When her daughter Tallia (Tally, for short) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in September of 2007, Donna Annese was one of those moms who wasn't taking it sitting down.
Within a year of diagnosis, Donna helped her daughter get started pumping, and then in November 2008, the family began creating unique cases for pumps and other D-supplies under the label Tallygear (named after her Tally, of course!). Their main product is something called the Tummietote, a lightweight band of stretchy fabric with three pockets you wear around your tummy. But since those early days five years ago, Donna has created multiple styles of cases and recently also medical ID bracelets.
Her designs were entered into the 2011 DiabetesMine Design Challenge and we've been so excited to watch her business grow through the years -- especially now that they've introduced some new cases designed specifically for the Dexcom G4 continuous glucose monitor and also device cases that go beyond the diabetes world! (Amy's been using their new G4 case and looooves it! See images below)
Clearly, Tallygear is a perfect addition to our Small But Mighty series...
Now 14, Tally herself has become part of the business with her mom and dad. Donna and her husband, Matt, took some time to share their story with us recently, offering an inside look at how they mix their family business and life with diabetes.
A Guest Post by Matt and Donna Annese
Our D-story began almost six years ago when Tallia was diagnosed at age 7. Like everybody else in this diabetes diagnosis situation, our world was upended beyond belief. Our crazy fast paced world came to a screeching halt. Donna was non-functioning for the better part of the first year. She slept on the floor every night in Tallia's room and went to school with her every day. We realized that life as we knew it was never going to be the same. What we did realize is that the only way to get a handle on this whole thing was to assess the situation, work together, and come up with a positive solution to deal with our 'new normal.'
After the first year, Tallia was cleared for an insulin pump and this started a whole new set of worries. As soon as Tallia started pumping our main concern was the safety of this new, very expensive medical device that was attached to our daughter 24/7... We call Little Miss Tallia the "wild child" for a reason, as she's always been a very rough-and-tumble kid.
The day Tallygear was conceived, Tallia was jumping on her trampoline like a crazy child and she was clutching her pump in her hand so it wouldn't fly off and hit the ground. As Donna noticed this through crying eyes, she vowed to find a solution so all pump kids could remain kids and not have to worry about anything other than being a kid. This was five years ago. And since then, we've had lots of ideas and new products developing for the sole purpose to help make this diabetes thing a little more tolerable, colorful, and maybe even a bit more fun.
Tallygear started on our kitchen table, then moved to a section of the garage, followed by a move to a 400-square-foot room on the third floor of our house. Finally, it's moved to an 1,800-square-foot space at an old historic mill building in our town of Dudley, MA. Our new space has plenty of room for all the sewing machines, storage, shelving, and cutting. We have work tables for all the new ideas and projects we are working on. All of our products are 100% made in our small town.
So far, Tallygear consists of insulin pump belts, pump cases, testing supply bags, CGM holders, medical alert bracelets and any idea the customer can come up with! If someone has an idea and Donna can help in any way, she will come up with a solution. Her latest product idea for a G4 Dexcom case came from some previous customers and blog research about the newest Dexcom and the customer feedback on its case.
The most innovative design Donna has come up with was to integrate a clear view vinyl window in the insulin pump belts and CGM cases. This allows the user to see and control the device directly through the pliable vinyl window. This idea has also come from necessity. Some of our belts are ordered for toddlers who can't yet walk. The parent slides the belt around backwards so the child can't reach it and this also allows the parent to use the controls right through the window without having to take the device out of the belt. Many praises on this design also come from bikers, runners and hikers.
A new style we're working on now is a case that attaches a CGM receiver or any other wireless device to the handlebars of a bicycle so it is in plain view at all times. All of these different products can also be used with cellphone or personal music players, not just insulin pumps and CGMs -- so really, this goes beyond diabetes and can be something any family or child can use.
Donna says that in emails we receive from customers, many believe we're a large company operating with many employees -- if they only knew! This is a small family business made up of just us -- me, Donna, her sister Debra, and Tally! There are so many small components that go into the day-to-day operations. Donna's day starts at 4:30 a.m. with processing orders and printing them out, then she returns all emails, after that is done she prepares Tallia for her day at school and commutes 50 minutes to get there morning and afternoon. Once Tallia is off to school by 7:30 a.m., Donna heads to the mill to start work. She will organize all orders and cut fabric for all orders and then sit at her sewing machine for hours on end until Tallia is ready to be picked up from school. While en route to school, Donna will drop off all done orders at the post office for shipping. After picking up Tallia, they both head back to the mill to continue sewing and Tallia does her homework. At 4:40 p.m., I will do one of two things: either sew, cut fabric, velcro, lanyard straps, and clear view windows; or pick Tallia up and go home to prepare dinner so it's ready for when Donna gets home around 7-9p.m. The day is wound down with some more order processing and silly time with Tally, and then off to bed!
Really, the thing that makes this all work is the fact that Tallia is always with us while not in school.
If you think this is a crazy day, factor in that I drive a wheelchair van for school children in the morning and afternoon. This job solely covers health insurance, and our real source of income is a landscaping and lawn care business that Donna and I started 17 years ago. There is very little down time but we do get to work together most of the time. That's priceless!
Tallia is the face of Tallygear. She works as hard as her mother and truly believes hard work, dedication, quality products and goofing around are key points in a sucessful business. She works very hard at Tallygear as well as at school. She is currently on the honor role and is very focused on education. She has recently been accredited with an award from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for her design in a contest at school. Our girl even has her own office, and many duties and responsibilities that include cutting bubble wrap, addressing and personalizing envelopes, packing brochures and business cards, and driving her mother and myself crazy with her humorous antics! After all, she is a 14-year-old diabetic princess.
For us, one of the best part of Tallygear is the customer feedback. To get a thank-you from a parent or most importantly a child is one of the greatest feelings of all! Just to know that something you designed helped someone or made their day a little easier is the greatest feeling. Customer service is a major factor in Tallygear. Sometimes we even get thank-yous and crayon-drawn pictures from kids all over the world, thanking us for a cool belt or awesome G4 case. Donna has become friends with a lot of customers due to the deep connection they share with raising a diabetic child. They understand she is a hard-working honest mom whose idea that helped her own child could do the same for others.
Thank you, Tally and family, for working so hard on something so practical and helpful!