by Shelley Whizin
I was thirty, had a nine-month-old baby girl, and a husband who was lazy, not working and lying on the couch all day long. Little did I know that out of this ‘pang of necessity’ could be born one of the greatest adventures of my life. I learned that economic necessity could be my catalyst for opening my creativity and, best of all, matching my talents with a partner to create money!
It all started at my dining room table in my small apartment. I had invited Mary to come over for dinner. We worked together at a company at that time, and I adored working with her. She had a strong work ethic, and I loved what a great business sense she had, and how methodical she was in her approach to every project. As we worked together, I often had an intuitive sense that we would make up our own company one day. I didn’t even care what it would be. I just knew we worked well together. I’d invited her to explore this possibility.
As our conversation unfolded we took this on in a serious vane. Our first step was to find out if we were simpatico with each other and this took some heavy duty soul searching. We got out our notepaper and we asked each other these questions:
- What values are a ‘must’ to you in life?
- What are your talents/gifts?
- What skills are easy for you? Which do you enjoy doing? (These could be different than talents/gifts, because there are things we know how to do, and can do them very well, but don’t necessarily want to pursue those skills).
- What would you love?
- What products have you wanted to make?
We found magic in these questions. It surprised us just how many useful skills and creative talents we had between the two of us, and what resources that we had to combined to create an enterprise that could benefit us each economically.
As we revealed our answers, we recognized how capable each other was in different areas; we clarified how lucky it was that our skills were not in the same areas, that they were compatible and not the same. We each felt respect and admiration for the other, and gifted by our association and how together we could cover the waterfront of what would be needed for our company. We were definitely each other’s cheerleader. Here was a key point for us — we both knew how important it is to come from the heart. Bringing love and light into everything we did, had to be a key ingredient to our work together, no matter what we chose to do on our list of dreams.
We also learned what each of us wanted and didn’t want. Then the last question sparked the magic; when we got to the product-making part, my mind went to town. I loved that part! It hit right in my zone of creativity! I listed two pages of things I had always wanted to produce or manufacture.
We decided to start with ONE of the things on the list, and agreed that if we could make the ONE we picked work first, we could then make all the others on the list work too, in time.
Mary shared with me her dream, of creating a “sandwich quilt,” for the bed, that was made of 3 separate duvet covers, tied together in the corners with big bows. I knew what a duvet cover was because I traveled in Europe when I was 19 and discovered what a yummy way that was to sleep, but duvet covers were not readily available in the stores in the United States at that time.
As she shared her dream with me, I could actually “see” in my mind’s eye what she was describing, and could easily envision the things she wanted to manifest, and vice versa. This was essential in our partnership, as we could both envision a dream shared.
We decided to start with creating a bedding design company, because two of Mary’s talents and skills were designing and sewing, She was an expert seamstress, and had been creating and sewing high-end women’s clothes for many years. Now she was a natural to design high-end bedding and had the passion for doing it.
With my experience in advertising, marketing and design, I was on board for making our joint dreams come true, and I was also confident that both of us would contribute something wonderful to this venture that we were embarking on together.
Now for a name – what should we call our new company? We pondered on a name that expressed our inspiration. We both wanted to come from the heart so we knew that the word “heart” had to be in the name; and because we would work with the light and color of fabrics we wanted to bring those elements into the equation as well; and because there were two of us it needed to be plural. We called ourselves, “Lighthearts”. It felt perfect!
Mary and I then set off to gain the knowledge and background that we needed to add to our success. We studied and incorporated color healing into our business culture, and we felt it was important to always include spiritual qualities we felt were important. We were both huge fans of using color as a healing modality because we knew that color has a tremendous affect on our lives and our spirits, and we used color as an integral part of our product presentation. We incorporated the concepts that:
- Color influences our mood and emotions.
- Color has an impact on our sense of well-being.
- Color sheds light on our personality.
- Color affects our way of perception (light colors make a space look big, a high ceiling looks less high when painted in a dark color, etc.)
- Colors have symbolic meanings, depending on the culture/system.
- Color influences the flow and amount of energy in our bodies.
- Color is a way of self-expression and sheds light on our personality.
From our ‘color sense’, we decided on pink and purple for our logo design. Pink represents love and resonates with the heart. Purple represents consciousness and resonates from the crown center just above the head. The two balanced each other and aptly described our business marriage.
