Leaving a 20-year career behind and putting your family in debt to chase a dream is a scary decision—but it may pay off for Alexandria mom and former teacher Cherlyn Jenkins.
It was in February 2012 that Jenkins brought her own son’s puffy winter jacket to a seamstress friend for modifications designed to make the jacket both easier to take on and off and safe to wear in his car seat.
Some parents don’t realize the danger in putting children in car seats while wearing their big, puffy winter coats, Jenkins said. When in a car accident, air can be forced out of winter jackets and children can slip out of their car seat and be ejected. Plus, many parents are lugging diaper bags and other things to the car with their children, so taking a squirmy toddler's winter coat off before wrestling them into the car seat in a cold car is step many parents understandably skip.
Jenkins recalled thinking, “I want this for my family. There have to be other families that want it, too,” she said.
According to Jenkins product website, www.cozywoggle.com, “As parents, we excel at safety-proofing our homes, putting up gates on our stairs and latches on our cabinets, but then we inadvertently jeopardize our children's safety by putting them into their car seats wearing traditional coats.”
The Cozywoggle is a traditional warm, winter coat with a zipper up the front and a zipper on each side. The side zippers and velcro tabs allow the coat to be worn like a poncho for the car and like a traditional coat at all other times. Parents can easily strap children into the car seat without the jacket interfering with the seatbelt straps.
• See the video in the media box at right to see how it works.
The modified jackets will come in pink, navy, purple and fire engine red and will sell for $55 to $60. They are made of fleece-lined polyester with a polyester filling—Jenkins herself was allergic to down as a child and chose not to use it. The Cozywoggle will be available in sizes for children from 12 months to 5 years old. Her first samples in all four colors arrived last week from her manufacturer. Jenkins said she is disappointed she couldn't find an American manufacturer interested in making children's outerwear, and she had to go international.
The product logo—two penguins—came from a friend, as did the product name.
Jenkins, who lives in Rosemont with her husband and two children (now ages 2.5 years and 15 months), was a special education teacher for 20 years. She taught in the Alexandria City Public Schools system for seven years.
Jenkins said she had been testing the Cozywoggle on her own children for some time—but she had to be secretive about it. “First to file” patent laws and strong advice from her lawyer made her keep the product details a secret from everyone except her mother and very supportive husband, who is a financial planner. Even Jenkins’ closest friends only knew she was working on a winter coat.
Jenkins said had she known the costs up front, which she estimates are in the tens of thousands and rising, she might have been scared off entirely. Every time she thought about quitting, something stopped her.
Jenkins’ patent application was filed in November and is still pending. In the past year, Jenkins had to find and work with a manufacturer, have the product crash tested in a lab to ensure it was safe for car seat use, get product insurance and business insurance and ensure all parties had signed non-compete and confidentiality agreements.
Two groups really helped Jenkins get started and navigate the complicated and risky world of product inventing. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center “really started me off in the right direction,” Jenkins said. “They were really amazing.” She also joined Her Corner, a group for women in Northern Virginia, DC and Maryland starting their own businesses.
It has only been in the past few months that she has been able to launch a website, Facebook page and start marketing the product. Seniors at American University chose her product for their senior marketing product and are helping research marketing the Cozywoggle in Canada.
Jenkins said yes, she does watch the ABC show "Shark Tank" religiously, but she isn’t ready to participate, in part because of the financial agreement inventors must sign with producer Mark Burnett.
Ultimately, Jenkins wants the Cozywoggle licensed for use by other companies or be easily available at stores across the United States and Canada.
Jenkins is working on another invention now, also in the baby items category. That invention, she said, may be her last—unless another great idea comes along.
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