Haralee Weintraub: A Socially Responsible, Entrepreneurial Success Story

After a sweaty battle with cancer, Haralee Weintraub ditched a great, stable career and started a company that produces sleepwear and pillowcases made from Wicking fabrics – the kind of material from which sports clothing is often made. Wicking fabrics draw perspiration away from the body to the fabric where it evaporates quickly, making it an ideal material not just for athletes, but for anyone who is has a high internal thermostat and wants to get a decent night's rest in something that will keep them comfortably dry and cool. It's a simple concept, brilliant concept. Below is an interview with Haralee about how she got started and how she has managed to get through the global financial crisis while operating a socially responsible business that produces garments in the United States whilst many of her competitors are cutting costs by outsourcing the production overseas.

Tell me about your transition from  pharmaceutical representative to entrepreneur. What were some of the challenges, rewards, and how long did it take to get things rolling?

I had a great career with Fortune 100 and 500 companies in sales, marketing, and management. In 2002 when I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer from a routine check-up, I started working part time and  re-evaluating my career goals and path. One of the side effects from my cancer treatments was drenching night sweats. I was familiar from the slopes and the trails of wicking clothing but I could not find anything comfortable for sleep. I recognized this as a need for many women, cancer patients, menopausal women, side effects from various medications, all causing women to be robbed of a good night sleep. I knew I could make a product that would-be a solution to this problem. In the fall of 2004 I launched my company, Haralee.com.

It took me  close to 2 years to get my company started. Sourcing raw goods, manufacturing and design and keeping it all in the USA was a big challenge. I am committed to employing businesses in the USA and as more textile companies move off shore the challenges are ongoing.

How did you cope with the global financial crisis? Did it change the way in which you'll do business in the long-term?

The retail business is all about Christmas sales. November and December sales are double and triple of every other month of the year. When the stock market plummeted in October 2008, we just saw our Christmas sales dwindle. We had already committed to our production run so we were heavy on inventory. 2009 was a rough year also, but we did see a glimmer of rebound. We reduced our inventory and new product introductions. We reduced our raw good buys and negotiated more with our vendors. 2010 was the light at the end of the tunnel from the global crisis. Customers came back!

We market our products as a problem solver solution item, not just a fashion item. Consumers are still employing caution in their buying habits and we try to give them  reasons to shop with us. Besides being made in the USA, we give a portion of every sale to breast cancer research. One in eight women in the USA will have breast cancer in her lifetime. With such horrendous statistics few people are not touched by the disease, and buying from a customer that gives back makes sense.

Congratulations on winning the US Commerce Association Best of Portland 2009 Award. I understand this award is given to businesses that have achieved exceptional marketing success. What are the key marketing strategies that you attribute to this?

We won that award in 2009 and 2010. We also won an award from StartUpNation.com in 2009. The awards give us some validity and generate more awareness for our company. It is a marketing  waterfall; the awards and  recognition all contribute to positive awareness about the company.

Being an on line company, we have to get customers to our web site and then stop to shop and buy. I re-post my blog on various sites for brand recognition.

Contests and reviews and giveaway blogs have gained popularity in the last 18 months. I have tried a few and some have been more successful than others.

I advertise on Google and Facebook. Facebook has been a pleasant surprise for my demographics.

Where do you see the business in 10 years time?

I see Haralee.com in 10 years as the premeire wicking sleepwear company for women.

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs who are interested in the clothing industry?

The clothing industry is difficult if you want to stay in the USA and sustain the US economy and the employment of your friends and neighbors by giving them a living wage. Recently, the cotton industry has suffered a world wide crop failure which will result in higher prices for cotton clothing.

Many companies are going to even cheaper production countries.The bottom line for other entrepreneurs is to reach out to the consumer and ask them to use their buying power with a social conscious. An entrepreneur can not compete with the costs or retails of a Walmart, but there are millions of shoppers willing to support a new designer or line if the quality and flair is there!

Photo credit: Haralee Weintraub, by Mariane