Kelsa DeBrabant, a Westchester, NY mom got her business inspiration in 2013, when her 3-year-old daughter kept coming home from preschool with ripped knees. Kelsa felt she had a choice: either throw away her daughter’s pants or turn lemons into lemonade. With 10+ years of fashion industry experience under her belt, she decided to spin the negative experience of a now torn favorite pair of leggings into an opportunity for her daughter to create her own “new favorite.” Soon after, the Happy Patches business was formed and so too the realization of her entrepreneurial dream.
The original Happy Patches product was a small collection of iron-on patches for mending holes in children’s clothes. At first, the patches didn’t sell well and challenged Kelsa to think about the business in innovative ways to understand what appealed to her customers. After a few months of soul searching and market research, she expanded the product offerings to include decorative patches for fashion design and fun. This is when true growth began.
As of September 2017, Happy Patches has sold over 3,500 patches to 2,200 customers in 11 countries. Happy Patches are sold online through Etsy and Amazon. There are over 130 designs offered in a variety of sizes and colors. Customization is key to Happy Patches’ success: their bestselling designs include superhero logos, Disney themes, unicorns and emojis. All designs are made of glitter and non-glitter vinyl, and shipped to customers in 1-3 business days. Most customers order from Happy Patches because they have a vision of a costume or fashion item they want to create and need just the right iron-on design to make it happen.
Kelsa designs all patches, and manages the fulfillment and shipping of all orders with the help of a part-time freelancer. She stays on top of current trends to identify her customers’ needs and continue attracting new ones. Her future business plans for Happy Patches is to include a new line of embroidered patches for kids that rewards gritty behavior. The patches are given to kids as incentives to help them find their passion and persevere despite the obstacles they may encounter.
Kelsa learned online about WEDC’s 60-hour entrepreneurial training program a year before she started her business. She signed up for the course once her business idea came to life and was ready to take the next step: create her business plan. She had a creative background but needed the business component. Through the program, she learned practical skills and step-by-step guidance on how to start a business which allowed her to deal with her fears and uncertainty in the early days of launching her business.
In addition to her family, Kelsa has cast a wide net of support. Finding mentors and business support services, like WEDC and SCORE, have been key to her business success along the way. She has also created Mindfulness Moms, a monthly Meet-Up group for women to get support and feel supported on their paths towards realizing their personal and career dreams.
For a while, Kelsa was surprised at the need to have self-discipline and a true sense of purpose to get up each day and run the details of a small business. She further shared that at times it has felt boring, fearful and confusing, and that she even contemplated giving up. On the other hand, she didn’t realize how much she would learn about herself and the grit needed to achieve her goals.
“Entrepreneurship is not the easiest career route to take, but it has proved to be the most satisfying”, Kelsa says. Around the time she was considering starting her business, she came across an inspirational magnet which today hangs on her refrigerator as a constant reminder of why she took the leap into entrepreneurship. It reads, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined. – Henry David Thoreau”. These are the words that keep her motivated and on course.