She has been kind enough to not only do an interview with me so that we can all learn more about her amazing new sensory-friendly clothing, but she has offered to give her ultra-soft-no-tag-seam-free T-shirts to 10 lucky readers (YES! I said 10). Before we get to the winning, let’s get to the questions.
Jessica will you tell us a little about yourself—mom, wife, business woman? What brought you to make clothing for sensational kids? How are you touched by the lives of children with sensory differences?
I grew up in a school—literally—my mom ran (and still runs) a nursery school in my childhood home—which eventually inspired me to get my Masters in Early Childhood Special Education from Columbia Teachers College. I was a teacher in the NYC public schools, working mostly with children with SPD and Autism, before starting Soft in 2007. I worked a lot with OT’s and was fascinated by the different therapeutic methods they would implement for children with SPD. I truly believe in inclusive education and tried very hard to include my students with special needs in the classroom and school community in meaningful ways.
I turned thirty this year and got married in August, so kids are down the line a little bit! We live in a very creative arts community in Brooklyn filled with entrepreneurs and artists of all kinds and my husband is very involved in the creative arts and music scene here. I think I was always looking for some way to combine my passion for teaching, inclusion, and working with families, with something purely creative. It has been wonderful to tap into the arts community for Soft-related photography and design projects.
How did your experience drive you to start Soft? Tell us how the idea to make this clothing line came to be.
Soft came to me while I was researching solutions for one of my students who had extreme sensitivity to clothing and textures (tactile defensiveness). I was shocked when I Googled “soft clothing for kids with sensory disorders” that almost nothing I could actually buy came up. There were no companies out there, small or large, that were catering to this large and growing population. I did 2 years of market research through surveying, exchanging info on forums and via email. I discovered a world of frustrated kids and parents—looking for simple solutions in a one-stop AFFORDABLE shop. With the help of a few close friends who work in fashion here in NYC—I began designing the first Soft collection.
I partnered last year with Suzy Kogen Friedman— a mom, entrepreneur, advocate, and family member to a child with Autism and sensory sensitivity—for whom she does most of the clothes shopping. We both shared a common vision for solving these dressing issues. Suzy is a visionary and her experiences shopping for a child with extreme sensory issues guides our design process.
From my perspective, it seems you have really focused on the basics: Classic clothing that is versatile and can be worn every day. My boys loved their Soft T-shirts—my older boys are still wearing them today (two days later). Tell me about what inspires you.
I am a fashion nut. I read fashion blogs daily, go to and look at fashion shows online, and as I mentioned—have friends who work in fashion in NY and Paris and I absorb a lot of what they talk about and look at like a sponge. I love basics—and so that is where I have chosen to start---but future seasons are going to be a lot more trend and seasonal focused. Our basics will always be there though.
Since I was three—I insisted on dressing myself and since then have had a strong sense of personal style. At the same time, growing up in a school, with a teacher for a mom—I am deeply aware that children need to be comfortable in their clothing—so as not to be distracted from the important work of childhood—play, socialization, and academic learning. I wanted to create clothes that were both trend-conscious and comfortable so that any fashion crazy kids out there could enjoy mixing and matching to express their style, and kids who just want to roll around in the mud will find what they want and need at Soft too.
Although I do not have girls (bummer), I hear many parents talking about how they wish their daughter would wear a dress, or something “dressed up” for special occasions. Does Soft have clothing that is “dressy”? You know something kids can wear -- even boys -- for the holidays.
At Soft we are all about comfy dressy clothes! We decided to launch with dressy looks for both boys and girls, and will be adding to these collections in April 2010 and again in September 2010. Our “Soft Party Dress” for girls is based on the classic holiday/party dress silhouette—with a full pleated skirt, empire waist belt, and a sateen faced collar that shines and sparkles! We used a heavier interlock cotton, and bio washed and brushed it until it felt to us like cashmere. The dress comes in four colors and can easily be dressed up or down. Inside the garment—there is not one tag or one raised seam. We tested it (and all our clothes) on children with sensory sensitivity.
For boys, we are offering a classic “Chino” in khaki and navy. We worked hard to get the fabric we used (baby French terry—essentially sweatpant fabric) to behave and fall around the body like classic woven chino fabric. The details (pockets, buttons, fly) are all “fake” and topstitched on—so that the style of the chino is there—without the uncomfortable details. We also designed a “tie tee’ to pair with the chinos as a dressy top. We will be doing a lot more of this photo-printing so that we can offer the look of jewelry, leather, denim, suspenders, etc…but without the discomfort. Our cardigan looks great with both the boys and girls dressy looks.
I have to say that I am not only impressed at how truly soft your clothes are, but that the prices are reasonable. How are you able to have such high quality without charging exorbitant prices?
Affordability has been a part of our mission from the very beginning. I worked mostly with low income families when I was teaching, and grew up the child of a single working mom. I know how necessary this clothing is going to be for so many families, and I don’t want to take advantage of that need by selling the clothing for obscene prices. By selling directly to our consumer through our website, we are able to cut a lot of costs and avoid retail mark-ups. We outsource our fulfillment to a warehouse partner in Michigan, meaning our overhead is low (no warehouse to manage or staff). Our manufacturer is as committed to the mission of Soft as we are and has absorbed a lot of start up costs to help us make this a reality. Lots of other logistical things like this went into making sure our prices will remain low. Our margins are high enough to keep us going, keep our clothing in production, and of course donate a portion of our profits to non profit groups relating to Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder—which we plan start doing soon after we launch.
Now we come to what is probably most important: SOCKS. Tell me, please, that you have a sock solution for our kids?
We have finally found a factory that has been able to produce samples that meet our high standards. We are improving upon the construction of the hand-linked seamless toe sock offered by a few companies already out there—and are experimenting with using Bamboo and other natural fibers that wick moisture away from the foot. These will be available asap—as we are still finalizing prototypes! It is a long arduous process getting factories to re-think the way they make basic clothing.
WOW Jessica, sounds like you have really put your heart and soul into making life easier for moms like me--and sensational kids like mine! Now for the important part--where do we go to get your clothing?!
You can find all of my clothing at http://www.softclothing.net/ which will be ready to ship by the end of the month. Until then you can check out our Look Book here www.softclothing.net/resources/lookbook and please take a minute and sign up to be the first to know when the clothes are ready to be shipped, get coupons and shipping discounts by joining our mailing list here : www.softclothing.net/resources/contact-us.
That said, the fastest way to get your hands on one of my new Soft T-shirts for boys and girls, which come in 6 colors is right here! I am giving away a classic T-shirt in your choice of color and size to 10 lucky winners--so enter below and you'll have one of the first kids with sensory-friendly clothing!
Alright Jessica, thank you so much for taking some time away from Soft to speak with us. I appreciate your time and your dedication to making the lives of children like mine just a little….well….softer. : )
Now for the free part! See that photo right there? Yes, the one above these words...those are the shirts that you can win! My boys have blue, white, grey, & purple (which is a beautiful wine like color...I want the shirt in my size!).
Here is how you can win:
1. You will need to follow this blog (publicly through Google located on the top of the right column) and
2. Answer the following question as a comment to this post (click on the word comment below my signature):
"If you could buy a three pack of socks--what three colors would they come in?"
OK, once you have joined and answered, you are officially entered. The contest will run from Tuesday 11/10/09 to Sunday 11/22/09 and will end at 7pm PST.
Assuming we have more than 10 entries, they will be selected by random drawing and results will be posted here on Monday 11/23/09.
That's it--thanks again to Jessica and good luck!