As a labor and delivery nurse for 25 years, Lori Jones of Hollywood has seen her share of pregnant women in traditional hospital gowns. About two years ago, a mom-to-be brought in a pretty nightgown to wear for her delivery, but Jones had to tell her no.
"I had to make her take it off and put on an awful hospital gown," said Jones, a mom of two. Hospital gowns, with their open backs and snaps down the arms, aren’t designed for fashion, but for emergency access, she said. That access is a requirement.
Jones went home that night, and thought there should be a way to combine the functions of a hospital gown with a pretty look that would flatter a new mom on her special day.
"When you put that hospital gown on, you feel like a patient," she said. "You prepare in so many other ways for a birth, and you buy a special dress for your wedding. Why not buy something pretty for this experience?"
Today Jones owns Mom Gowns, which makes fashionable maternity gowns for expecting moms. Here’s how she did it:
The Big Idea
Mom Gowns sells pretty maternity gowns for wear before, during and after delivery. The gowns have Velcro closures at each shoulder to allow one-hand unfastening for breastfeeding, and have Velcro closures down the back for emergency access. The gowns come in four designs, in cotton or polyester, a variety of colors and patterns, and two sizes: small/medium and large/extra large. They range from $49 to $65.
Jones grew up loving to sew. She sewed all of her own clothes in high school and used to make all of the clothes for her children, Cary, 34, and Cassandra, 32, when they were little. She even made curtains, bedspreads and furnishings for her home when she had more time.
Jones has worked as a labor and delivery nurse for 25 years. She is on staff at Baptist Hospital in Kendall.
Jones got on the computer and found out that pretty maternity gowns were not a new idea. She did find, however, that other companies had not done much to improve the product. Most had taken the traditional hospital gown and offered it in more fashionable fabrics. A couple tried ties in the front or a halter top. Jones took out her pencil and paper and started designing.
"I designed based on what I knew about hospital gowns, and my experience as a labor and delivery nurse," Jones said. She knew she would have to accommodate bellies big and small, and bustlines that had grown exponentially.
Jones put together books of fabric swatches and surveyed 150 women on their favorites. She polled them on types of fabric, patterns and colors, and used the four favorites in her initial inventory.
"I could have just picked whatever I liked, but that doesn’t mean everyone else would have liked them," she said.
A flattering neckline was Jones’ first goal. "You have everything else covered up, so I wanted something pretty showing," she said. Because snaps are hard to refasten with one hand while breastfeeding, Jones used Velcro at the shoulders. To provide complete coverage in the back, she put strips of Velcro intermittently all the way down.
She created a full bodice version, with a seam under the bust line, and a half-bodice style, with the seam at the center of the bust. There is a long-sleeve version with a split, tulip-style sleeve for emergency access, and a short-sleeve gown. All of the gowns have a longer length in the front, so a pregnant belly won’t make them look too short, Jones said.
Jones found a manufacturer in Hialeah to create patterns and four prototypes. Jones bought a belly pillow and had her daughter, friends and co-workers try on the dresses and walk. Then they tweaked the design, altering the size of the arm hole, and lengthening the strips of Velcro down the back to prevent gaps.
At first, Jones went to JoAnn Fabrics during a half-off sale and bought fabric at a wholesale price. But then she found out about "jobbers," people who buy remnants of fabric from large clothing manufacturers and resell them to smaller shops. Jones said she went to warehouses to thumb through fabrics to pick what she wanted.
"I could do the same gown in China and charge half the price, but I wanted to stay here," Jones said. "I want to employ people here."
She ordered an initial inventory of 700 gowns.
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Jones said she made a novice’s mistake and went with inexperienced website developers, who took about a year and still hadn’t produced a viable ecommerce site. "There were so many viruses on it that Google put me on a blacklist, and I hadn’t even opened up my company yet," she said.
She eventually found someone to take over and clean up the site, which was ready in August 2012. In February, she opened Facebook and Twitter accounts, where she posts inspirational messages, trivia and maternity tidbits. She printed brochures in English and Spanish, and drops them off at obstetrician offices in Miami. Jones also started a blog, which she hopes will be a forum for women to share tips and stories about labor.
While it would be a conflict of interest to promote the gowns at her hospital, Jones has placed brochures at other area hospitals.
"I would love to sell them to hospitals, but I have to figure out how," Jones said.
Initial capital outlay
Jones put about $50,000 into research, web development, marketing materials and inventory. She sells 25-30 pieces a month and is not yet profitable.
Jones would like to step up marketing efforts by attending trade shows, putting her products on Amazon and eBay, and creating a presence on Instagram and Pinterest. She would like to hire someone to help with marketing, and move her inventory from her den to rented office space. Jones also would like to expand her line to include safari prints and lacey antique fabrics.
"My biggest challenge is getting the word out to moms that they can do this – they can bring their own gowns to the hospital," Jones said.
Jones works three 12-hour days at the hospital. On hospital days, she rises at 4:30 a.m., gets ready and drives an hour to work. During breaks and lunch, she’ll check emails to see if orders or questions come in. She’ll arrive back at home at 8:30 or 9 p.m. and pack any orders that need shipping, and put them out for the U.S. Post Office to pick up the next day.
"I like to get orders out the minute they come in, because I’m afraid a little mom will make an order and then have her baby before she gets her gown," Jones said.
On off days, she’s in her den the whole day, packing orders, or answering emails. A single mom, Jones said her kids give her moral support and keep her going.
"I love to cook, and if I’m having a rough time, my kids will come over, and we’ll talk through it," she said. "I have awesome kids."
"It’s a lot of work. If you’re lucky enough to find a passion, something you really believe in, don’t give up," she said. "Don’t let anything stand in your way. Just go for it. It’s so worth it."