A local woman started a business that took her to QVC and even got the attention of a Hollywood celebrity.
LeAnn Carlson created a company that makes medical ID bracelets. Lauren's Hope medical ID bracelets started in 2001 as a way to help a teenager named Lauren. She has diabetes and had just moved to Kansas City.
"She didn't have a lot of friends who were familiar with her medical history, so it was important to her mother that Lauren wear a bracelet so that she would be protected in case she was ever in an emergency away from home," Carlson said.
Lauren felt traditional ID bracelets were boring, ugly and singled her out as different. She babysat for Carlson, who had experience making jewelry. Lauren's mother asked Carlson if she could design a fashionable alternative to the ID bracelet.
"We bought some cool beads that we thought would appeal to a teenage girl and made several choices for her that had a lobster clasp on each end that would attach to the tag and, regardless of where she was going or what she was wearing, she had the perfect bracelet," Carlson said.
Lauren loved what she called her perfect bracelet and wore it everywhere, including to a meeting with other teens who had diabetes. One after the other, the teens asked for one of their own.
As the orders came in, Carlson realized that there was an untapped market for products like ID jewelry.
"It's been a wild ride. When we first started this company, we had no employees and really no idea what kind of business we would have. I was really just thinking we were doing a favor for a friend," she said.
The favor rapidly grew, though the early days of Lauren's Hope were fairly primitive. Carlson and some fellow stay-at-home moms worked out of her basement.
But the fledgling company quickly caught a big break from a Hollywood star.
"We sent some bracelets to Halle Berry, who has diabetes, and she wore our bracelets and talked about our bracelets, so we were able to get a lot of press in the early days," Carlson said.
Because of the media coverage, orders poured in. With no formal business training, Carlson leaned on her experience in the old days at a Northland car dealership.
"Working at a car dealership, which is traditionally a pretty macho environment, gave me a lot of experience that I've used in many situations since," she said. "I just find that the best way to deal with that is to give as good as you get. It's my personality not to take much from people, so it was fun for me."
Now Carlson's fun comes from watching her business flourish. With nearly 20 full-time employees, she'll one day need a larger office. Large or small, she said providing the bracelets to those who need them is her definition of success.
"We sell products to people who are either dealing with medical conditions or they are buying something for someone they love who's dealing with a medical condition. Our jewelry makes a difference to these people. It's a potentially life-saving piece of jewelry. I love providing something that helps people," she said.
Lauren is now in her 20s and is living in Dallas and working as a makeup artist.
Click here to learn more about Lauren's Hope medical ID bracelets.
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