I met Julie DeFruscio years ago — her daughter, Nikki, and I were actually JDRF Children's Congress delegates the same year — and I'm excited to feature her as our latest diabetes entrepreneur! Our Small But Mighty series showcases small "homegrown" companies focused on making living with diabetes a little easier. Julie lives in Upstate New York with her husband and three kids (Adam, Patrick and Nikki), who all three have type 1 diabetes.
Julie previously worked for over 20 years as an accounting manager and sales rep for a company called GMAC Mortgage. Then ten years ago, she and her best friend Dawn Juneau launched Pump Wear, Inc. Since then, the company has expanded its line of pump paks (similar to fanny-packs) to include styles and sizes for both children and adults, plus they also offer clothing, medic alert jewelry, and supply carry bags.
Read on to find out how Julie got started and some of her "trade secrets." Plus don't miss the special giveaway at the end of this post!
JD) Pump Wear Inc. was created with the sole intent to provide my then 3-year-old daughter with fun, creative ways to wear her insulin pump. We also wanted to provide other families with a place they could go and have fun looking at all the cool ways to wear a pump.
Dawn, my co-founder, and I have been best friends for over 25 years. When Nikki was diagnosed, she was there for me. One night we were searching the Internet for ways for Nikki to wear her pump and we couldn't find anything that was not very medical-looking. So we thought, 'why don't we create something?' And we did! I think our company was really born out of emotion and the driving force to have fun products for children and adults who wear a pump. Dawn and I are in tune with each other and it works.
How did you go about launching your company? Is it your full-time gig now?
Our company was really set up with passion. We got this idea and just went for it. We started out with six products: the Floral, Heart and Skateboard T-shirts with pockets on front and back, and the matching Pump Paks. We had our website up and running within four months of Nikki going on the pump. Our big goal was to give our kids a fun way to wear their pumps so that they would feel good about themselves.
When we started our company, Dawn and I basically did everything our selves. We worked with a graphic designer to come up with our pictures and then created a website and started searching for production venues.
Both Dawn and I worked other full-time jobs during the creation of Pump Wear. I just went full time (at Pump Wear) three years ago and Dawn is still employed at GE. When you are small, you really have to have another avenue to bring in income because all of our funds and proceeds have gone back into the business.
Your featured product are your Pump Paks, like fanny packs but designed specifically to fit a pump. Why not just use an existing fanny pack?
When Nikki first went on the pump, I was having a friend's mom put pockets on the back of my daughters T-shirts so that she could still wear all her cute clothes. They worked great, so we came up with designs and started producing them. After that we tried finding some kind of case to put the pump in when she wasn't wearing her T-shirt and could not find anything that was not black or white and medical-looking. We decided to create our own case and put fun, cute pictures on them that every child would love, and adults too!
Why is the C missing in Pump Pak?
We just wanted to have it stand out, and thought by spelling it different you would know when you had an original.
Your company is also involved in a lot of diabetes advocacy projects. Can you tell us what you've been working on lately?
Currently we're celebrating our 5th "Free Family Diabetes Weekend." For the past five years, every May, we've invited families to come to the Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerene for a wonderful free weekend. Families apply themselves or others recommend them through out the year. We choose the families in October and notify them just before Christmas. The families enjoy lots of fun activities, and the chance to meet other families and to bond. This year, we will have over 100 people at the family weekend.
We are also promoting our "Wall of Change," which is a campaign to raise funds for the Diabetes Research Institute in Florida. It's easy: people form the number of years they have had diabetes with their spare change, then they take a picture, send us the picture and they send the Diabetes Research Foundation the coins. We say we're 'funding a cure one dime at a time.'
We are also in the process of finalizing another fundraising effort with The Diabetes Research Foundation that we'll announce later.
As a parent, I think our kids take the lead from us, so as devastating as it was when Adam was diagnosed, we tried to put on a positive face and attitude. Everyone has something they have to deal with and diabetes just happens to be ours. By the time Patrick was diagnosed, diabetes was and is the norm in our house. It's there and we believe in trying to see the positive in everything, like I would not have met all these great people if it were not for diabetes! It's hard, but you've got to do what you have to do.
What advice do you have for other parents of CWDs?
The best advice I could give is to allow your child to be a child and recognize that things will not be perfect, but with a positive attitude and a good relationship with your child you can achieve amazing things and your child can live a long and healthy life.
Do your children wear your products? Which ones are their favorites?
Yes, our children wear our products, and it varies. Nikki wears most of them. Her favorites are the Arm Pump Bands, and she used to love the double ups, but now is resorting more and more to the pump waist band. The boys are fans of the Zipps and Softy Paks and the Arm Pump Bands. The Pump Pillow was actually done for Adam.
What has been the biggest obstacle in running your own small business?
Manufacturing is by far the biggest obstacle. It has literally taken years to find the perfect mix of being able to provide a large line of quality products made here in the U.S., which is considerably more costly than producing items overseas. We like keeping the manufacturing here, and really work hard to try to keep the cost reasonable.
What advice do you have for people thinking about launching their own small D-business?
Love what you are doing because you will be doing a lot of it! We have a passion for this business and we live and breath it, but it's that very passion that makes running our business fun and I don't think of it as work. Which is a good thing because we spend lots and lots of hours doing it.
Thank you, Julie!
A DMProducts Giveaway
Want one of your own Pump Paks or one of PumpWear Inc.'s other amazing products? This week, we'll be selecting three winners, who can choose from their choice of pump cases, clothing, awareness T-shirts, and more. The Frio, waterproof items and medical alerts are not included.
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, Apr. 13, at 5pm PST to enter. A valid email address is required to win.
3. The winner will be chosen using Random.org.
This contest is open to anyone living in the United States. Best of luck!