Jan Erickson was simply helping out a dear friend who had suffered a stroke and needed extra care and support. Then one night she had a dream. Literally. She dreamed she had a soft, beautiful jacket that was easy to get on and off for her friend. The dream was so vivid that she got up and sketched the jacket and then went back to bed.
“I thought about it and I thought about it for a couple of months,” said Ms. Erickson, now the owner of Janska. “I just had to do something so I took it to a local manufacturer to make the jacket for my friend. I wanted it to be open in the back, but closed at the neck, and soft, and colorful.”
Janska is just one example of a business that was inspired by an individual’s caregiving experience to fill a need in the market—whether with a product or with services for those who require care, or a way to support fellow caregivers through different means.
Although Ms. Erickson started out making a jacket that would keep her friend warm and safe, the concept soon evolved into a new kind of adaptive clothing. “There was nothing on the market like what we wanted,” she said. “We wanted clothes that were not only comfortable but provided emotional comfort too.”
Today Janska offers cozy and comfy wraps, jackets, capes, vests, leg warmers, mock socks, and hats—all in a variety of vibrant colors and style types.
Caregivers who become entrepreneurs might be called “caregiverpreneurs” and we have a couple of examples of successful caregiverpreneurs to share:
Liz Emery, owner of Liz & Ett, found inspiration for her business when she was providing care for both of her grandmothers and saw a need for more stylish apparel for people who are affected by changes in mobility. The idea is to maintain dignity, regardless of age, by wearing a SmockFrock™ in a fashionable print or dapper vest that is easy to put on and take off during meal times.
Ms. Emery recalled sharing mealtimes with her Nanny in a nursing rehabilitation facility where the 88-year old woman was recovering after a debilitating stroke. “The bib at the nursing facility was horrendous—plaid, short, and worn by both men and women, it was a far cry from anything that Nanny would have ever worn in her life,” Ms. Emery said. “Besides being ugly, the bib was completely non-functional—since it was short, the food ended up all over her lap. The napkins we used always fell on the floor and we’d end up having to change her clothes after every meal.”
A medical student at the time, Ms. Emery started designing an alternative garment for people like her Nanny, then taught herself to sew and created her business. “I fundamentally believe that bibs are for babies and adults deserve a more dignified solution,” she said.
Peter Rosenberger has spent nearly 30 years providing care for his wife, Gracie, who was seriously injured on a car accident as a teenager and later had to have both legs amputated. Mr. Rosenberger was inspired to start a weekly radio show to offer caregivers like himself support. He has also written books filled with humor and wisdom drawn from his decades of care and millions in medical bills.
Maintaining a sense of humor was and is an essential element during the caregiving experience, these “caregiverpreneurs” said.
“Caregiving is truly a labor of love—and a team effort,” Ms. Emery said. “In doing hospice care in my parents’ home for Nanny, we were beyond sleep deprived, up changing diapers in the middle of the night, doing laundry, making meals, giving meds, and struggling to find time to even brush our own teeth. But we still found ways to be creative and inject humor day-to-day.”
Making a Difference
As these caregivers turned business owners sought to help their loved ones, they have gone on to provide comfort, solace and practical assistance to countless fellow caregivers.
“A man whose wife had cancer wrote to me to say, ‘I knew your items were kind of special, but they were indispensable and became a security blanket because of their softness’,” Ms. Erickson said.
The SmockFrock™ is now being used beyond the dining room, Ms. Emery reported, and for privacy when people in a rehabilitation facility or hospital want privacy when going to the bathroom. “The zebra print has been a big hit!” Ms. Emery said. “As one customer said, even though her mother had Alzheimer’s she still liked to feel “jazzy”.”
Caregiving, though exhausting and challenging, can also be inspiring and life changing in unexpectedly positive ways as these caregivers turned entrepreneurs have shown.