Never underestimate the power of a grandmother’s love.
Karen Bowersox’s love for her granddaughter, Maggie, who has Down syndrome provided the inspiration and passion for the 62-year-old Mentor entrepreneur to open an apparel business.
The mission of Downs Designs is simple: To make affordable, comfortable and fashionable clothes for people with Down syndrome.
The idea of Downs Designs began soon after Bowersox noticed Maggie’s clothes didn’t fit very well.
“When Maggie started walking, her clothes never stayed up. She was always tripping over her pants’ leg,” recalls Bowersox. “My daughter was in the kitchen rolling up Maggie’s sleeves when she said, ‘Mom, you’re a business woman, why don’t you start a business that makes clothes for people with Down syndrome?”
“Yeah, right,” Bowersox laughed. “What do I know about clothes?”
Though she knew nothing about making clothes, Bowersox knows a lot about running a business. She successfully operated a cleaning services company for 15 years and then sold it. She also ran her husband’s medical practice.
Bowersox found it’s impossible for parents and grandparents to find clothes for their Down syndrome children. Through her own research, she also discovered there are no apparel companies in the U.S. that make clothes for people with Down syndrome, who have unique body shapes. For example, their upper bones in the legs and arms are shorter, their shoulders slope, their necks are typically thicker, and they tend to be larger around the belly.
“That’s why regular clothes just hang on them and it’s why they always need to roll up their pants and sleeves,” said Bowersox. “My company will fill a huge need to make clothes for people with Down syndrome so they can look good and feel normal like everyone else.”
Bowersox opened a 1,500-square-foot shop at 8796 Tyler Boulevard in January 2010. Since then, she has hired two designers who have been working on a wide range of styles. Working with Down syndrome models from Northeast Ohio, they have been perfecting basic patterns for childrens' (2-6) and youth (7-17) clothes such as jeans, long and short sleeve T shirts, long and short sleeve dress shirts and pajamas.
Once the children’s design patterns are finalized, Bowersox plans to start production runs at Chinese apparel manufacturers and market her new clothes later this year. Downs Designs also aims to make clothes for adults with Down syndrome.
Bowersox has been using a Facebook page to chronicle her company’s successes and challenges. She also solicits feedback from her followers, who number more than 1,100.
“I enjoy updating Facebook and letting people know what we’re doing and getting feedback and ideas from them about new designs we're making,” said Bowersox.
Recently, she wrote a post asking for Down syndrome youth models to try on new clothes she is developing for 7 to 17-year-olds. The model fittings are used to improve the designs and finalize patterns for production runs.
“Having a grandchild with Down syndrome has changed my life,” said Bowersox. “Who would have thought at 62 years old I’d be designing clothes for people with Down syndrome? But I know this is where I am supposed to be and what I need to do.”