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A Labor of Love Leads to More Sales for Downs Designs

Businesses don’t get much more inspiring than Downs Designs in Mentor, OH. The online clothing retailer, which sells comfortable, easy-to-wear pants, shorts and shirts for people with Down syndrome, was founded when Karen Bowersox’s daughter couldn’t find clothes that would fit her daughter, Maggie, who was born with Down syndrome. Despite not knowing much about the clothing industry, Karen followed her passion and was determined to succeed.

Now, four years later and still driven by its founder’s goal to make life easier for customers, Downs Designs is a growing business that’s about more than profits. As Karen says, “It’s a true labor of love.”

We caught up with Karen to learn more about her unique business and to hear how Staples helps her make more happen.

How did Downs Designs get started?

I have a granddaughter, Maggie, who was born with Down syndrome. As I watched her grow, I noticed that pant legs and shirt sleeves were always way too long. When Maggie was about 4 years old, my daughter challenged me to start a business making clothes for people with Down syndrome. I laughed at the time because I knew nothing about this industry. But I started researching. I spent months learning about body shapes and what makes people with Down syndrome so different. I called a local design school and asked many questions about making a unique line of clothing. They suggested I hire a designer, so in January 2010, I hired a young graduate and Downs Designs was born.

What has been your greatest success so far?

The emails, photos and Facebook comments from our happy customers. Most people would not give much thought to the value of their clothes, but people with Down syndrome have spent their entire lives trying to fit into ill-fitting clothes and often struggling to dress themselves. Their parents and caregivers have spent their lives trying to help their loved ones find clothes that come close to fitting, and then spending countless dollars on alterations that don’t actually solve their problems. Seeing the children wearing our clothes and hearing how we’ve made a difference in someone’s life is success beyond any financial reward.

What is your biggest challenge, and how do you overcome it?

Time has been my biggest nemesis because there is nothing that happens fast. Time is money. During the development stages of our jeans, there was no income, yet my overhead remained high. What I’ve learned is patience and to have faith in what I’m doing. I’m following my life’s purpose and I’ve overcome all my fears of failure by knowing that every day I make a difference in someone’s life, and anything and everything I need will be there when I need it.

What’s the best thing about owning your own business?

The best thing is that it never feels like work! Every day I go to my office, I’m excited for the day. There’s never a time that what I’m doing is too hard, too trivial or too expensive. I put in more than a 12-hour day and never draw the line on Saturday or Sunday. My customers have my cell number and know they can call me anytime. I feel that Downs Designs is building a family, not a business, with customers.

What is your secret for making more sales happen?

I believe that customer service and a quality product will build the business the right way. Your best advertisement is word of mouth. You can do 100 good things, but do one bad thing and that’s what gets put out into the universe. Finding the right venue to market a business is key, but if you’re where you’re supposed to be, all those things will reveal themselves.

To what do you attribute your success so far?

My employees. Without good employees, there can be no successful business. Taking care of their needs first must be a priority. Also, Facebook. We’ve been able to reach our specific customers through Facebook marketing that was free. But a small Facebook ad increased our following by leaps and bounds.

What’s the most important item you buy at Staples?

Everything I buy at Staples is important. But I love color, so I love all the colored files and matching notebooks, and all the other fun stuff I can get to keep me organized.

What role does Staples play in helping Downs Designs succeed?

I love gadgets and electronic things, and the staff at my local Staples® store in Mentor is the best. If I have any business equipment questions or computer questions, I always get great help. I’ve actually been an avid Staples fan for years. I wouldn't shop anywhere else. I love going into the store and I could browse all day. If you really want the truth, I'd rather shop there than at a dress shop.

How does your business make more happen? We want to know! Share your story with us in the Comments section below, and we might contact you for a future article.

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