Mobility aids get bling, thanks to empathetic entrepreneur

By Cindy Atoji Keene

In a fashionista world, it’s only natural that bling would make its way to the medical supply industry – fiberglass casts can be covered with decals or tattoos; wheelchairs equipped with flashing LED lights; and crutches equipped with pink zebra-stripped padding. And when Kelly Marchetti had to wear an ugly, drab medical walking boot after two major foot reconstruction surgeries, she was inspired to create a waterproof – and fashionable – cover to fit over the orthopedic device. With an average of six million people breaking a bone every year in the U.S., Marchetti saw an opportunity to join the market targeted at helping the injured look and feel their best. “There’s a notion that if you’re disabled, whether it’s a brace, walker or oxygen tank, that you can’t be stylish at the same time, but I think mobility aids can be fun and send a positive message to others,” said Marchetti, who started My Recovers four years ago as a e-tailer of decorative accessories for walking boots, as well as casts and braces.

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Q: Can you talk about the power of positive energy as something that is becoming more recognized in medicine as having a dramatic impact on the body?
A: The relationship between aesthetics and healing is one of my core messages; studies have shown that positive thinking has a tangible affect on healing. One study on children in braces showed that if they feel better about themselves, they adhere more willingly to therapy programs. So by wearing a houndstooth-covered prosthesis or tie-dye cast cover, you’re bringing the injury or disease out of hiding and being playful about it. While it sounds like such a simple thing, a colorful design can be such a lift when you’re just struggling to make it through the day.

Q: What sort of fashionable options have you seen popping up for people whether short-term or life-long medical circumstances?

A: My Recovers offers solutions that can alleviate physical discomfort and emotional setbacks that can arise during the healing process, whether it’s a lightweight bag that can hang from crutches and carry your smartphone, or a slogan patch that says, “Out of Order.” We are proudly part of an expanding industry that is starting to offer products like designer casings for insulin pumps, funky compression sleeves for people with lymphodema, and adaptive clothes for people in wheelchairs. Fashion is fun and everyone deserves unlimited options.

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Q: You manufacture your medical boot covers in Fall River – why did you decide to manufacture locally?
A: I’m passionate about producing goods locally and this feels like a renaissance, because there was a whole textile industry here in Massachusetts and we are part of a number of local companies bringing it back. My boot covers are made in old mill buildings, and if you took a photo in black and white, it could be from 50 years ago, of sewing machines lined up and seamstresses hard at work.

Q: What product design lessons did you learn from your initial attempts at manufacturing?
A: I have a lot of bruises from that. I found out that it’s one thing to try to make a prototype pattern and another to create a repeatable process for the manufacturer. I had to throw out my first inventory because the forms weren’t made to tolerances and I ended up with hundreds and hundreds of boot covers that didn’t fit. I was lucky, because after a lot of due diligence, I found manufacturers who walked me through the whole design process. There’s not a lot of room for misinterpretation; with manufacturing, one mistake can represent thousands of dollars.

Q: Your brother is an orthopedic surgeon – did he provide any input?

A: His practice certainly provided a good field test to try out the product. But as we try to market the product online and through durable medical goods suppliers, sports medicine clinics or orthopedic offices, we’re finding that it’s anything but a slam dunk, especially with physicians. Doctors are so focused on the Affordable Care mandate and struggling in a cut-throat market that it’s hard to get their attention.

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Q: One of your successful marketing attempts was when Red Sox player Dustin Pedroia, was photographed wearing one of your custom walking boot covers after a fracture. How did you make that happen?

A: I was in absolute shock when I saw him wearing our leg cast cover after surgery about four years ago. It didn’t hurt that at the time I was going to physical therapy at the same place as the Red Sox athletic trainer, so I gave the practitioner the foot cover to give to Pedroia. Jason Varitek wore one of our custom foot boot covers as well for his injury, and we did a custom cover for Vince Wilfork,who was out for Achilles issues. I have feeds on a Flipboard app that keeps me up to date on who’s injured so we can provide them with our products.

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