Friday, August 10, 2007

Out of a Fog and Into Kansas City

It has been over two months since Mom died and the fog that enveloped me has only now begun to lift. Recently, a woman who lost her father a while ago described her experience to me and it perfectly reflected what I've been feeling. She said she felt that while the rest of the world was moving forward she wasn't. Her life stayed in that one place. Exactly.

Of the 70 days that have passed since Mom died, I'll bet I can't recall the details of more than a handful of them. And most of those are the days we spent on vacation - because it was out of the ordinary and I needed to think about what we were doing, where we were going, etc. On vacation I couldn't operate on auto-pilot as I had otherwise. Nearly all other days I've seemed to move along without conscious thought. Fortunately we had committed to to exhibiting at the 35th anniversary convention of the National Down Syndrome Congress, in Kansas City. Preparing for and attending the convention has gently pulled me out of my deep grief and into a state in which I have begun to move forward again, with the rest of the world.

The NDSC convention was held last Friday, August 3rd through Sunday the 5th. The convention coordinator estimated attendance at 1,200. I don't know how many people visited the exhibition hall, but it seemed like a large number. For us it was a perfect opportunity to meet, in person, a large group of people with DS and parents and siblings and to discuss clothing issues and the viability of It'll Fit'll. We were warmly and enthusiastically received. Also, I learned about issues and preferences and ideas that I'm not sure I would ever have come to on my own. It was a wonderful experience.

The picture posted above is my niece Meghan in our space at the convention. Meg is the daughter of Susie's and my brother, John. She and I drove to and from Kansas City. We were quite proud of our ability to find room in the car for the booth properties, our luggage, the dolly and all of the other accoutrements. Spending time with Meghan was fun and she was a great help at the convention; I couldn't have managed without her. It doesn't seem very long ago that Meghan, the first of Mom's grandchildren, was born. For a very long time our family parties centered on just watching and listening to and playing with Meg.

At any rate, back to the convention. Our goals in attending the convention were many. We wanted to: 1-meet and talk with many people with Down syndrome, parents, and siblings, 2-gauge feedback for the premise of It'll Fit'll, 3-develop a more comprehensive understanding of specific clothing issues of all types: fit, function, fashion, etc., 4-augment our measurements database, 5-enhance our understanding of the marketing considerations - such as pricing, product preferences, and such. We accomplished all of those goals, some more than others.

We talked with many, many, many people and, as I mentioned earlier, we and our idea were warmly welcomed. Further, we were invited to participate in an on-line discussion forum and to have a measurements event at a nearby DS awareness center. It was a great pleasure to meet all of those extraordinary people and to connect more tightly to such a positive, heart warming community.

Certainly my understanding of the issues and the market factors was deepened. For instance, there are several ideas and issues that I either hadn't considered or hadn't considered fully before the convention that are now priorities as product features and new products. Also, hundreds of folks took marketing questionnaires (and self-addressed stamped envelopes) and agreed to complete and return them.

Hundreds of people also agreed to provide measurements of their children. We had brought a folding room divider to provide some privacy for measuring people on site. Measurements are taken over clothes, but a bit of privacy is comforting nevertheless. Although we didn't have a large number of people measured at the convention, people seemed very sincere in their promise to take measurements at home and return them to us. In fact, I've received responses already. Hurray! We provided instructions, illustrations, a tape measure and a return envelope. I'd be happy to send a packet to you as well. Just let me know.

The bonus (in addition to all the new people we met) was all of the great resources we discovered in the form of other exhibitors. I gathered a bunch of materials and agreement from those folks to write about them on this blog. I am excited to spread the word about those organizations and will write about one a week, beginning next week.

Next year's convention will be in Boston - one of my all-time favorite cities! It'll Fit'll will be there. We'll be excited to meet more of you and to show off the product that will be available by then.

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