This post is comprised of an email that I received from my sister, Yvonne Armbruster, the other night. I was so moved by it, that I asked her if I could share it with you, my readers. I often tell her she should start her own blog as she is a great writer and has a very dry sense of humour (not at all reflected in this particular post by the way). I hope you enjoy and are enlightened by the story as I was...
"Well our Midland staff dinner was last night, it was at a very nice restaurant on the waterfront in Vancouver.
That's Robert 4th from the left in the back row. Ken is third to the right of Robert. My sister Yvonne is on the far left of the front row.
I picked up Robert, who was anxiously waiting for me at the door when I arrived at his house. He was so happy I showed up - biggest smile ever (and when Robert smiles he lights up the room). I got a big hug and he held my hand as I walked him to my car.
We hired Robert a couple of months ago through an organization here in Vancouver. Robert is deaf, mute, has epilepsy and some learning disabilities. He signs, writes in Chinese and understands very little written English. He’s also missing fingers, which makes understanding his finger spelling interesting to say the least!
I took a weekend course in sign language years ago, but since hiring Robert I've dug out my old books and bought some new ones so I can communicate with him, or at least try. I made sure I brushed up on all the things I needed to know for the dinner last night - signs for meat, fish, chicken, drink, eat etc.
When I asked him what he wanted to drink, he signed back "beer" which caught me completely off-guard. I would have thought with all the medications he takes and his epilepsy, alcohol would have been a no-no. But I’m not his mom, so I ordered him a beer, lol. I sat next to him at the restaurant so I could translate the menu as he doesn’t read English very well.
When Ken [the owner] got up to make his speech I asked if I could say something first, so I took the floor and to Robert signed, "Robert, we are very happy you are here with us." And then I told the rest of the staff what I said and they all applauded for Robert. He was so happy to be included in our group!
I only wished I could have translated everything Ken said about our [mostly unpublicized corporate social responsibility] work and what we do at Midland...
This year we have put 700 children in Africa (Liberia) into school, children who otherwise would never have had a chance. We fed and supplied medication to 22 children, who would have died from sickness and severe malnutrition, and who are now doing well. And our happiest story is about a boy, who we rescued, fed and got well enough to send to school, who graduated grade 12 this year, and is now attending a college in Monrovia to study medicine in the hopes of becoming a doctor one day.
There are a lot of other stories - local ones as well. We don’t just help abroad, we also help our own here in the city [of Vancouver].
All the little things we do at Midland; all the attention to details and customer service; every sale makes a difference.
Robert is an example of that - at 46 years old he finally has a good job, one that his care worker has said has made a huge impact and difference in his life.
I am humbled to be a little part of good things happening in the world. Always try to remember - sometimes Christmas arrives in unassuming packages from far away places and sometimes it arrives in a silent language right on your doorstep."
Midland Liquidators has been in business for 25 years in Vancouver, BC, Canada - a small company making a BIG difference.
What "silent angels" have you encountered in your life? Please share your story with us below...
The following is an interview with Jen from Life With Levi. Jen bought a PumpEase from us a couple of months ago and so loved it that she contacted us to pitch an idea to PIP (pump in public) on Black Friday, take pictures and blog about it! We were SOOO game! So we sent her a complimentary PumpEase (so that she had one for work and one for home) and sat back and watched her go! Jen then told us she also wanted to review PumpEase which we were also thrilled about. And as you can see, er... read, she wrote an honest, thorough and detailed review! Keep your eyes on Jen - she is an exclusively pumping mom with lots of experiences to share!
OK, now for the interview...
Wendy: When did you know that you wanted to breastfeed your baby?
Jen: I always planned on breastfeeding. I guess I didn't really consider that there were other options. I mean, I know formula exists, but I've always thought of formula as Plan B, not Plan A.
Wendy: How were the early days of breastfeeding for you and your son?
Jen: They were a struggle from the beginning. At the hospital, I had a lactation consultant visit to help me. She recommended using a nipple shield, since I apparently have a flat nipple (This was news to me, but it's true. Amazing what you learn about your body when breastfeeding!). Even with the nipple shield, breastfeeding was a struggle. I went back to see the lactation consultant a week later - she told me part of our issue was my letdown, and that I should try pumping a bit before breastfeeding so that the milk was already flowing when Levi latched on. Trying to manage pumping, getting a nipple shield in place, and a squirming, crying newborn was tough, and it only worked partially for us. I was lucky if I could get Levi to feed for more than 5 or 10 minutes at a time. After we both got frustrated, I would switch to pumping, then bottle feed him the pumped milk. I wanted to keep our breastfeeding relationship going, but I also wanted to make sure he got enough to eat when he was hungry, and that's what worked for us.
Wendy: How were the early days of pumping? How was your letdown? Finding the time to pump? Was it hard to pump enough milk?
