IAP 2019-E3: Interview with the CEO of MagnaReady
In this episode:
Mark chats with Maura Horton, founder and CEO of MagnaReady, an adaptive clothing line that uses magnets in place of buttons and zippers. She explains the story behind the birth of the clothing line and how it influenced her decision to launch a business. Also discussed are her initial barriers to using magnets as closures, how she instills empathy to her kids, and what keeps her going, even after her husband’s passing.
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Announcer: Welcome to the IAP, the Interactive Accessibility Podcast, bring you the people, technology, and ideas, helping to make your world accessible to everyone.
Mark Miller: Hey. Welcome to the IAP. I'm your host Mark Miller. Thank you for helping us keep it accessible. Do us a favor. If you're enjoying the IAP, share it. Tell someone about it. Hey, even link to it from your accessible website.
Mark Miller: So thanks for joining us today, guys. I have a really cool guest here, Maura Horton.
Mark Miller: Maura, I want to talk to you a little bit about what you've created here, right? And listening to your story and looking at your story, it's sort of one of those necessity is the mother of invention stories here. And it's a very touching one.
Mark Miller: So the name of your business is MagnaReady, and if I understand this correctly, you produce a clothing line. Is that-
Maura Horton: That is correct.
Mark Miller: All right. But this is not any ordinary clothing line. There's something very special about it. Can you just give us an idea of what is special about it? And also, I'd just love to hear from you how this all came about, because it's sort of a very personal reason why you got into this. So what's special about your clothing line?
Maura Horton: Sure. MagnaReady is actually what's classified as a new category in the textile or clothing world, called adaptive clothing, and what that is is alternative ways of dressing for those with limited mobility, dexterity, or some type of inability to complete tasks that so many of us take for granted.
Maura Horton: So MagnaReady was started because my husband, at the age of 48, was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, which is a really early age for that disease. And he at the time was a career college football coach. He was coaching at North Carolina State University. And as coaches do, they travel, and he was traveling home from a game and got home and told me he was, for a lack of a better term, trapped in a locker room and unable to get dressed to catch a team playing in time. He said a player by the name of Russell Wilson, who now plays for the Seattle Seahawks, had noticed his struggle, went over and silently helped him button his shirt.
Maura Horton: When he came home, he just told me his inability to do that simple task, but more importantly, it was the tone of his voice of almost complete humiliation. He was entering a stage of it in his life where he was losing some control, and he wanted a solution for it.
Maura Horton: So I developed a magnet-infused clothing line for those that are unable to do that, button or zip, or get dressed on their own.
Mark Miller: Wow. In listening to that story, really the first thing I wonder is what in those first few moments when your husband came home and described the problem he had had to you, what went through your mind initially? Was it that's weird, or did you sort of have an innate sense of what was probably going on? What were you thinking?
Maura Horton: Yeah, I didn't really have an innate sense. We were all on the train that his disability or disease was going to be different for him, and it wasn't going to touch us. We almost thought we were invincible, we were fighting it. And so that was really the first red flag that oh, things are shifting and we better start adapting or trying to figure out what else will be affected.
Maura Horton: At that time, we had two very young children. And I had a daughter who was coming of age and starting to learn to tie her shoes and button her own clothing, and I felt like at that time it's all I did, was get him dressed and get her dressed. So in some ways in was a great parallel for any level of ability, whether it's children or adults, and what everyone's capable of doing or not capable of doing. And just watching that fine motor and dexterity skills opened the door for me in understanding some of the challenges that lay ahead beyond dressing.
Mark Miller: Right. So from that first moment when your husband came home and told you what had happened to you, when did you have that conversation with yourself and think geez, there's something I can do about this and I'm going to do that?
Maura Horton: It was really immediate, because I knew he'd be traveling the following week for another game and be faced in a similar situation. So actually that evening I jumped online to see what was available, and over-nighted what his options were. And at that time, it was Velcro clothing so that he'd have it for the next day.
Maura Horton: I was struck by two things. One, the lack of options that were out there, the quality of the options. And B, that you couldn't go just to a store and pick something up. It was even more frustrating than I couldn't just run down to your local brick and mortar store and buy something. I had to order it online, wait in anticipation, hope it fit.
Maura Horton: So it was really immediate because when I saw what was available, and there wasn't much, my brain just spun into overdrive to be honest with you.
Mark Miller: Yeah. You know, it strikes me just having a wife and kids and just understanding that mother's brain. I can really see this moment where you just thought I've got to do something for my family here, and obviously there's probably a little entrepreneurial spirit in you as well. And that role ... I think motherhood part, watching your children and watching your husband at this time, mother and wife I guess I should say, with a struggle kind of collaborating with that entrepreneurial spirit. And then you're just sparked at this one moment to create something better. Right?
Maura Horton: Absolutely.
Mark Miller: Like literally as I said at the beginning, that necessity being the motherhood of invention.
