STYLEDWEL: Facing Adversity With Dignity
Editor’s Note: After seeing a family member endure the ignominy that comes with wearing a leg bag, Mary Marshall created STYLEDWEL. Out of her passion for helping others, this one-woman show has been bootstrapping her way along for the last five years and loving every minute of it.
The Light Bulb
A young man in my family was diagnosed with prostate cancer; he wasn’t even 50 years old. He kind of freaked out and felt like he couldn’t deal with it. I was scared because I didn’t know how bad it was, but he was really scared. I told him, “Hey, we got this covered! We’ll find the best doctor.” We found out that he qualified for a type of minimally invasive surgery using the Da Vinci Robot. We lived in Florida at the time, but Dr. David Samadi up in New York did most of these procedures. The Da Vinci Robot was not available at local hospitals because it was a new fad, and even the most skilled urologists at the time hadn’t used it.
We went up to New York and met with Dr. Samadi. He said, “I believe I can cure you,” so we went in the following month for surgery at Mount Sinai.
After the surgery, Dr. Samadi came up and said, “He did great. Tomorrow, I want you to get him up and walking.” I said, “Dr. Samadi, that’s great, because that’s how we are in our family. We like to get moving, rather than lie around and take drugs. I’ll have him up and walking in Central Park tomorrow.”
The next day, I went to his room to get him up and said, “We gotta get going. It’s a gorgeous day for a walk in Central Park.” And he said, “There’s no way I’m going anywhere with this bag full of urine.” He’s a big guy, and he was having trouble getting the elastic bands around his leg. I said, “Not to worry. I’m going to get the nurse to help you with that.”
Plan B: I went down to the gift shop and asked if they had a cover for the leg bag. They looked at me like I had three eyes. So I went back upstairs, and lucky for me, Dr. Samadi was making rounds. When he finished checking on my family member, I pulled him into the hallway, thanked him for the surgery, and said, “I’m trying to get him out walking, but you know, the bag.” And he said, “What about the bag?” I asked him what we’re supposed to do with the bag, and he said, “Ma’am, the bag is what it is.” I was just shocked! This was a world-renowned urologist. When you’re one of his patients, you feel like a rock star: you come into the hospital through a different entrance, the waiting room looks like the Ritz Carlton, they serve lunch to waiting family members — the works. Yet, the patient still goes home with the same bag that has been around forever. It really just took the wind out of me. I couldn’t believe it!
When I couldn’t find anything for the bag online, I went to the fabric store — and sewing is not my thing — and I took two pieces of fabric, cut them to the size of the bag, and stapled them together. It didn’t do anything to improve the function of the bag; the bands were still there. But my family member loved it. And then it hit me. The light bulb went on, like in a cartoon. I thought, “This is about dignity.” Here he had survived cancer, but the embarrassment of the bag was what was really weighing on him.
Let me tell you about the name, LEGG-INS®. One day, I was picking up my son at the school bus and he got in the back seat of the car and said, “Mom, you’re really getting old.” So, I said, “Thanks, buddy! Nice to see you too! What’s this about?” He said, “My whole life, every single time I got in the car, you asked how my day was, and you always made me talk about something. Mom, you didn’t do that today, and you’re talking to yourself.” I told him I’d been working on my hobby and trying to find a name for it. He said, “Mom, what does it do?” I explained that you wear it on your leg around your pants, and he sighed and said, “Leggins, hello!”
Editor’s Note: Mary was not convinced that the name LEGG-INS® was clever enough, so she ran it by a friend who had been successful in business. After discussing that the goal of the product was to provide something simple, yet efficient, they decided to stick with LEGG-INS®.
Go Big or Go Home
I didn’t have any intention of starting a business. I just kind of tinkered in it, because I still had kids at home, and I was a full-time mom. But I was interested in this, so when the kids had chores to do, I would give them a couple extra bucks to wear the bag around their leg. I knew my kids would be really honest. They would tell me that it stinks, or it’s sliding, or whatever. Based on their feedback, I would improve on it.
When my youngest went away to school, I thought, “What am I going to do now?” I’d been such a hands-on mom for over 20 years. So, I decided to move into an incubation center at the University of Florida to learn everything I could about business. At that point, it was time to either go big or go home, so I hired an engineering firm. I asked them how long it would take, and they said they’d have a prototype for me in four weeks. It actually took them six months to get it right. I was not going to give someone who had a need something that was cheesy and less than 110%.
When LEGG-INS® finally came out, I was invited to go to Tampa to speak at a hospital there. There was a military gentleman with a lot of medals on his chest in a really fancy wheelchair. I went over to him and introduced myself and asked, “Do you have a catheter?” He said he did, so I asked him where he kept the bag. I could tell by the way his chair was that it probably wasn’t stuck to his leg. He said, “I put it in my backpack.” I thought that was a great idea, but he explained to me that because he’s paralyzed, if the bag fills up, and his backpack starts dragging on the floor, he doesn’t feel it pulling and doesn’t notice it until he’s surrounded by a puddle of urine. He was such an elegant and dignified man. I looked him in the eye, and I said “Charles, I will fix that problem. You tell me what your concerns are, and I will go back and fix that problem.
I went back to the University of Florida, hired some Engineering students, and we came up with BAG-INS®.
I just celebrated my fifth year in business in February. It’s such a niche market. It’s not like everybody needs this. I spend a lot of money to going to trade shows and there’s not a naysayer in the bunch — from urologists to consumers, to family members, to rehab nurses. Anybody that sees this product is all about it. My biggest challenge, quite honestly, is letting people know it’s out there.
My Little Idea
A potential customer had called me a couple times with questions because she wasn’t sure about buying the product. I never ask my customers personal questions out of respect, but when she called me the third time, I said, “Sweetie, what happened?” She said, “My husband was building our daughter a tree house for her fifth birthday, and he fell out of the tree and injured his spinal cord.” She said, “He was the greatest before, and now he’s unhappy, and he doesn’t want to see anybody.” So I said, “I’m going to send the bag to you. See if it works. If it does, let me know.” About six weeks later, she called and said, “Mary, I got my husband back! He is so happy. He’s out socializing, and he’s back to driving the church van.” It was all about dignity for him. He had been embarrassed about the bag.
When you know you’re doing things to help people, it’s just the most rewarding.
Here are these strangers, and my little idea to cover up the leg bag has helped them so much. I’m just humbled.
Go Out and Live Your Life
My girlfriends say to me, “Mary, all you do is work.” And I say, “I haven’t worked for a day!” With previous jobs, I liked them, but I never loved them to the point where I didn’t even know what time of day it was because I was so into it. I love what I do now. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I’m very passionate about it. I couldn’t have done this while raising my kids; it just happened at the right time of my life.
I feel like it’s the wild west out there — people are still going without support for those devices and have to deal with the stigma that is attached to them.
I hope to come up with products that change that and continue to offer people the sense of dignity that allows them to go out and live their lives and not be inhibited by their devices.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about STYLEDWEL and the products they offer, visit their website at www.styledwel.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. LEGG-INS® and BAG-INS® are also available for purchase on Amazon.
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!