Jen: Pumping for me was an emotional experience in the early days. I would cry while pumping, because I felt like a failure that I wasn't breastfeeding the "normal" way. It was both a relief and a chore - the pump didn't have latch issues or pull away from my breast, but it did take time. As a sleepless, exhausted new mom, it was a tough cycle - trying to find time to pump with everything else going on was really hard. Once I started pumping, though, I had absolutely no trouble maintaining my supply. In fact, I probably have an oversupply of milk now thanks to all the pumping I did in the early days and continue to do now.
Wendy: What brand/model of pump do you use? Do you rent or own?
Jen: I own two breast pumps currently - a Playtex Embrace that I bought while I was still pregnant, and a Medela Pump In Style that I bought to keep at work when I returned after maternity leave. I also have two sets of parts for each pump, so I can still have another to use when one set is drying.
Wendy: What led to you pumping exclusively?
Jen: Long story short - I developed a breast abscess that required surgical drainage when Levi was only a couple weeks old. It was too painful to try to breastfeed, but I had to keep expressing milk or the infection could get worse, so pumping was really my only option. I wound up needing two surgeries and a 4-day hospital stay to clear the infection. By the time everything was healed up, two months had gone by and I was already used to exclusive pumping.
Wendy: How long after giving birth did you return to work? How did you prepare for this transition? Did you build a stash? Talk to your boss?
Jen: I went back to work after 12 wonderful weeks of maternity leave. I had burned through all of my freezer stash when I was recovering from surgery, but thankfully was able to build up a new stash before I went back to work. I work for a global company in a relatively small office (about 30 people). I made sure to research my legal rights before returning to work, and my boss knew I was breastfeeding, but I didn't talk to her specifically about logistics until I started back. (If I could do it again, I would definitely have this conversation in advance.) Luckily, she had no issues with it, and just let me do what I needed to.
Wendy: Did you always have your "pumping cave" or did you have to fight for a private place to pump?
Jen: I'm definitely spoiled when it comes to my "pumping cave". I've had it from day one. I assumed that would be the setup when I returned from work, but wasn't sure until I spoke with HR. For those that are wondering, my pumping cave is a private office on a vacant side of the building that's for my exclusive pumping use. Technically, our company doesn't lease that side of the building, so it's not something that will always be available to people in my company. Most of the women in my office are past menopause, so I think HR just handled this on a case-by-case basis. I know I'm blessed, because I've worked for companies that don't have space set aside for moms who pump, and I've heard stories of women who have to fight with their bosses to get ample time or adequate private space to pump.
Wendy: What has been the hardest thing about pumping? The most rewarding?
Jen: The middle of the night pumping sessions are the hardest. All I want to do is sleep, but instead I'm up and pumping. I've started going longer between nighttime pumping sessions, but wake up engorged and uncomfortable. Plus, going longer between pumping sessions is a slippery slope - I find myself pumping every 4 or 5 hours instead of every 3 more often now, especially at work.
I almost hate to admit this, but the most rewarding thing for me right now is how much I'm not spending on formula. Yes, I'm feeding my son the perfectfood, I'm lowering my risk factor for breast cancer, etc... those are all things that I love, but I guess I kind of take them for granted at this point. But my bank account is something I keep a close eye on, and knowing I don't have to budget for formula is a huge relief.
Wendy: What surprised you the most about pumping? About breastfeeding?
Jen: It's super easy once you get the hang of it. I just realized I've been doing this for almost 4 months now, and show no signs of stopping. My supply has leveled out. I no longer leak through all my shirts. Pumping is relatively easy to work into my schedule, and I find I enjoy pumping as a bit of "quiet me time" now.
Wendy: How did you come up with the idea to try pumping while shopping on Black Friday? At any point during the day, did you ask yourself, "WHAT am I doing????"
Jen: Several times, actually! LOL. Neccessity is the mother of invention, right? I refused to miss out on Black Friday shopping, and I also refused to skip a pumping session, since engorgement sucks. So I decided to do both. I live in Minnesota, and pumping in the car would be cold and uncomfortable, so I decided I'd just bring my pump in with me. I use my PumpEase while pumping for everything else (folding clothes, catching up on Twitter, reading a magazine), so why not give it a go for shopping?
Wendy: How did you feel after you accomplished your goal of PIP (pumping in public)? Did you feel like a super hero? Were you surprised? Did you think, "What's next?"
Jen: It was awesome! I was surprised just how easy it was. I even had a lady give me a thumbs up when she saw my Medela pump bag (I'm guessing she recognized it, because she looked at my chest next and gave me a knowing smile). Now that I know just how well my PumpEase holds up, I'd love to try out pumping and doing other things. I'm somewhat holding off until I find a more portable pump to use, though. I'm not super modest, but I would prefer something that doesn't stick out six inches from my chest.