Mark Miller: So talk to me a little bit about ... It really strikes me. You're on to something here with magnets, which sounds funny to say because magnets have been around for a long time. Even longer than Velcro, which is the solution that you found. But I can imagine that Velcro might present its own troubles with somebody who really has cognitive and dexterity issues that magnets might be a little bit easier to handle for somebody like that.
Mark Miller: When did you realize magnets was the answer, and then what were your first prototypes, and how did you really launch into that business world?
Maura Horton: Sure. So I was, again, shopping with my children and I noticed in iPad covers, the first generation of iPads, just the teeniest magnets that were attached to the actual iPad front of the cover so that it obviously didn't impact the glass if it had dropped, or you could cover up what you had on your home screen. And I just saw how small they were. So immediately I thought I could just sync those into a shirt and they should line up properly and work.
Maura Horton: So I started tearing into his shirts to see exactly how that could be done and ordering magnets, so I started with that process. And then I started applying for patents because the research that I had saw there wasn't really much technology patented in that category.
Maura Horton: And once I perfected it I had another problem, and that was okay, the magnets work, they line up. I had to find the right strength so they weren't too strong and they weren't too weak so that you could still pull them apart. Once I had solved that, I'd get a laundry test. And obviously magnets corrode. So it was back to the drawing board to figure out how I could make magnets washable. So I dove right back in and tried to figure out that element as well.
Maura Horton: It's been an ebb and flow, and almost when you've solved one issue another one opens. But we figured it out and we had a final product.
Mark Miller: Yeah, that's fascinating. I never would have thought about those issues, that you're really probably putting magnets in the clothing is a great idea, but it's the problem solving. How do you make them not rust when you wash them?
Mark Miller: And I also love the fact that you saw this in an iPad. That is was really ... They say that a lot of inventions are really about repurposing, looking for new and better ways to use things that already exist. And you kind of merged, oddly, an iPad and a shirt. Right? Initially.
Maura Horton: [inaudible 00:09:51]
Mark Miller: So now you have this prototype, right? And also very cool in a way from a business standpoint. Obviously not cool that you're in this situation to begin with, but your husband is a perfect tester for this, right? So your prototyping and you're creating clothes for him, he's trying them out.
Mark Miller: I'm assuming he's still on the road at this point, which probably really gives you an even better idea of whether or not this is working.
Maura Horton: Definitely. He was definitely tested out more shirts than he ever wanted to. I had fun. He gave me honest feedback. Not all college football coaches are sharp dressers, but he was one. So he liked a thick cotton, which also impacted the strength of the magnet. He gave me a lot of great feedback, which helped me learn a lot about gauss readings for magnets and strength testing.
Maura Horton: So, yeah. We started and it really wasn't going to be a business, but I started doing research in seeing how many people really had the issue. He had Parkinson's Disease. And at that time, it was our whole world. And when I started looking at it, it was one million people affected, which seems like a large number. But then the research I was seeing was 55 million people have arthritis, which really isn't necessarily classified as a disability and just a change in mobility. So the more information I read online, I knew that we were onto a much bigger category and we're able to help more people.
Maura Horton: Because initially, when I tried to get funding, people were concerned that my market size wouldn't be-
Mark Miller: Too small, yeah.
Maura Horton: Yeah, it would be small and would be a niche market.And then we quickly tried to show them how large the market category really is.
Maura Horton: We launched with one shirt in two colors, and sold out in about three weeks. So-
Mark Miller: Wow.
Maura Horton: So it was definitely a call that that type of product, or something new to the marketplace, was definitely ... People were craving.
Mark Miller: So your passion and the real fuel and drive for you to break into this is obvious, right? Your family had a need and you solved that need. And then you saw that this could be a benefit to a bunch of other people.
Mark Miller: Have you heard back from any of the people that are buying your product? Have you heard any of their stories in what having this type of product available to them has meant to them in their lives?
Maura Horton: 100%. I can just tell you last night I received a call. About two years ago my husband unfortunately passed away at a very early age as well, and I was faced with a moment of whether I continue on because it's obviously personal, and would take me back into a space of helping people, but also reliving some of the sad moments. But we decided to forge ahead even with his passing, and we get calls all the time.
Maura Horton: Last night I received a call from a woman in Knoxville, Tennessee and literally she was in tears. She said, "I had no idea about this. My husband was a dentist and you have no idea. He is not able to do this." You know, that's what grounds me and keeps me humble and helps our path forward.
Maura Horton: We also have on our website that our company started with a story, to please share yours. And about 68% of first-time users or purchasers do share their story, and most of them would take you to your knees sometimes, you know? As hard as what I thought Parkinson's was or is, it's always difficult to read ALS stories and just different issues that I had no idea about that people suffer from.
