Wanda Williams and Elva Clay believe that all household items should fit neatly into their own designated spots; there should be no piles of clutter, no “junk drawers” and no linen closets with crushed bottom sheets ruining the look of their linen closet with its immaculately folded flat sheets and pillow cases.
This is why a decade ago Wanda sewed a pouch on one end of a fitted bottom sheet, making it the world’s first bottom sheet that folds up neatly, avoiding that messy, crumpled look that housewives have endured since 1959 when the fitted sheet was patented by Bertha Berman. Williams dubbed her innovation the “Kangaroo Sheet (with a Pouch™).”
A few years later in 1999, Wanda and her sister Elva Clay were watching lifestyle doyenne Martha Stewart on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Martha was demonstrating her technique to fold a fitted bottom sheet. It was so convoluted that the sisters laughed and laughed. Oprah herself turned to the camera and deadpanned, “That’s too much work!”
Wanda agreed and promptly sent a set of her self-pouching sheets to Oprah. She never heard back, but the sisters couldn’t get the idea out of their heads that they were on to something big. After all, if both Martha and Oprah, arguably the two most well-known women in America, saw bottom sheets as a challenge – and these two ladies haven’t changed a bed in years – then the other 80-million plus women in the U.S. must also hate the way their bottom sheets don’t fold tidily.
Elva then did what any sophisticated marketing professional would do – she took a set of sheets to her office and showed them to her co-workers. Rave reviews prompted Wanda and Elva to get serious about the marsupial linen set.
In the early 1990s, the two sisters had sunk their savings into an unscrupulous firm that promised to help them market another product, so this time they decided to go it alone. And so they did.
Elva, who holds a masters degree in computer science, got on the phone and the internet; soon the two ladies found that a large quantity of sheeting fabric was coming on the market from Pillowtex, a major linens manufacturer that was going out of business. In 2003, the ladies bought 15,000 yards of 100 percent cotton from the bankrupt South Carolina firm and had it made in 1,000 sheet and pillowcase sets by West Manufacturing, a large company that, despite the small size of the order, agreed to sew, shrink-wrap and ship to the sisters in Glendale. They kept the finished sheets in the spare bedroom, living room and garage while they designed the packaging, website and hired a friend to shoot a “how-to” video.
Armed with new packaging, the sisters premiered the Kangaroo Sheet (with a Pouch) at the 2004 Gift Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
As luck would have it, the woman responsible for filling the gift baskets of the Academy Award presenters wandered by the Kangaroo Sheets booth and was charmed by the two middle aged sisters and their product. She took with her 120 sheet sets, which, besides the eponymous fitted sheet, include a top sheet and two pillowcases that also fold neatly into the bottom sheet’s pouch.
“I wanted to avoid that situation where you have only one matching pillow case,” says Williams. “This way, all the sheets and pillowcases can be stored together.”
The two sisters, who received no remuneration for their Academy Award gift basket coup, did score two backstage passes to the ceremony, meeting a host of stars. “We gave Governor Gray Davis a set of sheets and went to Elton John’s after-party,” recalls Clay. “Not bad for a couple of sisters raised in South Central Los Angeles!”
Inspired by this success, Elva booked a flight to Pakistan’s giant international manufacturing showcase held in the city of Karachi in 2005, hoping the fledgling company could meet up with a reasonably priced manufacturing operation.
“Talk about culture shock!” comments Williams of Karachi, where the sound of gunfire was heard in the streets and heavily armed military officers guarded every corner. “I had my sister and granddaughter with me. We stayed in our hotel most of the time and let the manufacturers pitch their companies to us there.”
They succeeded in their mission and when Elva got back to the states, she set up all the necessary links of the chain – both bureaucratic, cyber and bricks-and-mortar. “It was a seat-of-the-pants MBA!” laughs Clay, who works 40 hours a week as Director of Music Licensing at a major television station. “I had to deal with the federal government, learning the import/export business almost overnight and find a licensed customs broker. I set up a warehouse and fulfillment house in Florida, a call center in Louisiana and a merchant bank in Texas.”
The two sisters have financed their venture by refinancing their home and borrowing from their retirement accounts. “We believe in this product. We believe in ourselves. We’re not doing this because we have nothing better to do. This sheet really works,” comments Williams.
The Kangaroo sheet sets are available in twin size up to and including California king-sized sheets.