The EczeMama Club, and the business I hope to eventually grow it into, all started about four years ago when I was shopping for my newborn who was newly diagnosed with eczema. I had known a little bit about eczema from my younger sister having it as a kid. The things I remembered most were our mom always applying lots of moisturizer to her skin, and the fact that all of her clothes and bedding had to be 100% cotton. I also knew that eczema was pretty common – just over one in eight children have it – so with that in mind I headed to the nearest big-box baby store to shop for baby eczema stuff.
I strode confidently into the store (excited to have another excuse to shop if I’m being honest) and headed toward what I imagined would be a clearly marked “eczema section.” To my amazement, no such section existed. Worse? Not a single piece of clothing, bedding, or another type of textile was designed for or marketed to families of children with eczema! As I wandered up and down the aisles, my shopping mojo dwindled. I had imagined being able to thoughtfully select items for our nursery from the softest, cutest, and best eczema-safe options, and was coming up almost totally empty-handed.
Here’s a pro-tip: if a set of PJs or bedding has hugely popular kids’ characters on it, it is not eczema-friendly.
After over an hour in the store I was only able to find ONE eczema-appropriate blanket, and guess what it looked like? If you guessed “plain white square,” you’d be right. I bought the plain white square and a couple of pairs of 100% cotton PJs and headed home on a mission. Certainly, I wasn’t the only eczema mom who had this problem?
I immediately started doing research on eczema, as well as the baby & children’s clothing market. What I learned was pretty fascinating. First of all, I learned that my experience at Babies ‘R’ Us wasn’t a fluke. If you search “eczema clothing” on Google, the only thing you find is what I call “para-medical” garments. That is, things that are meant to be worn as treatment or prevention of symptoms, but nothing you’d take family pictures or send your kids to school in.
Other things I learned:
- Eczema stems from the same over-excitability of the immune system as food allergies and asthma, so if you have any of those, you’re much more likely to have the other two
- Over 80% of kids’ clothes on the market today include a fiber, chemical, or another irritant that is not compatible with eczema-prone skin
To sum it up – kids with eczema are literally allergic to over EIGHTY PERCENT of clothes and other textiles available to them.
From there I did some quick math. Around 13% of kids in the US have eczema, and the average family in the US has about two kids. That means that over a quarter of families in the United States are dealing with this issue (with similar rates around the world), and yet NO major company has made it their explicit mission to cater to these kids and create a complete range of eczema-friendly products.
These realizations awoke the latent entrepreneur in me that had been waiting for her time to shine. Since no one else had created a company focused on centering the lives of eczema families, I decided I would be the one to do it. Then, exactly two years and one day after my first son was born, my second son was born. As if I needed another sign from the universe, his eczema was even worse than his older brother’s! I had found my purpose, and I knew that by helping other eczema families, I would be helping my own as well.
My first idea was to create a clothing line – one that was “designed with eczema in mind.” I wanted to create a line of everyday kids wear that was both cute and functional. (A little bit of context here: I have a background in psychology and vocal performance, so literally nothing in my life up to this point had prepared or qualified me to take this on, but I was ready!) I met some people at local networking events who were interested in helping me, and I even started to dip my toe into the design and fabric sourcing process.
Unfortunately, I found the textile manufacturing industry to be relatively exclusive and unwelcoming to newcomers. For instance, I wanted to source and manufacture the clothes not only domestically, but within the state of North Carolina specifically (where my family lives). I reached out to every cut & sew shop and manufacturer I could find, and most didn’t return my calls at all. The ones who did, told me to come back when I had several years’ experience in the business – no one wanted to work with a first-timer. After months of missed connections and false starts, I came to the realization that I needed to take a step back and reevaluate my approach.
Even though I was no longer pursuing starting a clothing line, I realized that through my research (plus some trial-and-error at home) I had accumulated a lot of information about eczema and laundry. I used to think that all I needed to focus on was making sure clothes and bedding were “clean,” but that’s far from the whole story.
If you’re not mindful about HOW you wash your kids’ clothing, bedding, etc., you could unknowingly be introducing harsh chemicals that set their eczema off like wildfire.
Here are some important Laundry Day Don’ts:
Don’t use scented laundry detergent: Sadly, this does include those yummy, baby-scented ones. Added detergent fragrance can only serve to potentially irritate the skin (fun fact: Unscented generally means that the product contains chemicals that neutralize or mask the odors of other ingredients. In contrast, Fragrance-free means that fragrance materials or masking scents are not used in the product. Typically, if you’re shopping for someone with sensitive skin, fragrance-free is the one you want.
Don’t use dryer sheets or fabric softener: In addition to fragrances, these products contain surfactants, which can be extremely irritating to sensitive skin
Don’t overload the washer: Putting too many clothes in the washer at a time can keep the detergent from getting thoroughly rinsed out of the clothes.
Don’t wash & dry super on hot settings: There are a couple of reasons for this. First, there’s no advantage to using hot water on regular loads – they’re not going to get cleaner because they’re hotter. Washing and drying on hot can have the cumulative effect of shortening the life of your clothes, and it can cause them to become scratchier and rougher over time. Save the incremental cost of the hot water and extend the life of your clothes by washing & drying on cool.
As I was quickly learning, there was a lot more “required knowledge” that went into being an eczema mom than I ever would have guessed! During that time, I started conducting customer discovery interviews and surveys. I reached out to moms of kids with eczema in order to learn what they were struggling with and what they wanted and needed in terms of help and support. My personal business mindset is to be fluid and listen to the people I’m creating things for, rather than just make something and assume it will “go viral.”
What I heard from these moms was that eczema could take an incredible emotional toll on them, and on the whole family. When I listed various types of support (interviews with experts, discounts on eczema goodies, ask-a-doctor forums, etc.) the number one thing people told me they wanted was the ability to connect and interact with other moms of kids with eczema.
The EczeMama Club
What started out as a clothing line evolved into the EczeMama Club, which launched in June of 2020. The EczeMama Club’s mission is to connect moms of kids with eczema so that we can inspire and help each other navigate the challenges of eczema, food allergies, and everything else that gets thrown our way.
In addition to interacting with each other, I’m also going to be recruiting experts on various topics relevant to eczema & food allergies to do live Q&As, interviews, and so on. Instead of creating a Facebook group or something similar, I intentionally separated this space from the distractions and noise of social media so that it would truly be a haven. My goal is to grow it into the go-to community for eczema parents – a thriving collective where they can turn for information shared experiences, community, and inspiration.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on the clothing dream! At the optimal group size, even modest membership dues would allow me to create physical products – clothes, skincare items – that are tailor-made for our members. And the best part is, members will be able to co-create them with me! I envision the future of the club as a community where moms get to weigh in on products, design features, and more. They’ll also have first dibs on new launches, and of course, special members-only discounts on everything we make.
My goal is to help as many eczema families as I can, and one day be able to tell the story of how it all started with a blanket.