Interview With Cafe Yak

SPOTLIGHT ON MOM ENTREPRENEUR: INTERVIEW WITH MAURA HORTON, FOUNDER OF MAGNAREADY

MagnaReady shirts offer ease of dressing to people with limited mobility. They are now making life easier for a larger group of people than their inventor, Maura Horton, originally anticipated. She started the company when her husband, a renowned football coach, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and had difficulty getting dressed independently. With nothing like this currently existing on the market, MagnaReady shirts do not skimp on quality, and offer a dignified way of dressing for those with limited dexterity. This mom of two is a jump-starter, an optimist and a hard worker. She used her previous clothing designer experience, found an investor and a supplier and created a product that is rapidly taking off. I talked to Maura Horton about MagnaReady easy shirting, family influences, business advice, possibilities for a cure and more in this interview.

 

YOU CAME UP WITH THE CONCEPT FOR MAGNAREADY WHEN YOUR HUSBAND WAS DIAGNOSED WITH PARKINSON’S DISEASE. WHAT WAS THE FINAL MOTIVATION TO MAKE MAGNAREADY HAPPEN?

When my husband came home after a football game, his energy gone and said it was a hard day. I thought he was referring to the loss of the game but he said a player helped him button his shirt and he was embarrassed. There haven’t been many challenges with his disease that I am able to help with but this was one change I could help him with.

DO YOU HAVE A BACKGROUND IN DESIGN OR SEWING? HOW DID YOU MAKE YOUR FIRST MAGNAREADY SHIRT?

magnaready blue shirtIn my previous life I was a children’s clothing designer. After having children I stayed home. I had been out of the industry for 8 years. I created my first prototype with a local workroom in NY. I started the process hoping to convert my husband’s existing shirts from button-ups to magnetic, but because of the way they are manufactured that was impossible. So off to plan B!

WHO DO YOU SEE AS YOUR COMPETITION?

No one yet! Velcro closure shirts/clothes is all that has been on the market. I ordered a Velcro shirt for my husband as soon as he had his first challenges with limited mobility in his fingers. The shirt was thin and the fabric fibers got stuck in the Velcro. I knew that there had to be a better option.

WHAT REACTION DID YOU GET FROM YOUR FIRST BUYERS? DID YOU DISCOVER NEW AUDIENCE OVER TIME OR HAVE THE BUYERS BEEN CONSISTENTLY THE SAME?

The reaction I get is at times overwhelming. I ask on the MagnaReady website for people to share their story. They have come back with such a variety of reasons that people are seeking this solution out. All are touching. All to help restore dignity and independence into their (or their loved ones) daily routine. Some have Parkinson’s but most do not. I never believed how many groups this product would bring relief to from Alzheimer’s to Arthritis to Stroke and Wounded Warriors. It’s overwhelming and great now to see returning customers!

HOW MUCH TIME AND CAPITAL DID IT TAKE TO GET IT OFF THE GROUND FROM THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT?

Under $100,000 to date.

From concept to product launch has been about 4 years- that includes patent times.

HOW DO YOU ENSURE SHIRT DURABILITY FOR DRY-CLEANING OR LAUNDRY, CONSIDERING THERE ARE MAGNETS?

magnaready white shirtQuality was my number one driving force. I wanted something I would wear. The manufacturer that we use also produces for a well-known high-end shirt company. I am lucky they would take on my project. Laundering was number 2 – many resources and research went into the correct product to achieve this goal.

HOW DO YOU MANAGE RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS WHILE BEING A MOM? HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR TIME?

I try very hard to arrange my day so that when they are home I am present in the moment with my children. I am an early riser, thank goodness, and seem to get many things accomplished before the light of day.

WHATʼS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING MOMENT WITH THE BUSINESS SO FAR? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

Challenges thus far, to be honest, pale in comparison to what my husband deals with on a daily basis. I don’t think thus far we’ve hit one that we can’t overcome.

WHAT WAS THE MOST SUCCESSFUL DAY FOR MAGNAREADY? WHERE DO YOU SEE IT IN THE FUTURE?

There isn’t success for me with out a cure. So as a family and a company, we will work diligently to help bring awareness, compassion and understanding. I can only hope someday that Parkinson’s outward symptoms will be as accepted as a beautiful bald-headed cancer survivor is now accepted!

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO MOMS THAT WANT TO LAUNCH THEIR OWN BUSINESS?

Dive in! Be fearless! If you’re on the right path many things will happen organically.

HOW DID YOU HANDLE YOUR HUSBANDʼS DIAGNOSIS AS A FAMILY?

As a family we have refused to let it control us. We only had 1 daughter at the time of his diagnosis and were struggling to have another. We couldn’t imagine an only child having to deal with the diagnos on her own later in life. We made a conscious decision to have a second child. Don asked the doctor if there was any reason to not proceed with the planning of our family, the doctor said no- because we all need to believe that there will be a cure in his lifetime. We decided then that we wouldn’t let the disease define our family.

ON YOUR BLOG YOU TALK ABOUT COMING FROM A LARGE FAMILY. DO YOU TURN TO ANY OF THEM FOR ADVICE?

Yes. I often consult with my father. He is a great leader and successful entrepreneur. He worked for 7UP and decided to venture off on his own, creating his own distributorship. His fearless style leads me daily.

DO YOUR HAVE OTHER PRODUCTS FOR LIMITED MOBILITY IN THE WORKS?

Yes. We are launching children’s coats with the same technology. Limited mobility for many children is due to finger dexterity, young children just don’t have the control yet over their extremities to be able to use these complicated closure systems. Someday they will conquer buttons, snaps and zippers, but in the meantime MagnaMini will make getting ready to get out the door a little easier. And, being able to do up their own coat makes children confident when they achieve this milestone of growing up.

