Fashion, Feelings and DiabetesTuesday, September 30, 2014
Julie DeFruscio’s company offers insulin pump accessories to not only give young kids and teens some fashion, but helps them feel better about themselves in gaining acceptance during a time of possible insecurities.
By: John Parkinson, Clinical Content Coordinator, DiabetesCare.net
Julie DeFruscio’s daughter, Nikki, was diagnosed with type 1 when she was two years old. Within a year, she was put on an insulin pump. While DeFruscio was very grateful for her daughter to be on a pump so quickly, when she saw the device adjoined to Nikki, she was struck by how bulky the device was and that she didn’t think it would stay safely secured. It was shortly thereafter when DeFruscio and her best friend Dawn Juneau decided to do some research on the Internet to see if there was anything to secure the device to the body and also dress it up so her daughter could look a bit more fashionable.
Above photo from left to right: Dawn Juneau, Nikki, and Julie DeFruscio sit together.
In their research, DeFruscio and Juneau could not find what they were looking for so DeFruscio and Juneau started a business around making pump accessories.
Fashion can be a big part of young girls’ lives, especially as they are trying to fit in with peers and are grappling with their roles in the world. How other people perceive them is important and wearing an insulin pump can be something that calls attention to these kids. DeFruscio understands this innately and has tried to build her business, Pump Wear, around making kids feel better about themselves.
This idea of being comfortable with the pump recently came to light when Sierra Sandison, a young woman with type 1 who was competing in the Miss Idaho contest, did something unique. When she walked onstage during the bathing suit competition of the contest, Sandison openly wore her insulin pump. It made quite a splash, especially in the diabetes community. She was even interviewed by major television networks after the contest. She has said that she decided to wear her pump after being inspired by a young girl backstage at the Miss Idaho contest who also had type 1, but was afraid to get the pump for fear of looking awkward around her friends. Not only has Sandison served as a role model to young people, but she went on to win the Miss Idaho and participated in the Miss America pageant as well.
DeFruscio wants her products to serve as a bridge for young girls to give them confidence to wear their pumps and give them some fashionable options in doing so.
DeFruscio has taken to social media to showcase Pump Wear’s new products and teach others about her experiences as a mom of three kids with type 1. (DeFruscio’s two sons were diagnosed with type 1 after her daughter.) Her Diabetes Tips and Tidbits videos are how-to videos that address certain type 1 scenarios that familes may face. For example, in one video she discusses how she handles her daughter doing a sleepover at a friend’s house.
She is also involved in a free diabetes family weekend where she is looking to give 27 families a diabetes getaway next year. It’s called the Caring & Sharing Weekend and anyone can recommend a family for this retreat.
DiabetesCare.net spoke with DeFruscio about how she got started, information on some of her product lines, and fashion’s role in helping girls build self-esteem.
DiabetesCare.net: Can you provide some background about your experience with diabetes, and how you got involved in this business?
DeFruscio: I didn’t have any experience with this when I started off. My daughter was 2 ½ when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. And at the time, the insulin pump was a new thing. We were fortunate enough to find a doctor back then to put a 3 year old on the pump. We quickly found that we were like where do we put this on her? We couldn’t find anything that we could hold it on her and make it look cute. I just could not stand the thing they gave us; it was this ugly looking backpack for her to wear. You would put a shirt over it but you could tell there was something there. It was bulky and bunching up. We went online, my best friend Dawn and I. And we thought there had to be other ways for kids to wear these insulin pumps. All we could find was black and white simple cases. I wanted her to be in something fun, and look cute in her little dress. I wanted to show that she could still wear an insulin pump and look cute. Our business was really built on that emotion.
We jumped into the business. I had a friend attaching pockets to the back of my daughter’s t-shirts. We came up with a few fanny packs and six total products. We were so new to it. My daughter went on the pump in April and we had our website up in August. We really didn’t have our manufacturing set up at that point. I would take my samples around trying to get people to produce them for us.
DiabetesCare.net: How do you characterize your company when you tell people what you do?
DeFruscio: We say it is a fun place (the website) for children and adults to be able to find ways and products to wear an insulin pump. That is what we are all about. We want you and your kids to feel comfortable about what you are doing, because let’s face it, it is a life sentence. You are wearing a pump 24/7 and you should feel good about it.
(Photo Left): Nikki DeFruscio modeling a Jean James insulin pump case that connects to belt loops; (Right) Nikki is showing an insulin pump band, which are helpful for keeping an insulin pump attached to a child during sports.
DiabetesCare.net: Can you give an example of one of your more popular products and why you think it is popular?
DeFruscio: Our insulin pump bands are made of a soft spandex and have built-in pockets. They come in all kinds of cute designs, and in addition, they are safe and secure. You can throw them in the wash. And they are great because whether you are talking about a toddler and you want to keep it concealed and snug to the body, or if you are talking about a 10 year old boy who is out doing soccer, and doesn’t want to be detached from the pump while doing it, these bands are really flexible for various age groups with different needs.
Our packs are also popular. They are available in several different designs. We have all different types of cases. Kids love that. They can pick out a picture they want or put their picture on the case as well. There is a lot of variety. A lot of kids will get more than one because they like to swap them out.
DiabetesCare.net: How does pump wear accessories help young women and girls forget about their diabetes?
DeFruscio: I don’t think you can ever say they are going to forget about their diabetes because they are doing finger pokes 8-10 times a day, and they are constantly taking the pump in and out of the case. However, I think what we can say is that we have given them a fashion accessory to make them feel better about themselves. They are able to conceal the pump if they wish or show it off. They can go about their business just like everyone else. I think it is about making them feel good. One of the greatest compliments we received was when Nikki’s friends were asking for pump bands for their birthdays. Here she had to wear this, and you have kids that don’t have diabetes who want to wear the bands. For these kids who are living with the disease, their concern should be more about what they need to do to stay alive versus where should I put the pump?
These products are for parents too. When we were searching out websites for pump accessories I can remember looking at a site where on one half of the page was a very dull looking site which had some pump cases for sale, and on the right hand side of the page were doggie diapers. As a mother, I thought I would never be able to buy anything from there because I didn’t feel the respect for my child's needs.
DiabetesCare.net: Do you think fashion plays an important role in making people feel better about pumps and their disease overall?
DeFruscio: I do. I think you have to have a positive outlook on life. You have a fashion accessory that can hold the pump and it feels good. If you can approach the disease in the most positive of ways, I think that carries throughout with your everyday living. You hear people say that, 'you need to throw negativity out the door' and I think that is exactly what you need to do. And by creating unique ways to wear the pump, we are giving them a positive aspect to really shine.
DiabetesCare.net: Do you think pump fashion can help kids and their peers more easily accept kids with type 1 and wearing a pump?
DeFruscio: It helps in that it doesn’t have to call attention to the pump. Some people want to hide their pumps, whereas other people want to show it. I think giving them those options can make them feel good. Kids can also be bullies, so if they see something different, they can criticize or make fun of kids with pumps. My daughter has had diabetes since she was 2 years old and she still experienced criticism in high school. Other kids were making fun of her infusion site and the fact they could see a little button in an infusion site.
Anything we can do to make it a positive experience to be able to wear that pump and possibly avoid those situations as well as help kids’ peers understand this disease is something they have to live with 24/7 is where we feel like we are helping young people adapt to diabetes.