By Katie Healey
A few years back, a pediatric nurse raising one young child and pregnant with her second baby had a dilemma. Her favorite winter coat would not zip up over her growing belly. She went to the coat closet to put on her husband’s jacket and was not pleased how it fit or looked.
Maria Messier, a Saratoga County entrepreneur, said she always had a knack for finding solutions. After finding herself in need of way to expand her coat to fit, she decided to invent a jacket extender for herself and for other expectant mothers to widen their favorite coats during pregnancy. With it, they could stay warm in their current coat and avoid paying for a high-priced, short-lived, maternity jacket.
But like most busy, working mothers, Messier put the idea to the back of her mind.
In the fall of 2013, Messier found out she was expecting twins. She was talking with her aunt, Joanne Frank, a fashion designer by trade with over 40 years of experience. Frank thought she could partner with her niece to see if the idea could become an actual product.
Together, they designed a jacket extender system.
Along the way, they hit some stumbling blocks. Inserting a universal zipper to allow for extra fabric to cover the expanded belly was not as easy as it seemed. It wasn’t feasible until Frank came up with a clip-on idea. They developed a clip process that is patent pending.
In developing the first prototype, they realized their product could live on after the initial use of converting a jacket into a maternity solution. Its second use could be a jacket that closes around a baby, worn like a baby carrier.
Messier felt there was a market because busy mothers like her use baby carriers to keep their hands open to do other things as they tote the baby around. The jacket extender wouldn’t carry the baby, but the product allows for zipping the coat closed over a baby carrier to shield the caretaker and baby from cold weather.
Messier and Frank’s product, the Extendher, was officially launched in 2015. Messier said there is not a product on the market that is more versatile.
Family backed the product and they did not need outside investors.
The Extendher can be found in four stores locally: Tiny Tots Tea Room in Clifton Park, Naturally Grown in Troy, the Bundle Store in Clifton Park, and One-Eleven Boutique in Crossgates Mall in Albany.
Messier has turned to local business organizations for advice and support. Northeast NY SCORE, an agency that offers mentoring services to new and existing businesses, was a resource to Messier and recently, she and Frank won a small business challenge competition and were awarded a trip to Washington, D.C. for mentorship and training.
Messier said she also received assistance from the Southern Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. She feels it is important to solicit help from the local community and its business organizations.
“With a medical background, I needed to find resources for the areas that I lacked expertise, like financials and marketing to name a few,” Messier said. “As an entrepreneur balancing other things like home ownership and the responsibilities of being a wife and mother, I learned to recognize when I need to reach out to find help, and then go out and get it.”
The Extendher is produced in Little Falls and Messier said she and Frank plan to keep the manufacturing in the U.S.
“Small businesses need the support of the community. I would love for people to think about buying a product like the Extendher from a local entrepreneur rather than running to Target when they need a gift for a baby shower,” she said.
“It’s not just for moms, my husband loves the option to expand his coat to wear one of our babies. We have sold the product to grandparents and daycare workers too.”
Extendher’s website is www.theextendher.com and there is also a Facebook page.