We have also secured the patent rights to the same technology for patient/hospital gowns.

IF I ASKED YOUR KIDS, WHAT KIND OF MOM YOU ARE, WHAT WOULD THEY SAY?

Not sure! Having two daughters I hope they would say that I am a strong but loving leader.

Learn more about Maura Horton and MagnaReady at magnaready.com.

Interviewed by Anna Harris.

 

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Our Starting Point. I have good news…. I have Parkinson’s Disease!

When I married at the tender age of 24, my mom had told me that the things that will shake your foundation will come at the least likely of times. Ours happened on a random Tuesday morning when the sun is shining and the world was still looking bright. That’s exactly how I remember the day that I got the phone call from my husband relaying the news of his latest doctor’s visit. On this perfectly great Tuesday, I was in the car listening to a Laurie Berkner CD, driving our three year old to an art class. Nothing strange, just Don calling, much like clockwork, at 11:30 sharp. The funny thing is, that when he called, he said, “I have good news. I have Parkinson’s Disease.” Literally, I stopped in my tracks, and asked, “this is good news?”, and he responded, “Yes, Dr. Hayes said there will be a cure in our lifetime.” And, just like that, life resumed. He went back to work as a college football coach at Boston College, and I went about my day. But, despite the “good news”, questions began to form. Within a few hours, panic set in. What did this mean? How would we cope? We have a three year old and are trying desperately for another child to complete our brood…

We reconvened at home that evening. Both of us were separately searching the internet for answers, and both of us were at a loss for words. Which, is not unlike Don and his quiet reflective nature but definitely unlike me who feels compelled to be heard. I’m sure that is a product of being raised in a family of eleven siblings. Phone calls to were then made… disbelief ensued… second opinions were urged…. and later a lengthy denial persisted. Never in motion was a written plan of attack ever drafted, but in the quiet of our own home, we often discussed the strategy of how we would handle this information.

Unfortunately, in the athletic world there are no signs of weakness allowed (that are actually made known out loud); that’s the law of the jungle. The weak are discarded. Only the strong survive. So, after much thought and consultation, our plan was that we would tell immediate family only, and Don’s boss, head coach, former marine, and well respected friend, Tom O’Brien. Though I wasn’t there the day this discussion happened, Don has told me that it was short and sweet and no time for concern.

Shortly after the diagnosis, Don’s commitments with Coach O’Brien brought us to Raleigh, North Carolina. We would be soon be discovering a new environment, great challenges professionally, and a very odd beginning to new friendships. You see, it’s not often that you have to explain why your husband may speak softly, freeze in a chair, or not be able to move his left hand to someone that you’ve never met. Though I don’t believe that you should feel the need to explain, we were now in the South where everyone knows everybody’s business. And as a result, we secluded ourselves and became a much stronger family unit. Despite the change in lifestyle, we were happy, and had a new daughter in the mix.

In the midst of a relentless coaching battle to improve a new program at NC State, Don started to show outward signs of his disease. The hours of a coach are grueling, and I truly mean giving 24 hours of one’s self to not only to better the program, but, more importantly, to the development of its young men. But this was his passion, and he was becoming frustrated by the lack of movement his body was beginning to trap him in. I recall the night he came home after a game, and I’m not sure if they won or loss, but I’m SURE he can recall that fact. I was sitting at my computer and he said to my back, “…hard day today”. I replied something sarcastic, like “what was your offensive line thinking”, or “how many sacks were given up?” He said, “no…hard day today”. I knew better than to turn around. In the 3 ½ years since he was diagnosed, we had never discussed his difficult days with Parkinson’s because neither of us would actually give in. I just asked what happened. He said, “I was stuck, stuck in the locker room, and I couldn’t button my shirt.” I remained silent. He told me that Russell Wilson had helped him. Then very slowly and he told me in defeat that a player had to help him get dressed so that he could catch the team plane. I stood up, not addressing the difficulty, and said, “That’s just the kind of person Russell is, Don”. I knew that he was feeling a lack of control, a bit of embarrassment and humility, so to soften the blow, I said, “If anyone understood, it was Russell.”

This conversation churned over and over in my mind. I felt desperate to help him and his situation. How could I ease the burden of the simple task of getting dressed? I spent hours online searching for a solution – surely there were options in menswear. I saw Velcro dress shirts and had them FedEx’d in time for his next trip. Upon receiving them, I was disappointed by their quality. I noticed how thin they were and knew that they would only last a few dry cleanings. I also saw he would still need his dexterity to line it up properly. Then the wheels started spinning, and I had an epiphany – Magnets – why not put magnets on the inside – they would line up independently and I could just convert the existing shirts that he already had. But, after tearing one apart I saw this wasn’t a possibility, the magnets slipped and needed to be sewn into a system. Back to the drawing board, but I knew that I was on the right track. I made a phone calls. I sketched my ideas, and I decided to order a few prototypes. Once the idea felt realistic, I told a few friends. It felt encouraging, and I was so optimistic, I actually flew down to Florida to present the idea to Shark Tank ready to jump in with both feet.

After being chosen as a finalist, I knew that I had a viable idea. I was asked to put together a video to bring to the taping. I shared this with a few friends, and within weeks, I had an investor (and dropped out of Shark Tank). And, long story short, that’s where we are today, finally launching MagnaReady, a magnetically infused dress shirt and the concept of stress free shirting. Obviously aimed at people with limited mobility (and not just the 5 million Parkinson’s sufferers but stroke victims, arthritis sufferers, wounded warriors, etc.), this product could be great for a number of other people (including nursing moms). It is truly our hope that until there is a cure, we can help people who struggle with their daily tasks live a little simpler and help restore a little dignity to their daily routine. After all, getting dressed shouldn’t be a stressful task – Living with a disability is hard enough…