Some entrepreneurs want to build a better mousetrap. These two aim to help you sleep better.
Terri Hetzel and Susan Kitson, founders of Asheville-based SleepSwag (Sleepswag.com) are fascinated by sleep. Researchers report that during sleep, the creative process awakens; physicists, chemists, painters, writers, musicians, and athletes have all told of solving problems and making breakthroughs while sleeping and dreaming. And it’s during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep that you experience the deepest, most coherent dreams of the night. REM sleep allows your brain to connect disparate thoughts and ideas, and then during the day those dreamtime connections become conscious ideas and creative visions.
Meanwhile, though, people who experience chronic sleeplessness can gain weight, experience more stress, have cognition effects, and even become depressed. It’s no wonder that the market for sleeping aids (chemical, physical, or otherwise) is such a broad one, and sleep masks have become a mainstay of that market. Studies have shown that using a sleep mask can lengthen your REM sleep—you sleep better, and more deeply.
We sent sample masks out to dozens of sleep mask users willing to test our product. And the study participants responded very positively!”
Aware of all this, Hetzel and Kitson noticed that the sleep masks on the market were neither that comfortable—particularly the fabrics being used, because they didn’t breathe—nor attractive. Kitson herself was already a nightly sleep mask wearer of 10 years, while Hetzel was an occasional insomniac who used a mask when needed. So they decided to create their own.
Explains Hetzel, “We set out to design a mask that was a fusion of superior function and beauty. We spent months designing, redesigning, and testing size, shape, and features. Many materials were sourced and experimented with. Who knew those sewing skills that my grandmother taught me in grade school would finally pay off? Susan did much of the sourcing of fabrics and can attest to the difficulty in attaining what we wanted.
“The development period took over a year. Then we sent sample masks out to dozens of sleep mask users willing to test our product. And the study participants responded very positively!”
Handmade in the USA, SleepSwag masks have eye pillows to block out all light, while a silk lining and two layers of cotton batting provide comfort. The masks stay in place with a unique, wide band—no noisy Velcro straps—that doesn’t get tangled in the hair or leave a mark. Dema Badr, owner of Scout Boutique in Biltmore Village, is clearly a fan of SleepSwag, which her store carries. “It’s utilitarian and fulfills a need,” says Badr, “but it’s also the best interpretation of an eye mask in the current market, which makes it lux, and more of a ‘want’.”
Hetzel has a medical and business education background, while Kitson holds a BA in elementary education and was previously a flight attendant. They launched their company last November at Sleepswag.com, and Hetzel notes that the past few months have kept them busy filling orders and pursuing retail locations in the Asheville area and beyond. “This past week we brought on a store in Juneau, Alaska,” she says. “As far as production goes, we will be introducing five more really fun fabrics over the next month. I can’t wait!”
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