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Waterloo startup developed adaptive clothes for people with dementia

Waterloo startup developed adaptive clothes for people with dementia

All of the work at Monarch, from researching fabrics and developing patterns, was deeply informed by the personal experiences of co-founder Kristine Goulet. Goulet cared for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s.

 

WATERLOO — After developing a line of easy-to-use clothing for people with dementia or physical challenges, Monarch Clothes is expanding its online marketing in the lead-up to Christmas.

Patricia Quinn, chief executive officer of the Waterloo-based startup, watches as models and mannequins are photographed wearing fashionable-looking shirts, jackets and pants.

"We are at the stage now where for us to expand globally we need to do a lot more marketing, and a lot more product development," Quinn said in an interview during the photo shoot.

These photographs will be featured on Monarch's website. The company relies on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to drive sales. Early next year, it will launch a men's line, which is in the final stages of prototyping.

All of Monarch's marketing targets women aged 40 to 65. That demographic typically cares for parents with dementia or adult children with advanced multiple sclerosis and other chronic conditions that make it difficult to get dressed. The women in that age group also buy the clothes for the loved ones they look after.

According to census data, there are about 9.5 million people across Canada and the United States who need help getting dressed every day.

"So it is a big market," said Quinn.

After it was founded about two years ago, Monarch was accepted into the Accelerator Centre's Jump Startprogram. It has since moved into the nearby Reactor space, which is for the Accelerator Centre's early-stage startups.

All of the work at Monarch, from researching fabrics and developing patterns, was deeply informed by the personal experiences of co-founder Kristine Goulet. Goulet cared for her mother, who had Alzheimer's. When Goulet told her friend how difficult it is to dress someone with cognitive or physical impairments, the two decided to start a business. They have lots of experience.

Quinn graduated with a business degree from Wilfrid Laurier University and worked as technical adviser to IBM sales teams. Goulet worked in sales at the technology giant. The two went through their IBM training together and have remained fast friends for decades. Goulet eventually left IBM to become a chiropractor, and Quinn left to found a communications and training company.

Monarch has a patent pending on the clothing design — for the snaps along one side, and something called a shoulder break that holds the back panel in place.

"So if you are wearing an undershirt and a blouse you are rolled four times, but with our system you are rolled once, a quarter turn, and you are completely dressed," said Quinn.

"So we think it is easier on the caregivers, easier on the person being changed, and more comfortable to sit for an extended period of time because you don't have excess fabric in the back."

Quinn travelled to trade shows in New York City to research fabrics and found one made from the pulp of Beech trees that is soft, durable, flexible, breathable and wicks away perspiration. The fabric, called Modal, does not bulk up and press against a person's body, a problem that causes bed sores, thanks to the shoulder-break design that holds a single layer in place over the entire back.

Eight women in residential care used Monarch products in a paid pilot. The feedback was positive. The clothes standup to repeated washings in industrial machines. Shrinkage is five per cent or less.

"If you get up in the morning and you have no control over what clothing you put on, you are unable to put the clothing on yourself, when the clothing is put on it hurts you, when you sit in a wheelchair it bothers you, it is not insignificant," said Quinn.

"I know it is not nanotechnology, but it is something that we do two to three times every single day as we change our clothes," she said.

Caregivers are aware of how difficult it can be to dress someone, but family members may not know.

"We have to create awareness about the issue," said Quinn. "It is hidden away in community living centres, residential care settings, assisted care or home care."

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