Updated: Sep 9, 2020
We had the opportunity to interview Anita Mahaffey, CEO and founder of Cool-jams. Cool-jams offers a SUPER COOL product line and has a goal of helping their customers have a deep, restful and restorative sleep. Since September is Menopause Awareness month, it is a great time to hear from Anita Mahaffey about her personal and professional experiences that have contributed to successes as well as some pitfalls along the way.
How Cool-jams came to be:
Anita told us that in her 40’s and early 50’s, she endured major sleep issues including night sweats and hot flashes. Her doctor told Anita that her sleep disruptors were because of hormonal fluctuations caused by perimenopause and a thyroid issue. At the time, Anita was working at an apparel company and she came across a T-shirt using moisture wicking technology. Moisture wicking is the process of transferring moisture to the fabric from the skin and then the material quickly dries so it doesn't soak through the apparel. Anita explained “This is when I had my aha moment. I thought …what if I could use this fabric for pajamas to help me and others sleep better?” Anita then launched extensive testing with 100% positive test reviews. She realized she was onto something and Cool-jams was born.
Anita Mahaffey’s entrepreneurial spirit
Anita has an impressive educational and professional resume which helped spark her entrepreneurial vision. She holds a BS in Business Administration from the University of San Diego and she has experience as a product manager with large corporations and was even a partner in a private label apparel manufacturing company. She shared with us: “My education as well as my corporate and business experience provided me with a blueprint for success. I think entrepreneurs are a special breed of person. Entrepreneurs are known as risk takers, but successful entrepreneurs always take calculated risks. Before you jump, get some experience and thoroughly test and research your idea to ensure your success.”
Anita also told us about her time spent in Turkey as a high school exchange student and the valuable lesson learned from her experience. Years later, she reconnected with her Turkish friends and became a partner in Funika, a private label textile manufacturer. “My lesson here was never burn bridges and everyone you meet in life is potentially important to your future. Looking back, I find it amazing how life connects you with the people you need if you are open, honest and willing to engage with others. Never underestimate any relationship that you have. You never know what life has in store for you.”
Anita also shared that she is a “serial entrepreneur” and not all of her endeavors are successful. She also explains “not to be in love with your original idea.” Anita’s advice to entrepreneurs is to be willing to pivot, don’t let ego get in your way and be prepared to go into a different direction. “Look at change as positive.”
Getting product to market
It is one thing to have a great product idea and another to successfully get it to market. I asked Anita about her Cool-jams product outreach. She shared “This is a continual dance between finding manufacturing partners, funding and customer growth.” Anita could leverage her experience to connect with great manufacturing partners but her first challenge was getting the Cool-jams name known and finding customers. After trial and error to try out different marketing approaches, they have grown 500% over the past year, and now their challenge is keeping up with demand. Another goal is to keep things “fresh” with new style and product line development. Cool-jams has expanded into bedding and shared “Today we’re in good shape with our product development team, as well as our bedding manufacturers. It sometimes takes a bit of trial and error, but we think we have hit a home run with our current team.”
What’s on the horizon for Cool-jams
Cool-jams will continue to expand their styles and product lines. Anita shared that the sleep industry is a 40 billion dollar industry so there is a huge growth opportunity. “At this time, we are the largest wicking sleepwear company in the US and we plan to keep it that way with continued product development. We currently ship to 150 countries around the world.” Cool-jams’ team of over 200 employees was already mostly remote so there has not been much of a disruption to their work-force with COVID-19.
Cool-jams commitment to social responsibility
Anita shared that “Giving back to the world is a huge part of our Cool-jams corporate fiber. In fact, one of the primary reasons for starting Cool-jams was to create a vehicle to be able to give back to the world and our community in a big way. My motto is that I want to leave this earth better than when I arrived. I strive for that in everything that I do.” Cool-jams donates up to 20% to a variety of charities. Anita also donates her time by serving on several non-profit boards and encouraging team members to volunteer in areas of passion. They also donate overstock products. “This year so far, we’ve donated to charities related to cancer research and prevention, diversity and funding of minority owned businesses, education, food banks, domestic violence prevention and child abuse prevention.”
Anita’s advice to women in the Hello50 community thinking about entrepreneurialism
Anita recommends: test everything you do whether it is a marketing campaign or a website change. "You will save money and time in the long run." Listen to your customers whether they have negative or positive comments. Some of our best ideas have come directly from customer comments. “Learn from your mistakes and eventually you will strike gold.” Anita loves that entrepreneurship has allowed her to express her creativity. She also says that her children have adopted her and her husband’s entrepreneurial drive.
Cool-jams product line might be just what you are looking for if you need to get a good night sleep. If you have thought about starting your own business, consider some of the relationships you have developed over the years, be sure to test your product and always be open to change.