Necessity is the mother of invention, so when it comes to kids’ needs, perhaps moms are the best inventors. Fort Wayne mother Marna Pacheco never imagined herself running a company, but when she creatively solved a problem for her daughter Millie, who has special needs, she realized many more kids could benefit. Her daughter’s occupational therapist suggested weighted garments to help regulate Millie’s behavior, but Pacheco was less than satisfied with what was already on the market—so the mother became an inventor and business owner.
When Pacheco began exploring weighted garments for Millie, she was disappointed to find they looked drab and “institutional-like”—not something she wanted her little girl wearing all day. So she made Millie a bright and colorful weighted blanket and lap pad, and seeing how they helped soothe her daughter while sitting or resting, soon realized the need for weighted products she could wear regularly.
“I thought it’d be great to have pressure that would stay on her front and back and wouldn’t get in the way of her arms moving around, and that’s how the cape was born,” says Pacheco.
A brightly colored, cheerful-looking “cape” that wrapped around her chest, shoulders and back; and hidden inside were Pacheco’s invention of weighted quilt squares—which she soon realized could be stitched into an array of wearable products. She approached Susan Hickock, a friend who had adopted children from the same Chinese orphanage where Millie was, and the first seeds of starting a company were planted. Unbeknownst to Pacheco at the time, Hickock even has a college degree in clothing design and pattern-making.
“It’s a match made in heaven in a lot of ways,” says Hickock. “It’s been an amazing partnership and complement of skills; we work off each other.”
The pair founded CapeAble Sensory Products and began making more items that rely on the weighted squares activating pressure points to lower blood pressure and heart rate.
“The nerves start saying, ‘this feels really good.’ It starts communication that travels through your body, up your spine and to your brain, and it releases serotonin and dopamine,” says Pacheco. “It produces endorphins—that feel-good, wonderful, everything-is-right-in-the-world feeling. The brain naturally knows what hormone to release.”
Pacheco says an expanding customer base revealed that the design they’d created for children with special needs was appealing to anyone with “stress, discomfort, anxiety, lack of focus, sleep difficulties, or any other human condition.” Orders climbed, and CapeAble realized it needed a partnership to keep pace with demand.
Leaders at Fort Wayne woman-owned manufacturer Excellon Technologies Inc. heard about the mother duo, and the two businesses found common ground. Grandparent to an autistic little boy, Excellon’s owner saw a higher purpose in producing the products, and the partnership also met the manufacturer’s desire to diversify. Since its formation in 2001, Excellon has focused on the aerospace and defense industry.
“Anything that we’re going to do has to make a difference in people’s lives—that’s been the focus of our diversification efforts,” says Excellon General Manager Jim Hawthorne.
The manufacturer, which has been named twice to INC Magazine’s 100 fastest growing inner city companies in the U.S., is investing $2.1 million to purchase new equipment and upgrade its facility to make the 18 items in CapeAble’s product line, which range from $25 to $325. At the grand opening event earlier this fall, Excellon also unveiled a CapeAble retail showroom where the company can display and sell its products.
“Every day, the picture gets bigger and bigger about who we can help,” says Hickock. “It’s overwhelming to see people experience relief; in the showroom, they put on the blanket, and they’re moved to tears just from the feeling they have when the blanket is on them.”
The patent is pending for CapeAble’s weighted square, and the company will soon have results from medical research assessing the products’ impact on measures such as blood pressure and heart rate.
“It’s a story I wouldn’t have been able to make up. I call it a God story; it’s something that was beyond myself,” says Pacheco. “I believe God has a purpose and plan for Millie, so it’s a very beautiful thing.”
Pacheco, Hickock and Excellon believe part of that divine “plan” is that the products will help many more: a purpose that started with a single cape—fittingly—for the person who Pacheco says is the hero of CapeAble’s story.
Pacheco says helping the parents of children with special needs is the heart of her business.
Hickock says she’s found her “calling” with CapeAble.