Let me start by saying that my foster son, Oliver, changed my life.
Before starting my company, The Ollie World, I worked as a clinical therapist (MSW), with a specialty in infant mental health. Prior to that, I worked for a local county to help set up three SART locations, which provided a multidisciplinary treatment approach to working with drug and trauma exposed little ones ages 0-5. It was while holding this position that I became a single foster parent to my foster son, Oliver, who I created the Ollie (swaddle) for.
He was just the most amazing little boy and I was so honored to be a part of his life. When he came to me at three months old, he had already been removed from multiple foster homes because he was “too difficult.” I fell in love with him the moment I saw him. At the time, he was on the verge of being labeled “failure to thrive” because he struggled with the basics of eating and sleeping, he could not move or hold his head up, and even eye contact was too much over-stimulation for him and he would, thus, shut down.
Because of my work particularly with the county, I knew the importance of swaddling. So, I went out and bought every single swaddle on the market, but nothing worked. They did not properly contain him, he escaped every time, and he overheated. He was not getting any of the benefits that swaddling is supposed to provide, so I set out to make him something that could meet all of his needs. And, that is when and how the first “Ollie” was made.
Once Oliver started using his Ollie (swaddle), I started noticing drastic changes. Because of his trauma, drug exposure, and tight muscle tone, his body was never able to relax, but with the proper containment of the Ollie, he was able to finally relax for the first time in his life. From there, he was able to focus on feeding, working on achieving developmental milestones, and even opened up the opportunity to make eye contact and work on our attachment. Seeing the changes in Oliver is what inspired me to share the Ollie with other little ones all over the world.
I actually lived through one of the most challenging times of my career during the pandemic. I made a decision to reject several orders of fabric because they failed my spec at a time when demand for our product was at an all time high. I care so much about the quality, integrity, and safety of every product we make, so the decision was an easy one. The result has been an extended time of being out of stock, as we make up for the failed fabric. As you can imagine, it is not easy to run a business without inventory, but there is no doubt in my mind that I did what was right.
I used this time to actually create an entirely new infrastructure that allows me to be in full control of every aspect of the manufacturing and production process. It has been challenging, as I essentially rebuilt my business from the ground up all over again. But, again, I know this was essential for me to create products that I stand behind and believe in.
In my hardest of days over the almost 8 years of running this company, the one thing that has always kept me going and has served as my foundation for the decisions I made, is my belief in the Ollie and my goal to have a positive impact in the lives of little ones. I am just so happy to have been able to rebuild this company and have Ollies back in stock.
For this upcoming year, we have some really exciting things happening. For the past three years, I have been working on my next invention, which would be the follow-up product to the Ollie. After multiple prototypes and extensive safety testing, we are planning to launch this new product mid-year. Lastly, by the end of March (2022), we will officially be on the shelves in all Target stores nationwide.
When I first started my company, every single store that I went to told me “no” and that I would never be able to compete with the larger swaddle brands. On my days when I felt most defeated, I would walk the aisle of Target and tell myself that one day I would be on these shelves. The other part of this story is that the packaging for Target has my daughter on it. As a single mom by choice, I spent years going through IVF and had multiple miscarriages before i was able to have my daughter. So, having her on the package in Target is a dream upon dreams coming true for me.
As far as what else is next, my goal is to find more ways to be able to give back. We currently have the Ollie Full Circle, where we donate Ollies to foster-infants and have a few pilot NICU programs, as well. I would love to be able to turn these into much larger programs, including even creating a special NICU Ollie to be able to donate to these programs.
Despite what can be portrayed on social media, walking the path of being a female entrepreneur is not easy. My head of operations is a male and 9.9 times out of 10 he is assumed to be my boss everywhere we go or any time meeting people. I have been told I can't manage both being a mom and running a business and that I need to choose one. I have worked 7 days a week for most of my career. And, as tired as I am most days, I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life.
I will say that the best piece of advice I can give anyone is that you have to have a clear definition of your “why” and purpose of what you are doing. There will be days when that purpose is all you have to lean on, so make sure it is a strong foundation!