Cozy Covers: When Networking Meets NeedJul 05, 2022 03:29PM ● By Amy Bonesteel
Dionne Sandiford had already managed a multifaceted career when the opportunity and vision for a new business came calling. After earning a degree in Industrial Labor Relations, her experience included work in human resources and recruiting at several colleges and running afterschool programs.
Moving to South Carolina from New York – she was raised in Harlem by her paternal grandparents – over 10 years ago, she found herself again in an HR role but wasn’t happy.
“It just didn’t feel right,” she recalls.
“When you are born you have your date, and when you die you have another date,” she says. “And in the middle you have your dash. I told God: this can’t be my dash.”
Always a seamstress, she revived her sewing – while still working her office job – and was soon making custom pillows and drapes for others. She later left her HR job and started expanding her craft into embroidery and T-shirt/memory quilts for customers while also working in a quilt shop in Simpsonville.
Around that time, a friend who works in public relations challenged her to expand her professional contacts.
“She told me, ‘You have to go to five different places and network and document and show that you did it,’” says Sandiford, who accepted the challenge.
At one of the events, another friend suggested she start making digitized logos for corporate events. Soon, through BMW’s Cultural Diversity Supplier she had produced custom embroidery for a golf tournament and was hired to do more work for other companies.
Using resources including the Greenville Chamber’s MBA (Minority Business Development) program and Clemson University’s small business development platform, she was able to open A Celebration of Us, her first custom embroidery/specialty quilt business (www.acelebrationofus.com).
“Greenville is a very good place for entrepreneurs,” she notes, and she met many businesspeople along the way who offered counsel and advice.
Besides MBA, she is also a graduate of the Fearless Leader program and the Platform at Greer business incubator program.
One of those contacts suggested she change the name of the business to better define her work – and it became Corporate Stitch (www.corporatestitch.com).
Being open to advice and learning is a large part of Sandiford’s mindset, and she “did every small business class” she could, she says. When a cohort who came by to help her streamline and organize her workspace one day came across a past project – a cover for the sleeping mats used in her church’s daycare – Cozy Covers was born (www.mycozycover.com).
“I came up with a way to cover the mats because I had always heard you can never find a cover that fits,” she recalls. Her design combined a washable blanket, pillow and small quilt (she calls it a “quillow”) into one piece.
Sold both to consumers via her online shop and also directly to businesses, the portable sleep mat covers come in a range of colors and can be personalized with initials or names as well. Her foresight envisioned them being used not only in daycare situations but also in shelters, college dorms, and even by travelers.
Then the pandemic happened, and sewing masks and surgical caps took priority.
“My business basically shut down,” she says. But as more and more people stayed home, her drapes, pillows and coverlet business came back, and she managed to make it through lockdowns by sewing from her home studio.
After that, she once again turned to the business community to launch the mat cover business, and through the MBA program found an attorney to advise her on trademarks and patents for the product. Soon she was pitching her idea at GVL Starts, a Furman University/City of Greenville program that includes a “Shark Tank”-like pitching session for six of 25 participants. Sandiford was one of the six winners.
Because of that success, in October 2021 she was invited to a conference, Confidence Activated, that featured a motivational speaker named Rachel Luna and cosmetics executive Jamie Kern Lima, who sold her company, IT Cosmetics, to L’ Oreal for $1.2 billion.
“I was invited to be a motivator for the ladies who were there,” recalls Sandiford. “I talked about people saying ‘no’ to me and the feeling that I wasn’t good enough – timing and rejection.”
It was a moment that would change her life: After hearing Sandiford’s story Lima brought many in the group to tears as she took the microphone and told Dionne that she would like to place a $10,000 order to help launch her business. Her only requirement was two mat covers for her own children and that the rest of the products would be donated to worthy shelters and daycares in the community.
The super order compelled Sandiford to ramp up materials and production in her 1,300-square-foot home studio, and she quickly found two helpers and sourced new fabrics. Completing and delivering the products has also led her to expand products and to seek larger-scale manufacturing, a process she’s in now.
Recently she has also been exploring making Cozy Covers using natural antimicrobial fabrics that are treated to provide protection from germs – especially helpful for homeless shelters where users of the mats and covers may not have access to laundry services.
“I also added a pocket on the back to hold toiletries,” notes Sandiford, “because often those were getting stolen [in shelters].”
She plans to “develop and improve her e-commerce presence” in the next year or two, and continues her embroidery and T-shirt/memory quilt businesses on the side. Continuing to look for ways the mat covers can help, she’s also looking into transporting some to Ukraine where they can be used in emergency shelters there.
Photo by Stacey Gardin Photography