They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Such is the case with Carolyn Jäger, a 36-year-old New Hampshire-based wife and mom, who grew up with a younger sister with type 1 diabetes and was diagnosed herself at age 13 — on her mom's birthday (ouch!). Carolyn's mom designed homemade meter cases for Carolyn and her sister, Susan, but it wasn't until after many years of working as a retail buyer that Carolyn was inspired to create her own line of colorful and functional cases for glucose meters.
Carolyn graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Marketing and Fashion Merchandising and started off her fashion career working for companies like Nine West, Bass and Rockport. In 2009, she launched Sugar Medical Supply, which released their first product line in November 2010.
Amy and I recently reviewed the cases we received at AADE this summer, and now Carolyn joins us to chat — as part of our ongoing series on small PWD-run businesses — about how she got started, her unique twists on case design, and her advice for other D-entrepreneurs.
DM) You and your sister both, wow! Can you start by sharing your own personal dx story?
CJ) My younger sister was diagnosed at 6 years old. I was diagnosed five years later when I was 13. It was a huge shock for my parents and I. The transition was not as hard for me since I basically was living a diabetic lifestyle due to my sister, but now I had to do shots and test my blood, too. I have now been diabetic for 23 years and doing great. I have two small boys and a wonderful husband who light up my life.
We get it that you're a fashionista, but what exactly inspired you to devote your career to bling-y diabetes cases?
My inspiration is two-fold. I was inspired by a close family relative who was experiencing gasteoparesis which lead to a pancreas transplant. This quickly opened my eyes to how fast complications can sneak up and it really scared me. This event lead me to think of how to encourage others with diabetes to test their blood sugars more often. I had always heard of other diabetics being shy of carrying their testing supplies, so I thought, "Let's make the perfect bag and make it something you love to carry." My thought is, "If you have to test your blood sugars up to 10 times day, shouldn't you love your bag?" My second inspiration was personal. I was DONE carrying that boring black bag and losing it in every purse! I wanted something fun and bright.
We certainly hear you there! But there are a couple other small business that design meter cases. What did you feel was missing? What makes yours different?
I feel Sugar Medical Supply sets itself apart with its patent-pending "Universal Strap System," our lower price, and our fabrics. Our bags feature a clear vinyl strap that secures any meter on the market easily into place. No one has to remove their meter from a pocket or thick elastic strap to test. Our bags are higher quality at a lower price. Customers get that correlation easily and we have taken off. We also strive to have bags in our line that will fit various personalities and ages. We have bags that speak more to adults, several that work for men, and a few fun patterns for kids. Anyone can find a bag they like in our line. Lastly, our fabrics separate us. We ONLY use highly durable, easy-to-clean fabrics such as microfiber and polyester. They are so easy to take care of!
Can you explain the Universal Strap System?
The "Universal Strap System" is our unique way of securing ANY sized blood glucose meter inside the supply case with the ease of seeing your test results through a clear vinyl strap. From the slim One Touch Mini to larger meters such as the Accu-Chek Compact Plus (and the OmniPod!), they all fit securely so you can test your blood on the go easily. You no longer have to read blood testing results around a thick elastic strap which commonly blocks the view of important blood testing results commonly found on other bags.
We developed a system to work with any meter on the market. Like cell phones, meter designs change so frequently. We needed to be able to adapt to market changes fast. With our "Universal Strap System," we are able to do that, while also giving our customers the ease of testing without removing their meters from the supply bag.
How did you go about designing and producing your bags?
I designed the bags myself using my mother's sewing machine. We sat down and tore apart 10 bags and she helped me sew our first sample together. After we got the kinks right, I sought factories which could deliver high quality fabrics and production expertise at a reasonable price.
Any plans on expanding the Sugar Medical Supply offerings?
We definitely do. We hope to expand our line larger in the diabetic arena, but also to explore other medical conditions that could use a bright pick-me-up in terms of color and design. We are always open to ideas!
We totally agree. We knew there was a void in the market for cool bags for guys. That is why we created two bags for men early on, and just launched a digital camo bag for men on Sept. 1. The new camo is so cool. You are going to love it!
What does your mom — who used to design bags for you — think of Sugar Medical Supply?
She is so proud of me. She knew my background in retail buying would make this adventure a real success and pushed me to do it. She checks in often to see what pattern is selling the fastest and always loves to hear the latest happenings at Sugar Medical Supply.
Do you have any advice to other folks who might want to start small businesses for diabetes?
Go for it! There are always ideas out there that can help improve the lives of people with diabetes!
Sugar Medical Supply cases retail for $29.99, but a bunch of styles are on special during their Fall Sale through the end of October. Also, from now until Dec. 15, Carolyn has graciously offered a 15% off discount code to DiabetesMine readers! Just type in Mine15 when checking out.
Thank you, Carolyn!