Thank you LOADS Jen for agreeing to this interview. I believe that moms need to TALK MORE about the fact that breastfeeding and pumping are NOT always easy in the beginning, but that it DOES get better! I am inspired by your journey and look forward to hearing more as you continue down the path of exclusively pumping for your son.
So, how was breastfeeding for YOU in the early days? What about pumping? Looking back, what one thing did you wish you had known before you had your baby? By sharing your experiences, as Jen just did, you will be helping countless other moms, present and future, beat the Booby Traps!
We're having a sale! Our very first BLACK FRIDAY SALE that will extend right through to midnight (PST) on Cyber Monday!
I'll be honest, I LA-LA-LOVE shopping in the US. I live about an hour from the border and thus head down a few times a year with a good friend of mine who is a master at spotting a wicked deal. Our last trip was a 12-hour, trunk-heaping-full, shopping extravaganza!
Because you have 10 times the people we have here in Canada, your selection is sooooo much better than ours and your prices are killer (which is doubly good when our dollars are almost at parity like right now).
Therefore, I've always been a bit envious (OK, a lot) of your BLACK FRIDAY. The closest thing we have is Boxing Day and quite frankly, I'm not getting up early to go shopping on the day after Christmas! After that last bite of turkey crosses my lips, I'm done. (So done.)
I think we should just cancel Boxing Day Sales, make it a day of rest and adopt Black Friday and Cyber Monday here in "The Great White North".
With that end in mind, I hereby launch Snugabell's first Black Friday Sale! WOOT!
The other day, while in the shower (I do all my best thinking in the shower and the car), I was pondering our slogan (which we love): "...because women like pretty things EVEN when they're pumping!™" and then I had this horrible thought, "Oh my gosh... I hope people don't think PumpEase is "just another pretty face"!"
After all, if you try on that fabulous Dior dress and it fits like hell, then what's the point? I for one, do not believe in being a "fashion victim". I wear fabulous shoes, but they fit well and are comfortable. Some of them are even pieces of art. (Yes, these shoes do exist!) But I digress...
This reminded me of something that I used to tell my starry-eyed fashion design students in drafting and construction (sewing) class. Often the "design-oriented" students had no use for drafting and construction class (they thought it was boooooring) and so I found myself saying, "A pattern is like the foundation of a building. If you don't draft a solid foundation, your design will crumble." In other words, anyone can sketch a glorious dress, amazing suit or other fabulous garment, but if it is impossible to create either via flat pattern drafting or draping, or if it is too expensive to produce for the mass market, then you have nothing. Nothing. Well, you have a sketch...
These students figured they could just hire a pattern maker to execute their designs. Well yes and no. In order for a patternmaker to successfully bring a design to life, the designer needs to have a firm understanding of the fundamentals (and limitations) of pattern making, garment construction and mass production. And honestly, although there are a lot of pattern makers out there, a good pattern maker is hard to find. I can't tell you how many times we've received patterns for grading (that were drafted by someone else) that were just... ummm... BAD. Cringe-worthy even! And believe it or not, many of them came from brand name companies! The lightbulb surely went on the next time we were in a "better" store and we tried something on that just felt weird - the sleeve cap was glued to our upper arm or the pants had "hungry bum" - it all made sense now. It was concrete evidence of bad designand it can happen in any market.
So when it came time to create our hands-free pumping bra, there were a few things that were non-negotiable...
1. It had to be pretty :: you're already aware of this one. Does it matter you ask? Considering the $9.6 billion US lingerie industry in which over 80% of purchases are made by women, I would say it does! The postpartum period is certainly not the sexiest time of a woman's life, so why not spice it up a bit with something fun?
2. It had to accommodate ALL makes and models of breast pump flanges on the market :: we have yet to find a breast pump that doesn't work with PumpEase. We even tried the larger-than-average Simplisse flanges at the ABC Show in Las Vegas last month and yes, they fit too! Our "no-stitch" horn openings are at the heart of our design. It's simple really. Even if you use a stretch fabric, if you finish the fabric with thread, even stretchy thread, the fabric won't stretch as much anymore. Have you ever inadvertently pulled on a garment and heard the "snap, snap, snap" of threads breaking? Go ahead, hook your hands inside the openings and stretch them. Stretch them hard. They are built to last and will always return to their original shape.
3. The closure had to be adjustable :: let's face the facts: nursing moms have fuller and less-full days. Aside from our fabulous fabric that is super stretchy and has incredible memory (i.e. it doesn't "bag out" after use like cotton/spandex can), PumpEase has a 3-row hook & eye closure for another 1-1/4" of adjustment.