Mark Miller: Wow. Wow. It's funny, because I was talking to my wife last night and we were having this very conversation about how sometimes the things that you do and the decisions that you make have a positive impact on people in a way that you can never predict. Right?
Mark Miller: So that moment that your husband came home and you decided that you were going to try to figure out how to get him some clothes that he could wear and button himself, at that moment you couldn't possibly imagine the number of lives that you would be affecting.
Mark Miller: And the fact that you have your very own business and innovation and invention here, to me that's just amazing. And obviously the memory of your husband is part of what fuels you, but I would imagine that having these stories of all these people that you're affecting just make every day worth getting up and pushing to the next phase.
Maura Horton: Yeah. It definitely does. It also teaches us as a family just what normal looks like, which is really important to my kids. My husband was in a really athletic world where everyone in that arena could do extraordinary things for the most part. And I think it was amazing for my kids to see that other people, whether they're in an athletic world, still do extraordinary things just for getting up every day and forging forward with whatever their challenge is.
Maura Horton: So it's been more of a life lesson than we can ever explain, and I can only hope that we provide a good legacy for something that my husband would be really proud of.
Mark Miller: You know, I find working in an industry around a lot of people with disabilities that one of the common real sort of themes, like what people with disabilities really want is as much independence as possible, that the average person doesn't really want to sit back and have other people fully take care of them. They want to contribute and they want to be able to do things for themselves, and they want to be part of the whole. Which sounds odd to say, but it's true. That's really what I hear when I talk to people.
Mark Miller: And that's why what we do. We help a lot of people who are blind, for instance, use the web. And it enables them to work, and it enables them to be a more productive member of society than they may otherwise be able to, which is all they want.
Mark Miller: And it just strikes me that you really, at the heart of what you're doing, that's what you're providing people is this independence. They can take care of something for themselves. They don't have to rely on a family member, or a loved one, or a caregiver to do it for them. And it's just one more area where they can feel that independence, they can feel like a human being that can contribute and take care of themselves.
Maura Horton: 100%. Dignity is so underrated in everyday conversations. And what everyone needs to fulfill their own dignity is different, but it's an underrated aspect of what companies thrive to achieve. I sometimes wish they'd be held to a higher ground of what dignity of products and different services that are offered what they actually mean.
Mark Miller: Right. Right. And just to understand that it's not necessarily a blessing to not have to work or not have to contribute or not have to take care of it. All of us in our busy lives we want a little bit of time off, but really nobody wants to not have to do anything. And I think that what we do with making the web accessible, what you do with making clothing accessible, it really helps like we've said, people jump back into that.
Mark Miller: So to wrap things up here, you said something really interesting or brought up a subject that was really interesting a few minutes ago, and that's around how this impacted your kids and how it really changed the way that they viewed everyday life. What do you really think is the most valuable thing that your kids have learned through this, and how do you think they're going to carry that into adulthood?
Maura Horton: That's a great question. I'm not sure how they'll carry it in yet. I see little trinkets of it almost every day, but I think that teaching them through this whole process ... Empathy and compassion is often lacked in kids, right? We're in an everyday society where a lot of people aren't just trying to keep up and possibly outdo others. I think my kids, hopefully, have learned the biggest lessons of empathy and compassion, and an ability to sit back and listen.
Maura Horton: It always strikes me. We'll be sitting somewhere and my daughter will see somebody moving in a different way, and it'll catch our eyes more frequently and she'll say, "Oh, I think he has Parkinson's," or "I'm going to go open the door."
Maura Horton: So it's a silent thing. I think that they will always carry it forward, but I do think some day they may do something more in a bigger way.
Mark Miller: Yeah. An awareness.
Mark Miller: Well Maura, I really appreciate you coming on the podcast and sharing your story. It's heartwarming to think that you turned something that was really very difficult in your life into something that helps a lot of other people. And I'm sure that all those people really appreciate that.
Mark Miller: We'll put this all on the website for you guys listening so that you can just grab the links there. But can you just tell us Maura how somebody can get a hold of you and a hold of your products if they want to?
Maura Horton: Sure. They can go to www.magnaready.com, and they can access us there. I believe we're on Amazon. We're also sold at every retailer now, so Cole's, [crosstalk 00:20:48], Macy's. So you can find us anywhere really now, which is probably the biggest thing is trying to make the adaptive world more mainstream.
Maura Horton: But you can reach me directly at magnaready.com.
Mark Miller: Wonderful.
Mark Miller: Well thank you very much. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing your story with us today. And I wish you the best of luck. I hope this continues to be a huge success for you, and a huge benefit for all those people out there that really need something like this. So thank you-
Maura Horton: Well thank you for all you do.
Mark Miller: Yeah, you're welcome.
Mark Miller: This is Mark thanking Maura, and reminding you all to keep it accessible.
Announcer: The IAP, Interactive Accessibility Podcast, is brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters blog at interactiveaccessibility.com/blog.