Entrepreneurship

How Having Children with Eczema Inspired Me to Start My Own Business – Written by Amy Pruitt of The EczeMama Club

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a tiny square blanket.

The EczeMama Club, and the business I hope to eventually grow it into, all started about four years ago when I was shopping for my newborn who was newly diagnosed with eczema. I had known a little bit about eczema from my younger sister having it as a kid. The things I remembered most were our mom always applying lots of moisturizer to her skin, and the fact that all of her clothes and bedding had to be 100% cotton. I also knew that eczema was pretty common – just over one in eight children have it – so with that in mind I headed to the nearest big-box baby store (RIP, Babies ‘R’ Us) to shop for baby eczema stuff.

 

I strode confidently into the store (excited to have another excuse to shop if I’m being honest) and headed toward what I imagined would be a clearly marked “eczema section.” To my amazement, no such section existed. Worse? Not a single piece of clothing, bedding, or other type of textile was designed for or marketed to families of children with eczema! As I wandered up and down the aisles, my shopping mojo dwindled. I had imagined being able to thoughtfully select items for our nursery from the softest, cutest, and best eczema-safe options, and was coming up almost totally empty-handed.

Here’s a pro-tip: if a set of pjs, bedding, or lovies has hugely popular kids’ characters on it, it is not eczema-friendly.

 

After over an hour in the store I was only able to find ONE eczema-appropriate blanket, and guess what it looked like? If you guessed “plain white square,” you’d be right. I bought the plain white square and a couple pair of 100% cotton pjs and headed home on a mission. Certainly I wasn’t the only eczema mom who had this problem?

 

I immediately started doing research on eczema, as well as the baby & children’s clothing market. What I learned was pretty fascinating. First of all, I learned that my experience at Babies ‘R’ Us wasn’t a fluke. If you search “eczema clothing” on Google, the only thing you find is what I call “para-medical” garments. That is, things that are meant to be worn as treatment or prevention of symptoms, but nothing you’d take family pictures or send your kids to school in.

Other things I learned:

  • Eczema stems from the same over-excitability of the immune system as food allergies and asthma, so if you have any of those, you’re much more likely to have the other two
  • Over 80% of kids’ clothes on the market today include a fiber, chemical, or other irritant that is not compatible with eczema-prone skin

To sum it all up – kids with eczema are literally allergic to over EIGHTY PERCENT of clothes and other textiles available to them.

 

From there I did some quick math. Around 13% of kids in the US have eczema, and the average family in the US has about two kids. That means that over a quarter of families in the United States are dealing with this issue, and yet NO major company has made it their explicit mission to cater to these kids and create a complete range of eczema-friendly products.

 

These realizations awoke the latent entrepreneur in me that had been waiting for her time to shine. Since no one else had created a company focused on centering the lives of eczema families, I decided I would be the one to do it. Then, exactly two years and one day after my first son was born, my second son was born. As if I needed another sign from the universe, his eczema was even worse than his older brother’s! I had found my purpose, and I knew that by helping other eczema families, I would be helping my own as well.

 

My first idea was to create a clothing line – one that was “designed with eczema in mind.” These wouldn’t be the para-medical garments I found in my research, but a line of everyday kids wear that was both cute and functional. (A little bit of context here: I have a background in psychology and vocal performance, so literally nothing in my life up to this point had prepared or qualified me to take this on, but I was ready!) I met some people at local networking events who were interested in helping me, and even started to dip my toe into the design and fabric sourcing process. Unfortunately, I found the textiles manufacturing industry to be fairly exclusive and unwelcoming to newcomers. For instance, I wanted to source and manufacture the clothes not only domestically, but within the state of North Carolina specifically (where my family lives). I reached out to every cut & sew shop and manufacturer I could find, and most didn’t return my calls at all. The ones who did told me to come back when I had several years’ experience in the business – no one wanted to work with a first-timer. After months of missed connections and false starts – even though I was now working with a business mentor to help me stay on track – I came to the realization that I needed to take a step back and reevaluate my approach.

 

It was at that point in time that I started conducting customer discovery interviews and surveys – where I reached out to moms of kids with eczema (the people I was trying to help) in order to hear from them what they were struggling with and what they wanted and needed in terms of help and support. My personal business mindset is to be fluid and listen to the people I’m creating things for, rather than just make something and assume it will “go viral.” What I heard from these moms was that eczema could take an incredible emotional toll on them, and on the whole family. When I listed various types of support (interviews with experts, discounts on eczema goodies, ask-a-doctor forums, etc.) the number one thing people told me they wanted was the ability to connect and interact with other moms of kids with eczema.

 

Hence, what started out as a clothing line evolved into the EczeMama Club, and we launched just last month! The EczeMama Club’s mission is to connect moms of kids with eczema in mobile friendly chat rooms so that we can inspire and help each other navigate the challenges of eczema, food allergies, and whatever else gets thrown our way. Instead of creating a Facebook group or something similar, I wanted this space to be separate from the distractions and noise of social media. The club is hosted on the brand new Geneva Chat platform, and has all the simplicity and nostalgia of AIM chat rooms, with the cool techie bells & whistles of today (GIFs, video chatting, etc.) As of right now we’re a fairly small crew, but my goal is to grow this into a thriving collective where eczema moms can turn for information, shared experiences, community, and inspiration.

 

My long term goal is to make the club enough of a value add that I’m able to charge membership fees, though founding members who join before dues are rolled out will always have free access (that time is now!) At the optimal group size, even modest membership dues would allow me to create physical products – like clothes, lovies, skincare items – that are tailor-made for our members. And the best part is, members will be able to co-create them with me! I envision the future of the club as a community where moms get to weigh in on products, design features, and more. They’ll also have first dibs on new launches, and special members-only discounts on everything we make.

 

I want to grow this business, help as many eczema families as I can, and one day be able to tell the story of how it all started with a blanket.

 

If you’re an eczema mom and want to be a part of the journey, you can follow us on Instagram at @eczemama.club and/or download the app at https://eczemama.godaddysites.com/.

 

See you there!

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