Hello, beauties! Boy do I have a treat for you today, an interview with Nikki Puzzo & Joanne DiCamillo the owners of befree. They developed zipOns, pants designed to be more functional for the differently abled. Their pants provide an easier & safer way of dressing for people that are temporarily or permanently disabled. The pants come in both youth & adult sizes! These ladies are such an inspiration & truly making a difference. Continue reading our interview to discover their story, #1 entrepreneurship tip, & so much more.
How did you ladies meet?
We met 6 years ago when our daughters were in the same kindergarten class.
2. Tell me how did befreeco come to be?
Nikki’s daughter, Stella, has cerebral palsy and underwent double hip surgery 5 years ago which left her in double casts with a bar in between to set her hips. The recovery process for this type of surgery is roughly 3 months. While at her pre-op appointment, Nikki asked Stella's surgeon what families dress their child in during the recovery. His response was blankets and long t-shirts. Realizing that wouldn't work for Stella, Nikki went out and bought a pair of pajama bottoms. She took them apart on the outer seam and sewed velcro to close them back up so that they could go around the cast and not up through her legs. This was a game changer for Stella and at her post-op appointment her surgeon was very impressed. He encouraged Nikki to make them for the many other families that could benefit from such clothing. Nikki was shocked that her pants could be such a novelty and told one of her friend Joanne about it the next day. Joanne was impressed by the simplicity of the design and offered up her mother’s sewing skills to make Nikki a few more pairs. Soon those pairs were seen by enough people who wanted them for their own children or someone else they knew in need.
Nikki and Joanne realized that Stella’s surgeon was right. There were in fact many others that could benefit from having pants like these—a simple solution with transformative impacts. And there certainly was a need to be met if the medical staff at one of the world’s most renowned hospitals could offer no product options. Incredulous at the lack of adaptive clothing available, Nikki and Joanne decided to join together and formed befree, LLC to bring their inclusive design to market.
3. Could you touch upon Stepping Stones for Stella?
Stepping Stones for Stella again was inspired by Nikki's daughter Stella. Nikki's father, who is very handy, watched many times as Nikki struggled with getting on and off the beach with Stella, her other daughter Chloe and all their gear and designed a beach wheelchair. He used a heavy grade PVC pipe, low pressure tires and mesh seating for easy cleaning. Realizing how much this changed our lives, we decided we needed to pay it forward. We decided to make SSFS a 501c3 non profit organization where we 100 percent donate buggies to families with children with disabilities. Nikki's dad made the first 120 buggies out of his home in Marshfield and as of today we have 500 buggies donated to families across the United States.
4. What is the most challenging part of what you do?
Simply put, time and money. As mothers and entrepreneurs, there is never enough time in the day. We are also a bootstrapping startup which has challenged us to accomplish our goals with limited capital.
5. How about the most rewarding?
Feedback and testimonials from our customers. Hearing that our product made someone’s life better is by far the most rewarding.
6. Where can people purchase your products?
Online at befreeco.com. Also in several Boston area hospital gift shops: Mass General Hospital, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, New England Baptist Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital.
7. Have you had any talk or thoughts on line expansion?
Yes! We plan to expand to other types of pants as well as other articles of clothing and shoes.
8. How do you manage balance while wearing so many different hats?
As mothers, we learned to multi task long ago and have applied these skills in our business. We both do a lot of everything but try to divide the workload based on our strengths and life experiences.
9. What is you #1 tip for entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself and your company. Don’t be afraid of being told “no” and don’t let it discourage you.
10. Last question just for kicks, what is your go to piece in your wardrobe?
I hope that you have enjoyed this interview as much as I did. Go check out this amazing company, befreeco.com ! Pick up a pair for yourself or someone you know who could benefit from them. Nikki & Joanne- it was an absolute pleasure. Keep up the amazing work! Till next time my friends!