For This Healthcare Apparel Startup, Necessity Was the "Mother" of Invention

Jessica Binns
Senior Editor
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For former University of Georgia fashion merchandising student Molly Dye, necessity really was the mother of invention. Faced with watching her Alzheimer's-stricken mother endure the indignity of having a caregiver change her briefs in a skilled nursing facility in 2006, Dye decided there had to be a better way. For her mother, for the caregiver and for herself.

She paints a vivid picture of the scene: the tall, svelte English-as-asecond-language caregiver straining her back leaning over to wrangle Dye's "large" mother, who — half falling out of the bed — didn't understand the staffer's stilted commands. Chaos with a side of humiliation.

A light bulb went off in Dye's head. "If I can open the pants frontally and eliminate the front seam, then you can access the patient's abdomen frontally," she says, describing how she rushed home to dust off her decades-old sewing machine to experiment with patterns. And thus CareZips was born.

CareZips pants, carried in four colors and seven unisex sizes, are wonderfully simple and employ three zippers — one each on the outside of each leg and a third that runs from one interior knee to the other — that ease the burden of getting patients in and out of garments.

Though Dye developed the pants with hospice and caregiving facility patients in mind, the use case has expanded to include dialysis patients, wound care and wheelchair-enabled individuals. Given that roughly 10,000 people in the United States have turned 65 years old every day since Jan. 1 this year, products such as CareZips are poised to become an important part of the lives of aging, and disabled, Americans, notes Dye. Healthcare textiles company Encompass Group produces CareZips pants through a NAFTA-approved factory in Mexico and ships the product from its facility in McDonough, Ga., an hour south of Atlanta.

Initially Encompass made two fabric recommendations: the winning one — 82 percent polyester, 21 percent rayon and 7 percent spandex — beat out a 65 percent polyester/35 percent cotton blend that wrinkles a lot and is harsh on the skin, explains Dye. Indeed, a nurse at a North Carolina veterans facility found that the fabric was so soft that it was lessening skin tears, according to Dye.

Currently, major retailers such as Amazon, Walgreens and Walmart carry CareZips online, but the startup also sells to veterans' centers in Michigan, Missouri and North Carolina.

Dye says the next move would be securing contracts with major medical equipment companies such as McKesson as well as corporate adult care communities that would buy the product outright and then charge the patients' families. In that scenario, nurses wield enormous influence when they see how CareZips elevates patient care. Once you win over the nurse, says Dye, the nurse will go a long way toward convincing upper management.

Since its launch nearly three years ago, the patented CareZips design has stayed about 90 percent the same, says Dye, though one important iteration moved the side zippers forward so that patients weren't rolling onto the zipper heads (ouch!).
— Jessica Binns

Editor's Note: Like this? You'll love our complete Top Innovators report!