We drew an idea of our logo, and a friend of ours created the most beautiful airbrushed pink and purple logo, with a robust pink heart in a circle of purple that looked like the yin/yang sign. It was futuristic, colorful, and had all the elements we wanted. Our company was coming to life with the concepts and plans that we made up, which drew on our talents, beliefs, desires and sense of beauty.
Here’s another very important piece; we firmly agreed that we would both put our egos on the table, and let the “bigger picture” be more important than our individual selves. This was an absolute. If one of us felt an intuitive voice of “no” inside, we would honor that, without question. We were partners and any moves that we made, we decided, were democratic.
We struck gold when our very first client was Juliette Prowse, a famous dancer/actress of the fifties/sixties who was married to Frank Sinatra for several years. Business takes ‘connections’, and we had them! Her nanny was my friend, Jeannie, and that’s how we got in the door to see Juliette. But, truth is, if our bedding designs were subpar, she wouldn’t have hired us. Mary and I were committed to excellence, and we knew what we were doing was unusually beautiful and unique. That gave us all of the confidence that we needed.
She gave us a test run by coming up with a plan for her ten-year old son’s room. Mary and I checked out his room, then went downtown and bought the fabric according to the color scheme she wanted. We immediately went to my small apartment, cleared out a big space on the living room floor, and began sewing late into the night as my baby girl was sleeping. We hardly noticed the time we were having so much fun seeing our dream come into being.
The bedding turned out so beautifully. Let me describe it; It was a royal blue duvet cover backed in white, with red piping, with a zipper at the bottom of the duvet so it could be reversible. We also made a tailored blue bed ruffle, and it too was gorgeous yet boy-like and sophisticated. We had perfectly executed our client’s wish, and she loved it. Then, she hired us to design the bed in her bedroom – and we were absolutely thrilled!
For Julliette’s bed, we searched out a variety of swatches of colors and shared with her Mary’s vision of the “sandwich quilt”, which was the heart of the dream that Mary and I had set out to create. Our opportunity had showed up – and quicker and more easily than we’d ever thought possible. This is the way it works when you set the wheels in motion and have an enduring vision of the contribution you’ll make.
Juliette thought the idea was marvelous, picked out the colors she loved, and we went off again and bought the fabrics. This was like a kid going to the candy store for me; I loved looking at all the fabrics and trims, and always got so many ideas of new products to make. Mary and I were elated to be sitting in the driver’s seat of our wildest dreams!
Mary drew out her designs. We measured, cut everything out, and sewed the 3 different colored duvet covers. The finished product turned out to be the very same image Mary had dreamt about and described to me so fully. It was three layers of very thin duvet inserts, with three different colored duvet covers: one peach, one ecru, and one sea-foam green, with a matching, very ruffled, bed ruffle. Mary sewed the bed ruffles like a fine women’s shirt collar is done with no seams. We were humored to see that the ruffle almost stood by itself as it had so much life in it. The ruffle was very proud to be a bed ruffle!
For the details of our fine work, we piped each duvet cover in ecru, and each corner had a small loop where ecru spaghettis hung, just adding that simple touch of whimsy. It was in the details and seeing what was working for us, that another insight came to me.
It was a formula for our work. This formula came into my thinking for a concept for the development of our company – that was to design a bed with a multitude of colors that would always look and feel cohesive. Little did we know at the time that this “formula” would become our ticket to the high-end department stores/boutique shops around the country, and substantially increase our vision.
We were beginning to get more special orders. And, we wanted to reach more people with our products. To handle both of these, we needed some help sewing and our solution was to hire an outside contractor from one of the fabric shops that we visited often. With this kind of help, we believed that we could go out and sell to department and specialty stores.
We were expanding. Over the next few weeks, we did some research and found a linen show coming up in San Francisco. We decided to take a new risk and buy a booth at the show and preview our bedding, even if we were just beginning. Here’s the truth, that we were feeling really green behind the ears, didn’t really know anything about the bedding industry, but just sewed up our designs and showed up.
We planned to distinguish ourselves at the show with a creative approach. We made a little wicker basket, called, “Baby Lighthearts,” and displayed it on the front table. The charming wicker basket with a graceful handle, included a white crib size poly filled comforter, a red duvet cover and a matching red baby pillow, all piped in ecru. I smiled inside knowing it was adorable!
