Ria Sharon, the mother of a child with food allergies, started Check My Tag in 2006.
"Check My Tag offers food allergy management resources to parents of young children with food allergies," says Sharon. The company's main product is shirts and dresses with a tag on the inside back that can be filled out with the child's name, allergies, and other precautions. A "Check My Tag" label on one sleeve alerts helpers.
Sharon's inspiration for starting Check My Tag was simple: "Frankly, I wanted to protect my child. I wanted to create a world that was just as safe for him as it is for my daughter. I realized that to do that effectively, I had to educate as many people as possible about food allergies." In addition to clothing, Check My Tag's online home has information on allergy books, sites and organizations; downloadable documents; and a blog with allergy news.
Check My Tag isn't a full-time job for Sharon, "but it could be." Right now, it's taking a backseat to her other full-time job -- taking care of her kids. Besides her son, says Sharon, "I have a daughter who is two years older and takes her job of protecting her brother very seriously." The best thing about the business, Sharon finds, is "knowing that I am doing something meaningful," although "juggling work and family" can be a trial.
Sharon considers Check My Tag a success in "every aspect — the products, the resources, the online community working together to create a safer place for toddlers with food allergies." Her plans for the future include "expanding the product line so that families have a broader selection of items and also expanding the line to serve a broader range of special needs."
"I got this email the other day," Sharon reports, quoting: "'I want to thank you for such an amazing and clever product. I am impressed on so many levels--as a designer, a businesswoman, and most importantly, as the Allergy Mama of two very young food-allergic children.' Or, here's another: 'We've gotten so many compliments on the dress. People have asked if its from a fancy boutique.'" Also a fan is Sharon's son: "He loves his 'tag' shirt. He says, 'my tag shirt keeps me safe.' He also loves it when he sees other kids wearing their tag shirts."
For parents who are thinking of going into their own business, Sharon says, "I recommend that parents be the best parents they can be. To me, that meant acting on an inspired idea to benefit not just my own family but other families who face the same challenges. Starting and running a business is not for everyone. I have to admit that there are times when I think the energy involved is almost like taking care of another child."
More Inspiration and Advice from Ria Sharon:
When did you find out about your son's food allergies?In the Spring of 2005, my son was 13 months old. He had an anaphylactic reaction to a biscuit with almonds. He threw up immediately and as we changed him out of his clothes, we noticed that massive hives had developed all over his body. We had to put him in a footed sleeper with two pairs of socks on his hands just so he wouldn't hurt himself scratching. I still remember feeling incredibly helpless and even more so when we received the official diagnosis from the allergist... there was scientific data that confirmed there was stuff out there that could kill my baby and there was no treatment other than strict avoidance. As soon as we got home from the ER, I was thinking of ways to protect him.
How did you go about starting your business?I did a lot of research and networking. I knew how I wanted the shirts to function, but had to learn a lot about the fashion industry and sewn product manufacturing.
How is your son doing now?He is a confident and happy child. I am grateful to his teachers and caregivers, who have taken extra care to keep him safe and to allow him to feel safe. Other than all his allergies (seasonal hay fever, food allergies, eczema), he is healthy. He actually loves food and eats well. He loves trying new things.
What advice would you give to other parents about raising a child with special needs?
- Be proactive about gathering the information and resources that you need.
- You are not alone. Take advantage of your network for support.
- Acknowledge the small victories.
- Be grateful.