How many of you just hate lugging around tons of diabetes junk, only to find yourself rifling through the black hole of your bag, looking for your glucose meter or spare insulin pen? Jen Dorn, a 34-year-old type 1 diabetic for the last 20 years, sympathizes. After lugging around her own medical-looking pack for years, she finally decided to pursue her dream to create a line of stylish but functional handbags and messenger bags for people with diabetes.
Jen, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, launched her company, aDorn Designs, 10 years ago now (wow!) and has become quite a popular provider in the diabetes community. A few years ago, Amy test drove one of the messenger bags while traveling around Amsterdam, and liked it very much.
Today, Jen joins us for our "Small But Mighty" ongoing series on mom-and-pop-style PWD-run businesses — to chat about following her instincts to create her own D-business. Be sure to read through to the end of this post, where you'll have the opportunity to win one of her bags!
JD) I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 13 years old, and I always carried around a big pack of diabetes supplies. It was like a big first aid kid, and people would ask me what it was for. I thought, 'why isn't there something more fashionable for people with diabetes to carry?'
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I graduated from college with a degree in business, and then moved to Costa Rica for a while, and then came back to the States to work in marketing and business. Finally, I was like, 'It's now or never. I've had this idea and have a business degree. I have experience as a type 1. I know what people want and need.'
What were some of the key features for your first design?
I wanted it to be stylish, but not gaudy. It needed to be somewhat conservative, but also have a stylish flair to it. That's what I was looking for. It's hard to find something that you like that is the right size, but have some style and also good functionality. It really needed to be able to match everything you wear. At first I had red handbags, but it's hard for a lot of people to want a red bag, and also to use a red bag with everything. This needed to be something that you want to carry everyday.
How did you get aDorn off the ground?
It was truly one of those things that when you're doing the right thing, everything falls into place and happens. I strongly believe that when you're doing the wrong thing, bad things will happen.
I knew some people in business through school, so I started networking and asking where to start. No one had done purse manufacturing per se, but people told me what they did for their business, what resources they used, and what they though I needed. Finally, I laid out what I thought I needed: manufacturing, branding, graphic design.
One of my friends who I went to business school with was stoked on the idea, and was willing to loan me the money to start aDorn. If you don't have money, you can't start a business. She believed in me, and (the money) was mine if I wanted it. It was amazing.
What was the process like for creating your first bag?
A friend and I went to New York City to the Fashion District to talk to people to figure out how we could do this. We talked to people who manufacture bags, and got some
contacts, but nothing concrete. At the time, I was working full time at Wells Fargo, and I found out that my boss's cousin did manufacturing in China. That was exactly what I needed. His cousin said, 'I can help you, I just need a prototype or design.' I picked out several different purses that I liked, and identified different pieces of the bags that I liked. Then I worked with a seamstress to make a sample. I also worked with a graphic designer to make drawings with measurements.
It was very trying to work with China because of the language barrier, the time barrier, and the distance. It took a year to get the first sample. So I spent the year networking while I worked full-time.
There are a lot of companies making diabetes bags and purses these days. How did you go about spreading the word about aDorn?
My friend's brother is a graphic designer and he worked with me to make a logo and business card. Then I started joining some diabetes support groups, which was such a blessing, both personally and also for my business. I eventually moved to San Francisco and it really opened up my eyes to the community, because I was pretty sheltered. It really connected me to people who also live with this disease. So that was really neat and another gift that aDorn had given me.
When I finally got my samples, I went to an AADE (American Association of Diabetes Educators) conference and met a ton of people there. I was just constantly networking and getting more involved in the D-world. When my website went live, I sent a note to all my contacts via email. I also hired an intern who had PR experience, so she worked for free doing some PR work.
I started meeting more people, like Amy (of DiabetesMine) and Scott King, who was editor of Diabetes Health magazine at the time, and the folks from CWD and TuDiabetes — basically everyone who runs diabetes organization! We all support each other in a lot of ways, which is amazing. I was also written up in some magazines, like Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetic Living.
People love having everything in one spot, that it's stylish, that it's not a big bulky case. They love being prepared, but without it looking like a diabetes bag. They love that they can remove the clutch as well, which is really a key piece. Both the messenger bag and handbag have a clutch (supplies pack insert) that's removable; you can take out this clutch portion and put it in another bag if you like.
I really appreciate the people who say thank you and that I made their day. I've been in business for 10 years now, which is hard to believe, and it still makes my day when someone says they really like the product. Those are the days that keep me going!
Is aDorn your full-time gig now?
No, it's definitely not something that supports me. But it does support itself. I don't take a salary. This isn't something that is making my living. I do it to help people and to give them a tool that helps them organize their life and diabetes in a somewhat stylish way.
What are your plans for aDorn?
I would just love to achieve flourishing sales so that I can create new products. Something for children specifically, and then a new clutch that is even more compact. With a handbag, everyone wants something different. Some people carry the bare minimum, others carry the whole medicine cabinet. I can't make everyone happy, so I need to make the majority of people happy.
What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
My words of wisdom are to let go of fear. It just stands in your way and is an illusion. Fear is the biggest obstacle for starting a business or overcoming a hurdles. Just stay positive and have a vision. Manifest your vision by letting go of fear and letting it happen. Also, put things into perspective. Remember, Bill Gates and Donald Trump had to start somewhere too.
A DMProducts Giveaway
What's more, we're excited to expand our giveaways to include diabetes products! We are giving away three free bags from aDorn this week, so you have an even better chance to win! Winners can choose between the Messenger Bag and the Handbag.
As always, entering for your chance to win is as easy as leaving a comment.
Here's what to do:
1. Post your comment below and include the codeword "DMProducts" somewhere in the comment (beginning, end, in parenthesis, in bold, whatever). That will let us know that you would like to be entered in the giveaway. You can still leave a comment without entering, but if you want to be considered to win the contest, please remember to include "DMProducts."
2. This week, you have until Friday, Mar. 9, at 5pm PST to enter. A valid email address is required to win.
3. The winner will be chosen using Random.org.
The contest is open to anyone, anywhere. Best of luck to all our diabetes-supply-schlepping friends!