeal to tweens.
What kinds of folks are your customers? What makes what you offer unique?
My customers are mostly moms who have children with life-threatening food allergies like me. I do get a few requests from parents of kids with other health issues as well.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you began?
Oh I have learned many lessons!
Right now, I am learning to set office hours and better production time expectations. I have been running myself ragged trying to fulfill orders and not spending as much time with my family. I wouldn’t be doing this if it were not for them though. I have also learned to include my family in the business as much as possible. In addition, I have learned to really listen to my customers’ ideas. Many of my of their ideas have ended up being some of my best sellers.
Where would you like to see your shop in one year? Any fun stuff planned for the future?
I am really just trying to take it one day at a time right now. Eventually, I would love to be able to employ others to help me. And I do have a lot more product ideas I’d like to make.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and your amazing store with us, Ann. It just goes to show that embroidery as decoration doesn’t just mean it makes it pretty. It means it makes a essential item that otherwise may not be the most desirable to wear something fun and personal for kids. That might just mean the difference between having meds and not when the moment counts, and for me, that makes what you do really amazing. From one who had epi-pens as a kid in an ugly plastic case, kids of the next generation thank you! I wish all the best for this fantastic idea.
If you want to check out more or perhaps are interested in getting a case for your little one, check out Anne’s store, Alert Wear.
Do you use Urban Threads designs to create one of a kind products? Want to see your story or your store featured here and join our gang of Urban Entrepreneurs? Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to your store/website or attach sample photos, and you could be featured!