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How Parkinson's Inspired a Magnetic Clothing Line

Friday August 23, 2013

Laura Baverman

Upstart Business Journal - Years of experience as a fashion designer helped Maura Horton know what to do when her college football coach husband, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease several years prior, came home from work one day with a humiliating story to tell.

The degenerative neurological disease had gotten the best of him as he tried to button up his dress shirt after a game. As he fumbled over each button, a player offered to help. It was an act of kindness for which both Hortons were grateful. But it struck a louder chord with the female Horton, who spent a decade as a children’s clothing designer before taking time off to raise her two daughters.

“Why aren’t there better clothing options for people with disabilities?” she thought. How could she solve the problem in a fashionable way? And could easily-worn clothing help preserve dignity among people who suffered from disease or old age?

Horton first researched the market for clothing geared toward people with physical limitations. She found no recognized brand for the apparel. Most of the materials were of poor quality. There were very few options (and none that she considered fashionable) and sizing was odd.

In her Raleigh, North Carolina home, she set to work designing a men’s dress shirt that would be fastened with magnets strong enough to keep a garment attached but weak enough so it could be easily removed. The task wasn’t simple. To make the shirt look as normal as possible and ensure it could be washed, the magnets would be covered in fabric and hidden with a faux buttonhole and button.

She filed a patent application for the design. And then she got to work sourcing the materials and finding a manufacturer. It took 2.5 years to complete the process and receive the first order, (The shirts are made in Honduras) and the company called MagnaReady launched an e-commerce site in March.

Horton was quickly overwhelmed by the response, even with little marketing. Within two months, she had 1,000 orders and they were coming in droves from arthritis, stroke and Alzheimer’s sufferers. A CBS interview in July gave her thousands more. She declined to share specific sales or revenue projections, but expects a return on her (and an investor’s) investment within a year.

“It’s been overwhelming,” she says. “We have more sales than I ever thought possible.”

But with the quick success of her shirts has come some big challenges. For example, orders started coming in from India and Australia. She quickly had to learn how to exchange currency, handle customs and insurance requirements and factor increased shipping charges.

“I wasn’t ready for that at all,” Horton says. She’s now planning to distribute in Australia, where sales are taking off.

She originally hoped to sell the shirts in major department stores, but has since learned there’s no place for something as unsexy as clothing for people with limited mobility. She’ll stick to e-commerce for now.

She’s also fielded calls from vendors who want her to create custom products using the magnets. It’s been hard to stay focused, she says.

“If you’re on the right path, a lot of things happen organically, which has been the case for me,” she says. “It’s easy to get steered in a lot of directions because the technology is pretty cool. But I’m trying to stick to my original goal of getting the shirts to market.”

But she couldn’t ignore the obvious applications of her technology beyond dress shirts for men either. She’ll soon launch a line of women’s shirts. She’ll add casual men’s styles and a short sleeve option. And she’ll begin marketing MagnaMini, a line of kids outerwear affixed with magnets. After all, small children can’t quite button, snap or zip.

She also secured a patent application for magnetic hospital gowns. Horton plans to license that technology to others.

To keep herself motivated throughout the business-building, Horton frequently checks a part of the MagnaReady website where customers share stories about the product. Her goal of helping people keep their dignity has been met time and again and by people of all ages and with various conditions. That’s what keeps her on track, she says.

“No one has set out to change this area,” Horton says. “And I guess I didn’t start out that way, but I sure would like to leave a dent in it.”

Baverman, L. (23 Aug 2013). Upstart Business Journal. How Parkinson's disease inspired a magnetic clothing line. upstart.bizjournals.com