Combine a skill handed down from mother to daughter, strong family ties, thoughtfulness to find a way to maintain the dignity of a loved one who is seriously ill; the result is John and Dana DeCaire’s specialty clothing line for dialysis patients, “hemowear.”
The business, now in its 12th year, has grown from one person, in one room, to five outside seamstresses at various locations in Lake County and headquarters manned by the DeCaire’s at a two-story, 2,400-square foot building in Lakeview.
Hemowear is the product of homegrown skill, a daughter’s love, encouragement by a medical community, and perseverance to learn about e-commerce by someone who had never imagined being an entrepreneur. In 2004 Dana’s father in Brookings was seriously ill, receiving dialysis three days a week. The concerned daughter moved to Brookings from Utah to help care for him and her grandmother. When DeCaire saw how her father suffered the embarrassment of having to completely disrobe and sit in a cold vinyl chair for his treatment covered only by a hospital gown, she began altering his shirts and pants to accommodate treatment without disrobing.
“It was too much to see him like that for four hours three times a week,” said DeCaire. “The nurses and lab technicians were very helpful with design suggestions.”
Her sewing skills were taught at age five by her mother. By the time DeCaire was 12 she was making her own clothes.
“The dialysis clinics in Medford and Grants Pass didn’t have heated seats available at larger facilities,” explained DeCaire. “The chairs are vinyl, and because they have to be sterilized between each patient use, they are also very cold. It was bad enough patients had to disrobe, but to then be uncomfortable made it even worse.”
At first her father’s treatments were on one shoulder. Eventually they progressed to the belly area. With each new location, the devoted daughter came up with a new design. As time progressed other patients asked to alter their clothing, which she did for free for three years, 2004-07. Medical staff at the clinic were so impressed with the specialized clothing they suggested she begin her own business.
The business idea became more serious in 2007 after a social worker at the Medford clinic suggested she put the clothing on the internet.
“I started with a class at the local community college in Brookings on how to sell on e-Bay,” explained DeCaire. “The instructor, Karen Clark, invited me to join a small e-commerce group. The other members were already in business, so I was the only startup. I brought some samples to class and everyone got really excited about helping me.”
It was in that group DeCaire learned how to create a business plan, e-marketing strategies and the group brainstormed to come up with a brand and a name for the clothing – hemowear.
In 2008 DeCaire met John, they married and moved to Adel where they developed product and sales. However, expansion of product quickly outgrew available space.
“We had boxes of stock in every room,” laughed DeCaire. The stock take-over came to a head when they only had space to sit on their living room couch and a 20-foot box trailer outside was also full.
Hemowear has now been a viable business for 12 years. The couple was able to purchase a building in Lakeview and move the business last July. DeCaire handles design development and oversees five seamstresses who do piecework.
“John is the financial brains of the business,” said DeCaire. “He takes care of orders, shipping, how much we should produce. I will come up with a design idea and he will think about it and tell me how many pieces we should manufacture in order to come out on top after sales. I don’t have any of that ability.”
On average they ship 5-10 packages of sets (shirts and pants) per day, six days a week -- or about 400 pieces per month.
The clothing line includes long sleeve T-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies and sweatpants. “The t-shirts are the basic layer,” explained DeCaire. “We suggest layering. Each type of shirt or pants comes with either a right-hand or left-hand zipper strategically placed for easy access of the dialysis treatment. The zippers are plastic dress zippers with double pulls, so that they are not cold as metal would be, and the extra pull makes them easier to operate.”
As an e-commerce business the majority of hemowear marketing is done online; however, they do have brochures and business cards - a must for industry shows. Integral to their marketing efforts are attendance at dialysis conferences throughout the country. They are presently preparing to participate in the annual Dialysis Conference, held through the University of Missouri Division of Nephrology in February.
For more information visit www.hemowear.com.