And we applied our magic formula with a display of a full bed with a pink duvet cover, pink and purple pillows with ecru piping, and something we called a “tootsie roll” which was a neck roll with a cover that looked like a tootsie roll and was gathered at both ends. We also used those “spaghettis” and tied them at each corner of the duvet. Darling, just darling, our art in full display!
In addition to our creative approach, we recognized that quality was essential. Mary and I confirmed that we didn’t want to apologize for any part of our design, our concept or our work, so for example, we over-locked all the inside seams. ‘Quality Without Compromise,’ was our motto, and we stuck to it. Our standards of excellence were extremely high. We kept the bar high to make sure our quality represented the product at all times. This instilled our pride as we displayed our product at the show.
As we expected, there were hardly any other duvet covers displayed at the San Francisco show. We took turns walking up and down the aisles checking everything out and we discovered that we were truly pioneers in the bedding industry, that was mostly an industry of ‘old school’ orange, brown and beige bedspreads. We were a breath of fresh air, and we knew it as we surveyed the competition.
One day at the San Francisco show, a man from Dallas came to our booth asking us if we were represented by anyone in Texas, and we weren’t. We learned that he had a showroom in the Dallas Design Center, and asked us if we would consider hiring him to represent our bedding line, and we learned that one of his clients was Neiman Marcus.
We were so excited! We said, YES! The Dallas man asked if we would send him some samples, and we said, “No. We will go with our samples and see you in your showroom.”
That moment caused me to flash back on the first night at the dinner table when Mary and I were designing our company in my small apartment. Then, we just were working on an idea, and now we could see and touch our product. At that time, sitting at the dinner table, Mary and I dreamed about being in Neiman Marcus, actually SEEING our bedding in the Neiman Marcus stores and saying, “Can you believe we got into Neiman Marcus? Wow, that is so amazing. Can you just see us in all their stores? Wouldn’t that be great?”
A practice we consciously used was that whatever vision either one of us saw, we accepted it “as if” it already happened, and we were just moving into the picture one step at a time. This technique worked really well for us in designing our bedding, as well designing our packaging and our growth.
Another wonderful thing happened after the San Francisco linen show. There was an article published in one of the bedding industry’s trade journals. It headlined: “Marketing Geniuses Hit San Francisco Linen Show.” They were talking about Mary and I, for God’s sakes!
The article went on to talk about how we created this really innovative baby bedding line, using duvet covers, called ‘”Baby Lighthearts’” that could be changed frequently and washed. The article went on and on, as if we had years and years of experience, and we were brand new! We were floored and happy, to say the least.
We were off to such a good start that we took the action to continue the momentum. We then tackled our first New York linen show. We worked each day at our booth. Then, after we closed each night we made appointments with the buyers, turning our hotel room into a showroom decorated with Lighthearts’ beds.
The show produced great rewards for us. We were a hit! So much so, that a Chinese linen company hired us to revamp and redesign their entire American marketing campaign and to go to China to meet with them to make plans for their product.
And here’s another side to our success. We discovered that our designs were so red hot, that thirteen companies knocked us off after our first New York show. One company even called themselves, “Reflections, Ala Lighthearts.” Boy, we didn’t see that coming, but we continued to keep our nose to the grindstone and just kept designing new collections from our unique creative perspective all the time. We knew that we were the original, and the innovators, and no one else had our unique combination of talents, we’d proven that.
Our business expanded and we were in big stores like Sakowitz, Bullocks, Saks Fifth Avenue and other high-end boutique stores throughout the country. And we dreamed of Neiman Marcus.
We also used the color healing method in the story we developed for marketing our company. Our foundation was built on both of our beliefs of how important it was to incorporate color for healing, and the formula that we’d created for designing our products. We knew that this good story helps people see themselves, using the merchandise during its promotion.
We expanded our marketing and branding to be what we called our system of design, “The Total Fashion Bed Ensemble, dressing your bed, as you would yourself.” Now we were shaping the way that our customers were viewing our product line promoting the values and beliefs that shaped our success. We shaped the concept of changing your duvet cover, just as you would change your clothing. Our customers could just throw their duvet cover in the wash and dress their bed with another look, simple and easy.
We were shaping the way buyers thought about bedding too. I loved telling the “old school” bedding buyers at national department stores chains, that they spend one third of their lives in bed… that their bed is the last thing they see at night and the first thing they see in the morning, so it better be damn scrumptious! They liked that angle too, and said they never thought of it that way.
