For today’s blog post, we had the opportunity to speak with Kae & Cami creator, Debbie Sullivan. Kae & Cami is, as Debbie describes it on her site, a “patented magnetic jewelry and scarf accessory line that helps fit and style your scarf masks, tops, scarves, pashminas, head wraps, cover-ups, dresses and more.”
Recently, the company has “re-imagined” their scarf clips for scarf masks amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, providing a stylish look in the process. They have also started a “Mafia Gear” collaboration with 26Shirts.
Some topics we touch on is how she started her company, her new products, and lessons learned along the way from inventor to entrepreneur. We previously interviewed Debbie in 2016 before the launch of her site and were excited to get in touch with her again.
What is your background and how long have you been involved with this industry?
My background is in orthopedic and sports physical therapy. My daughter Kaelyn is an event planner formally with the Nickelodeon live events team in NYC. Camryn is a lacrosse player in her senior year at Thomas Jefferson University School of Fashion Design in Philadelphia. Her major is Fashion Merchandising and Management and she spent a semester in Rome in a fashion immersion program. We began with an idea for our product in 2012 when we contacted Vincent LoTempio, Esq. to pursue our invention.
Where are you located?
What exactly are you trying to accomplish?
We are excited to be expanding our brand and line of magnetic jewelry accessories with new partners who have an emphasis on local community fundraising (26 Shirts). Designing new products which contribute to our home town is a primary goal for us.
How did your idea come about? How did you get started in your business?
My daughters and I came up with the idea for our invention in their closet as we were trying to figure out how to make an oversized basketball jersey “fit” Camryn better. As the ideas started coming to life we cut the first prototype out of a plastic milk jug and brought it to our patent attorney to see if we had something. With encouragement from him we started the process of researching designs and prototyping with amazing help from New Era Cap owner Chris Koch and CAD designer, Jim Hycner. We reached the manufacturer through our friend and advisor Robbie Illos at Ministicks.com who guided us along the way.
We were incredibly lucky to start a true partnership with our manufacturer and designer overseas. Through our Skype meeting we became fast friends and have an amazing working relationship. He traveled 23 hours last year to Buffalo for a visit with his colleague to take in the sights of WNY from Niagara Falls to downtown Buffalo to Duff’s chicken wings which proved to be “too spicy” for our friends.
How did you organize your team?
We have been fortunate to have wonderful advisors beginning with my patent attorney, Vincent LoTempio who is a wealth of knowledge and directed us to many resources and individuals to put our team in place. Buffalo has amazing talent and connections are so easy to make here. For example, my dear friend, Sandie Savelli is a Toronto fashion expert who regularly appears as a Brand Ambassador for several clothing lines on QVC and TSC in Toronto. She has guided me on design and merchandising ideas and is a constant source of encouragement and fashion knowledge.
Our photographer, Mark Dellas is a neighborhood friend and who publishes a visual/literary publication Traffic East magazine. Our website designer, Megan Rechin, is an associate from my husband’s company, Lawley Insurance. Our social media coordinator, Maura Christie, is formally a reporter for Spectrum News. The list goes on…
What were some of your concerns as a start up?
Start-up concerns range from the capital outlay to the daunting task of executing the many steps needed to create a product from an idea. There are so many unknowns and without professional counseling, I know we could not have reached this point.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I am grateful to be in a project with my family and friends who are my best advisors and fans. Their enthusiasm keeps me going and I cannot thank them enough.
As a startup entrepreneur what type of lessons could you give to inventors and people with new ideas as to how to bring their ideas to fruition?
My best advice honestly is to engage with a person who can guide them along the toughest initial steps and provide resources that will help navigate through the process. A patent attorney is key.
What are the top 3 skills you believe are needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Active listening, perseverance and being a team player.
Are you familiar with any of the laws regarding patent, trademark law or licensing and how they affect your business?
I learn from my patent attorney as I navigate each step…he is always just a phone call away with all my simple and complex questions. Don’t know what I would do without him.
What is one of your favorite books that inspired you the most?
Sandie Savelli, our fashion guru, introduced me to the book, Phrases that Sell. It is a fabulous resource for creating content for my social media and talking points for my “How to” demo videos. I love easy solutions and ideas.
What is your favorite quote?
My yearbook quote is my favorite from a song by Seals & Crofts:
So, I want to laugh while the laughin’ is easy. I want to cry if it makes it worthwhile. We may never pass this way again.
What was the best advice/wisdom you were ever given?
My mother had an incredible ability to see things from many angles and showed me day in and day out how to stick to something and work through a problem to get a solution. She had limited resources but her creative brain always seemed to find the answer. “Necessity is the mother of invention” is what she would always say.
How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Yes, for the good and bad. It’s an unrelenting pursuit so the job demands sometimes go around the clock, especially with a manufacturer who is 12 hours ahead of you. The rewards of creative control, flexibility and ability to build something for the future certainly outweigh any of the workload.
Who is your newest partner?
I am delighted to be collaborating with the famous co-founder of the MAFIA family in Buffalo, Del Reid. #billsmafia. His company, 26Shirts.com, creates limited edition, Buffalo designs that do good. Every purchase results in a donation to a worthy cause. His category of MAFIA GEAR dedicates funds to Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. We are especially proud to be a part of the charitable giving mission of his company. We created a new category for his nationally known, crazy Buffalo “fambase”.
Our 26 Shirts/Kae & Cami collaboration are magnetic wearables which will hopefully be a new way to show your pride and support for the Bills. Del was interested in taking his MAFIA Family Crest patch to a new “easy to wear” level. This jersey patch was transformed into an embroidered magnetic button for any jersey, jacket, sweatshirt, T-shirt or hat. Our second product is a digitally printed MAFIA logo magnetic button, printed locally at WINON. Our third product is for the “Game Day Couture” fans who love a little sparkle. Our silver magnetic brooch is designed with the really cool charging Buffalo and MAFIA embedded in crystals. It’s for the true fan of glam to gear up for GAME TIME.
We are so proud to join Del’s team especially because of his remarkable work in raising funds for local people and charitable organizations, totaling nearly 1 million dollars to date. He is responsible for spearheading the Josh Allen, QB for the Buffalo Bills fundraiser that had MAFIA fans from all over the country contribute funds in the amount of $17 to Oishei’s Children’s Hospital raising over $660,000(in honor of his grandmother who passed away the night before a game he recently played). It shows why the City of Good Neighbors has its name. There is a wonderful tradition of generosity and love of city and the Bills here. We are a true family in Buffalo. Bills Mafia puts a name on it. Go Buffalo!