It may be warm enough that you no longer need a winter coat everywhere you go (hooray for that!), but when there’s a good idea we like to share it. And the Shellter — a zip-in coat extender for pregnancy and winter babywearing? Well, it is a dang GOOD IDEA.
Andrea Michael created this winter baby-wearing system/coat extender to help mamas and moms-to-be to get out and active with their families, no matter the weather. And with good reason: Andrea lives in Bozeman, Montana and has a 3-and-a-half-year-old son and a 6-month-old daughter … so you can imagine how she came up with the idea. But we don’t wanna steal her thunder, ’cause we have a Q&A with this inspiring mom entrepreneur. Read on for how Andrea went from real-life need to real product!
How did you get the idea for this product?
My daughter was born in August of last year and as the weather got colder, I was frustrated with my options to dress for cold weather while wearing her in a front-pack carrier. I didn’t like having to bundle her up separately and wear her on top of my own heavy coat, and I hated wearing my husband’s large coats over the two of us and feeling like a giant blob. I thought: “All I need is a little more room in my own coat.” And that was the inspiration for an extender that would zip into my coat and fit over the two of us. From there I grabbed every coat in the house and started zipping the zippers together to see what worked and what didn’t. Then, I strapped the baby on and walked to my local thrift store where I found a coat with a matching zipper to my own. I came home and ripped it apart and sewed the first Shellter.
What has it been like to create it and fine-tune it? Can you talk about that process a little?
I was really proud of the first one I made, and it actually came together pretty smoothly. I had a vision in my head of what it would be but, as any maker of things knows, those ideas don’t always materialize. This actually came out even better than I had envisioned! I posted it on my Facebook page and I got a ton of comments and people wanting one for themselves, so I asked five people to pay for the cost of materials so I could fine-tune the design and construction of it (because even though I loved mine it did have a few issues, like one of the zipper pulls was inside the shell). Well, I had no idea how much work I was in for with those first five! All five of them had different zippers on their coats, so I spent a ton of time researching both zipper types and where I could purchase what I needed. I learned a lot from that process about what worked and what didn’t, as well as what materials I liked. As a side note, my education and work history is in architecture and design, so the prototyping process is something I am quite familiar with. When you are in the design development stage of any project you can’t be afraid to take chances (even if you don’t think they will work) and you have to be okay with tearing things apart and scrapping ideas that aren’t panning out. I became very good friends with my seam ripper during the process!
Can you talk a little bit about what your typical day is like?
The kids are usually happiest to play on their own for the first few hours after we wake up in the morning, so that’s when I try to get some work done. Then we typically head out for a kid-friendly outing (library or indoor play day in the winter; park or hike in the summer). In the afternoon we may go out for a walk or just be around the house working/playing. The evenings can be a bit of a blur between dinner and getting the kids to bed. Then I usually try to do an hour or two of more work before going to bed myself.
What’s it like to have kids and build a business? Any tips for moms in similar situations?
See above! Lots of working around the fringes, getting an hour or two in here and there. You always have to be able to take advantage of the small windows of time that present themselves. Smart phones come in handy because I can sit down to nurse the baby and check my email or do a social media post.
How does your product help moms and kids to be healthier?
This product makes it so much easier to get outside with a little one and, for me, exercise = outside. We are lucky to live in a beautiful place that values access to open space so we have a great network of trails in and around town. We also live near downtown and I try to walk to do my errands when possible (kill two birds with one stone!). Being able to wear the baby without a bunch of bulky layers between us makes us both more comfortable, which makes me want to get out with her more. I am also able to play with my son more easily because I have my hands free. He gets to have more active time outside.
Anything you’d like to add?
I have learned during the process of starting a business that you cannot work and be successful in a vacuum. I have so much support from my husband and my family and friends, but I have also found a fantastic group of women in my town (called the Boss Ladies) that uplift and inspire each other as well as help answer each other’s questions. I have also been supported by a business development group that has given me some much needed direction. I think I probably would have given up on the idea before it even got off the ground had I not had all of these folks pushing me up the hill!
Have you ever had a brilliant idea for a product? We are loving the Shellter! Bye, bye maternity coat and hello winter baby-wearing! —Jenn