Our biggest competition was a company called Pratessi, a high-end Italian bedding company with the most luxurious bedding. We were compared to them in all the trade journals. That was very flattering for us, and helpful in positioning us as one of the most beautiful high-end bedding companies in the country!
As our Company grew, Mary and I needed time for planning. It was strategically important to continue to be inspired and we would head off on weekend retreats where we would create new design ideas. One weekend, we came up with this idea for a new collection, called, “The Conscious Times Collection,” by Lighthearts.
To create the product we used Waverly Shumaker’s “glo-sheen,” shimmery cotton that had a 600-thread count, very soft, almost like the best Egyptian cotton. It came in a multitude of delicious colors, but we narrowed it down to twenty colors, with twenty possibilities of piping and twenty possibilities of spaghetti’s. That was a lot of possible mix and match color combinations and filled out our line for the collection!
Now we were customizing our line of products, and creating a system for retail stores to sell our product. Every store had one or two of our bedding designs on display. We also provided a complete merchandising book which showed drawings and diagrams illustrating the “Total Fashion Bed Ensemble”, how to design a bed that always looks and feels cohesive, and swatches with piping and spaghettis of all the colors. We showed the retail store that ours was a mix and match system, and that it was easy for sales people to help their customers create and design a special and unique color combination just for their customer. The system we designed helped the retail store to use the ‘Total Fashion Bed Ensemble’ and it worked every time.
Our uniquely designed and specialty creation of “The Conscious Times Collection” consisted of a celadon green duvet cover; pillows in celadon green, grape, crimson, and a baby black pillow thrown in for sex appeal, all with gold Lemay piping. It had a special gold Lemay “tootsie roll”, pillow tied at both ends creating a ruffle, faced with crimson, laced with gold Lemay spaghetti’s that looked like flowers!. And, to top it off, a gold Lemay bed ruffle. Talk about decadent and sumptuous, this was it and it was magnificent! It was just a bath of color waiting to be dived into, and definitely regal and sexy as all get out.
We phoned our Dallas rep, and told him about our latest creation loaded with our excitement. In his thick Texas accent he said, “You girls have gone plum crazy! Who’s gonna buy a gold le-may bed? And, you might want to reconsider the name of that collection. It might be a little too California.” He clearly wasn’t seeing our vision, but that was ok because we were confident now with our game plan. Our Company had matured to assessing, planning and being a true player in the bedding industry.
We stuck to our guns, and said, “Nope, that’s the bed, that’s the name.”
Well our plans and visions came true, and in spite of what our Dallas rep thought; the Neiman Marcus buyer came into the Dallas man’s showroom and absolutely went head over heals for our bedding design. Wow! We were in Neiman Marcus, and so much so that the famous store put us in their Neiman Marcus catalog giving us the prime spot: the center fold spread, with the words written across both pages: “The Conscious Times Collection by Lighthearts.” Dreams really do come true, and we built the Company on what we loved even though we weren’t seeing it anywhere else.
Mary and I laughed so much when we saw the Neiman Marcus catalog’s center fold, knowing that we were pushing the envelope of bringing spirituality into the corporate world, widening the possibilities of products, and creating ‘outside the box’ with our vision and creative spirit. We were so proud of ourselves. And, Neiman Marcus? Come on!
I’ve taught you many of our strategies and important points for creating our company. We had an idea, developed a product, came up with a formula and then created a system. There were certain beliefs about our business that guided us. And, there was a way that we wanted our customers to see us in the marketplace that was our branding.
The reasons I tell you this story are many:
- If Mary and I, two wide-eyed idealists, could manifest our dreams, anyone can. We were both young mothers with babies, working to create something from nothing and achieved the goals/visions we set forth.
- Partnering with someone is really fun when shared values are defined.
- Creativity is an open door with an open mind.
- Sharing your dream with someone you trust/admire/respect works.
- Two people who share the same values/visions in life can accomplish a whole lot more together.
- You’re never too young or too old to pursue and manifest your dream.
- When you don’t know you can’t do something, you just do it.
- When partnering, putting your egos on the table and letting the bigger picture become more important than being right, is the way to go.
- It’s lots of fun.
- I highly recommend this way of living and working.
Get going. Partner up. Enjoy teamwork, and always honor, regard and respect each other’s capabilities, to consciously bring out the best in each other, to create something bigger than you can do by yourself.
I love partnering with Joan, and that’s why I’ve written this article.
It’s your life.
Enjoy the journey.
And, remember to bring love into everything you do.