Mother Of Invention: Suzy Kogen Friedman Brings Soft And Stylish Clothing To Sensory Sensitive Children

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Who she is: Suzy Kogen Friedman, co-founder of Soft Clothing For All Children and mom to 13-year-old Oliver.

Why we love her: Her line of simple yet stylish clothing – everything from mix ‘n’ match basics to soft denim to seamless socks – is geared towards kids with sensory sensitivity (for example, those with ADHD or sensory processing disorder).

In her own words…

How is Soft Clothing For All Children different from everything else out there in the children’s apparel market?
Soft Clothing For All Children is about providing children with true comfort, including those with sensory sensitivity, without having to sacrifice personal style. It’s about looking your best, yet feeling like you are wearing your favorite pajamas. That is just one of the qualities that make Soft different from other children’s clothing lines. We source the softest fabrics, then comb and bio-wash them to make them even softer. There are other children’s lines that make adorable clothing, but some of the fabrics are scratchy and uncomfortable. What is the sense of buying something, cute as it may be, that makes your child’s skin crawl? No different than an adult buying a sweater and needing to layer it because it is too uncomfortable to wear alone. The clothes are made for children sizes 2 to 14.

What is it about your product and design that makes it suitable for kids with sensory processing disorder, ADHD, tactile sensitivity and so on?
We have several design principles that set us apart from any other brand. The driving force behind Soft was to find a way to provide stylish, affordable clothing that would meet the needs of sensory sensitive children. We are the only brand that has set out to address these children’s issues and to find a solution. The beauty of Soft is that it is for all children, not just those who fit within our “sensory sensitive” niche. Every item from Soft features design elements such as wide collars (to avoid tugging at the neck), encased elastic waistbands, flat seaming and the softest fabrics around.

How did you come up with concept?
The concept came to me out of need. I have a severely autistic nephew who is 12 years old. He has acute sensory sensitivities and global delays. He is non-verbal and unable to tell us when something is bothering him. When he was continually taking his clothes and shoes off, I initially thought it was a behavior exclusive to him. After discussing it with his therapists and teachers, I learned that these behaviors are very common among children with autism and sensory processing disorder. I started to pay close attention to the clothes that he didn’t immediately take off, and the ones he did, and always looked for things that fit in that narrow bracket of what didn’t bother him. We were altering items, removing tags and drawstrings, constantly on the hunt for items that fit in his “narrow” field of comfort. I realized there was a giant void in the marketplace for clothing that addressed these issues. With one in 110 children being diagnosed everyday with autism, I knew he could not be the only one who needed these items.

My nephew opened my eyes to so many of the issues and challenges of autism. All clothing concepts I wanted to have were aimed at making his life easier and helping him feel more comfortable. He is the impetus behind my idea to start a clothing line. In July of 2008, I was introduced to Jessica Ralli (my partner), who had been working on a similar path. She is a special education teacher for autistic students and was inspired by what they were telling her was bothering them. Her students said their clothes hurt! We discussed pooling our ideas and resources, and our partnership for Soft was formed.

What’s the most rewarding part of the job?
Without a doubt, the letters we get on a daily basis from parents thanking us for changing the lives of their children, for bringing clothes that help their kids look fashionable and make them feel comfortable at the same time. It removes the distraction of discomfort for so many children, allowing them to concentrate at school versus squirming in their seat. I’ve even gotten letters from parents thanking us because their children no longer insist on wearing their actual pajamas to school.

What’s the biggest challenge of running your own business?
Funding. It’s very difficult to access capital, especially now. We started working on Soft and launched the brand during one of the worst economic times in history.

How do you balance family with a thriving career?
I have always worked. Soft is my second career. I’m blessed to have Jessica as a partner; she is responsible for much of the style and creativity behind the Soft line. She runs the day-to-day operations from New York and I am in Chicago, where I am the president of a real estate development business.

What’s next for Soft?
We are launching the first sensory plush toy to the market, “Borris the Prince of Whales” – again, inspired by my nephew and the lack of anything in the market I could buy for him. Borris is a chew-safe plush toy, designed to acknowledge the needs of children with Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism. Many children with sensory issues mouth and chew objects for oral input, while most plush toys are unsafe to mouth and chew. As a result, many parents are reluctant to give them to their sensory-seeking children. Borris is made of chew-safe non-toxic material, constructed and reinforced with triple seaming, and a double layer of organic canvas. Soft was committed to a balance between creating a durable, chew-safe toy, and a product that is still soft, loveable and cuddly. Borris and Friends are the first line of toys and stories of their kind made to meet the needs of children who are unable to otherwise enjoy a loveable, comfortable toy.