4. The closure had to be user-friendly :: it's a no-brainer that we chose hook & eye. I don't know about you, but I can do up my bra in the dark and behind my back, sometimes even with a martini or two under my belt ;-) So when a new mom is hormonal, sleep-deprived and gets up in the middle of the night to pump, she will be able to don and doff a PumpEase with ease.
5. It had to be of EXCEPTIONAL QUALITY :: our fabric is one of the best technical fabrics out there. Quite frankly, it is expensive and although we could buy cheaper we don't, because YOU are worth it. It is also super-soft, wicks moisture away and is easy to care for and yes, YOU deserve it. PumpEase is Made in Canada and we are so very proud of that. Our manufacturer, that we have worked with since Day 1, is top-notch, however even after the goods come out of the factory, our Quality Control team goes over each and every PumpEase one more time before packaging them. Our return rate for BOTH sizing and warranty issues is less than 1%.
6. It had to fit the majority of our market :: via our four sizes - S/M/L/XL - PumpEase fits moms from 32AA to 48H (a size range into which over 90% of women fall into). We developed our sizing using ASTM standards for body measurements, with a strong focus on the bust point measurement, which varies as much from woman to woman as the bust measurement itself. PumpEase fits moms with bust points that measure from about 4 to 11" (that's the measurement from nipple to nipple). Just to put this into context, the very first horizontal line that a pattern maker drafts is based on the bust measurement. In fact the bust point calculation itself is based on the bust measurement, and therefore this is pretty much the foundation of the whole draft. If you make an error at this point, the whole draft will be wrong. So bust point is very important in apparel in general, and even doubly so when you are inserting breast pump flanges into your pumping bra and the openings need to line-up with your nipples.
I have no words for how I feel amidst the outpouring of support from friends, family, colleagues, vendors, customers and even complete strangers after the airing of our Dragons' Den segment. Just WOW.
I'm still digesting it all.
I was actually quite surprised at how many people were outright angry; they thought I got ripped-off; they thought the Fenis got too much air time and I got too little. (Sorry Ryan and Elizabeth!)
I am flattered by your passionate support for me and my business. Thank you.
I'm not going to lie - I was disappointed that the segment that aired was as short as it was and as a result, not reflective of what happened in The Den. A segment like mine is referred to as an "Also" as in Also in The Den. Interestingly, they find it harder to edit the shorter segments than the full-length ones. Watch it again and note how much of the audio is voice-over courtesy of Diane Buckner - hence they can make up whatever story suits them. But hey, that's the chance you take when you appear on a show like this, and I'm OK with it. OVER 1.5 MILLION people saw my product and very clearly what its function is. And the orders are rolling in. Onwards and upwards I say!
I did have a short chat with my segment producer Molly, who, when I asked what I could have done differently, was nice enough to ask Mike (the fellow who edited my piece) for some feedback. Here is what they had to say...
"I asked my colleague Mike for some feedback for you - he edited your piece. He said it was good, at least you made the cut, about 50% of products taped don't get to air. And 1.5 million viewers saw it! I can only say it's hard to sustain a LONG piece, usually pieces that make it to about 8 minutes were likely in the den for at least 45 minutes. With yours they didn't hate the product, they liked you, but they simply didn't see it as an investable business. It's almost the toughest kind of pitch in the den, cause it's a cool product, people like it, but over the course of your presentation there was no over-arching lesson to be learned by the viewer (meaning a lesson in business because you were either ill-prepared or over valued or what have you). It seems unless you really get a vibrant or heated discussion going, it's hard to sustain the arch of a full piece."
This made total sense to me. And I actually watch the show now from a new perspective ----> the lesson.
I will also add that although I still cannot share any specifics about what happened in The Den outside of what aired on TV, I will tell you that ALL of the Dragons were very kind to me. There was (obviously) a lot of "boob innuendo" flying around the set throughout the 30 plus minutes I was out there, but it was all in good fun. They had a problem with my valuation (as they do with most pitchers); they asked questions and I answered them; they decided not to invest... However, everything happens for a reason <---- I TRULY believe this.
Thank you CBC for the opportunity to present to five amazing entrepreneurs. And thank you Molly and Sam and all the fantastic people at the CBC for guiding me through the process.
Oh! and I was going to call this post "Snugabell Travels the Road to the Dragons' Den Final Chapter", but somehow I don't think that is suitable...
Because I'd do it again in a heartbeat...
Oh and one last thing. See the pic above of Pandora La Glamme and Kevin O'Leary? Kevin actually pulled her back onto the set after we walked-off to have this picture taken. And here is what went down:
KO: "What do you do?"
PLG: "I'm a burlesque performer."
KO: "No really, what do you do?"
Nuff said, here's the pitch:
We'd love to hear your thoughts on the pitch, the model, the product, the Dragons - anything that comes to mind at all. We're all ears (and boobs)! You know the routine - leave your comments below. :-)