Nine-year old Zoey Harrison was born with cerebral palsy, but she's never let her disability slow her down. So when Zoey, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, came home from school frustrated that she didn’t have time to play with her friends at recess, because getting into her winter wear occupied nearly the entire break, her mother sought a solution.
Jennifer Harrison, 42, learned to sew by making clothes for her Barbie dolls, but a functional for her daughter was a much bigger task. So, rather than beginning from scratch, she took two identical jackets and sewed them together. Not one to waste, Harrison then converted the sleeves she'd cut off the bottom jacket into mittens. A few other small adjustments, and the first X-Ability bodycoat was born.
Harrison's original bodycoat was two jackets sewn together with multiple adjustments. Harrison cut the bottom jacket's sleeves off and converted them into mittens.Harrison sent her creation to school with Zoey, eager to hear how it worked out. Instead of good news, Zoey came home discouraged. The paraprofessional educator (para-pro) assisting Zoey did not understand how to use the bodycoat. Instead of putting the coat in the chair, and then zipping it around Zoey, she tried to put it on like a normal coat, putting the coat on Zoey and then trying to put her in her chair.
“The whole point of it is to put it in the chair, prepare it, and then zip her up,” Harrison said. “I tried to explain it in a text message, but she didn’t understand.”
Harrison asked her husband John take a video of Harrison putting Zoey into the bodycoat. When Harrison tried to email the video to the para-pro, the video file was too large to send so Harrison posted the video publically so the para-pro could see it. That worked even better than Harrison expected.
In addition to helping the para-pro, interest in the bodycoat exploded. To date the video has over 11 million views and over 3,200 shares on Facebook.
Harrison said because she posted the video publically, she had coverage for a year to get a patent application in, but due to some gray areas with patents that doesn’t mean she could rest easy.
“It’s actually first to market,” Harrison said. “Even if I’m applying for a patent, if someone else goes to market first and doesn’t have a patent, they’re actually going to be the ones that are going to be able to get credit for everything.”
And the timing couldn’t have been more chaotic. Harrison and her husband, John, have been married for 24 years and live in Ithaca, Michigan. They have 11 children, nine of which are adopted. At the time, the couple was in the middle of one of those adoptions as well as working on a home renovation.
Still, interest in the bodycoat was so strong, they decided to go ahead and pursue the business venture, naming the company X-Ability, with the Dis in Disability crossed over with an X.
“We want them to be usable, affordable, but stylish,” Harrison said. “I wanted something that dries quickly, that doesn’t smell when it gets wet, and is easy to wash.”
Jennifer Harrison, founder of X-Ability, unfolds a child size bodycoat on the table in the family dining room.The Harrisons invested $25,000 into X-Ability. Their patent is still pending, but they are currently considering getting a business loan to build inventory while they wait.
“I want to be to the point where when we first began, when people would order, we’d pull it off the shelf, label it, and ship it,” Harrison said. “But we have so many orders we are now still only 50 behind now, whereas before were almost 400 behind.”
Each bodycoat comes with step-by-step instructions featuring Zoey as a model. A children’s full bodycoat costs $125 and a full bodycoat for an adult is $195. Mittens, hats, and mid-length bodycoats are also available on the online store.
“I do understand that we need to make money, I get that, but at the same time I want people to be able to afford them,” Harrison said.
Harrison said that if the bodycoats were made in the U.S. it would have cost between $400-$600. To cut down on the price and make the product more affordable they buy the coats wholesale.
“We have to make sure legally that we can do modifications to them,” Harrison said. “Then we are able to order the parts, we prep them for the modifications, then they go to a manufacturer, and then we’re able to sell them for as low as what we are.”
Zoey, who is an Ellen Degeneres mega-fan, hopes to go on Ellen’s show some day to ask for help raising money to make bodycoats for people who don’t have money to buy one.
For now, supporters can visit the X-Ability website to make a donation.