It wasn't easy for Maura Horton to watch her husband, Don, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, struggle to dress himself.
"You can't forget that humbling tone when someone is trying to tell you that they're no longer able to do something," she recalls.
That tone became the inspiration for MagnaReady, a clothing startup that makes adaptive dress shirts with magnetic closures. The shirts are designed specifically for people with disabilities that cause them to lose mobility.
On Tuesday, the company announced a partnership with PVH Corp., one of the world's largest apparel companies. PVH owns iconic brands like Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Van Heusen.
Starting this year, MagnaReady's patented technology will replace buttons at some top PVH brands. Although exact terms of the partnership were not disclosed, Horton anticipates that the shirts will soon be available through distributors such as Macy's, JC Penny, and Kohls, likely in time for Father's Day in June.
Horton, who has a background in children's clothing design, launched the startup with one shirt model in blue and white. Her magnetic closures are tiny (seven sixteenths of an inch, to be precise), and can fasten a garment in just three seconds.
Back in 2013, Don, who was then a football coach with North Carolina State University, had found himself unable to fasten his shirt buttons following a game. Luckily, Russell Wilson was there to help him. (Yes, the same Wilson who went on to become the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks.)
Upon hearing the story, Horton realized that magnetic closures were a perfect solution for her husband, and possibly for others, too. Magnets are simple, lightweight, and can be hidden beneath the fabric of a shirt; in short, a better alternative to the standard velcro or snap buttons. Snaps still require a certain level of mobility from the wearer, she explains, and velcro can get painful if one's hair gets caught in the fastening.
Horton insists that she won over PVH, which did $8.24 billion in revenues last year, with her unique design and rapid growth. To date, MagnaReady has grown by 20 percent each year since launching, and has served more than 20,000 customers. One of its major customers is Johnny Bench, the former catcher for the Cincinnati Reds, and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The 'Silver Tsunami'
Horton started MagnaReady to serve a niche market: Those diagnosed with diseases such as Parkinson's or Multiple Sclerosis. She later realized that her shirts could serve a much wider demographic.
"I call it the silver tsunami," she laughs. Baby Boomers who suffer from arthritis or a general lack of dexterity (but still want the option of wearing something stylish), are regular MagnaReady customers.
Other clients have included the parents of children suffering from ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Like Parkinson's, ALS does not yet have a cure.
The shirts currently come in 28 colors, and Horton plans to roll out two new styles in 2016: A button-up dress-shirt, and a more casual camper shirt for the less fashion-inclined.
Horton is currently in talks with a few venture capitalists who may help raise a round of funding to expand the line. MagnaReady has been entirely bootstrapped so far, with three total employees at its Raleigh, N.C. headquarters.
The Challenges of Sourcing
Horton admits she wasn't prepared for the challenges of sourcing materials from China.
As a startup, "You're ordering relatively small quantities in a sea of really vast manufacturers and retailers that are private label," she explains. "The manufacturer can commit to you, but they're in another country, so you can't just poke in and see how things are going."
For instance, Horton once received her shirts just two weeks leading up to Father's Day, her busiest time of the year. She laments that she could have made even more sales in the additional weeks and months leading up to the holiday.
"If I knew then what I know now, I would have hired a sourcing manager," she adds. Horton looks forward to serving more people through the new partnership with PVH.
Still, at home, she's painfully aware that matters are on the decline. Her husband was hospitalized for several days over the holiday season, as the Parkinson's continues to progress.
Despite the fact that there is no cure for Don, Horton is hopeful that a brighter future can still exist for her family.
"I'm hopeful that he's on a new path," she tells me.