Through setbacks and struggles, Karyn Ranzau, 38, of Louisville, Kentucky, kept a positive outlook and brainstormed to change her family's lives for the better. With grit, she turned her ribbon crafting talent into a global business.
By Karyn Ranzau
as told to Julie Weingarden Dubin
Ten years ago, my husband Rob and I found out that I was pregnant. We couldn't wait for this new phase in our lives. But that's when the bottom started to fall out. We learned that the factory where we both worked was closing.
We went from not worrying about money to wondering how we were going to pay for food. We decided to move from Massachusetts to Louisville, Kentucky, where I had family.
Rob was out of work for nine months when our son was born. When he started working, the jobs were commission only. Our finances were tight and a lot of meals were supplemented by our parents.
Two years later, we had a baby girl, and despite our financial stress, I longed to buy my infant daughter a pretty hair bow because she was often mistaken for a boy in her brother's hand-me-downs. I agonized over spending $12 on six colors of ribbon, hoping Rob wouldn't find out I went over our budget, but I knew I could make cute ribbons cheaper than the ones I saw at stores.
I've had ulcerative colitis since I was 12 and proper eating was crucial. With our limited budget, we were dealing with cheaper foods and not a lot of fresh produce. My condition got worse. My treatments of steroids, combined with two pregnancies and poor eating habits left me with about 100 extra pounds.
When I was 33, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The doctors found a treatment that treated both the ulcerative colitis and arthritis together. When the joint problems were under control, I was able to start walking a little every day. Our parents helped with the food budget so we could upgrade our eating habits. Our generous friends had us over for dinner often.
It took 2 ½ years, but with the ulcerative colitis under control and no joint pain, I lost 85 pounds.
While trying to get my health back on track, I created hair bows. I posted pictures online, approached stores in Louisville, showed off my designs at craft shows, and before I knew it I was filling orders. I just kept making bows until my fingers hurt. It was like I knew the bows would turn our lives around.
The demand for my bows grew to the point that I couldn't keep up with it. I needed a way to create the bows faster so that other people could help make them. My background as a structural design engineer came into play. I figured out the angles needed and designed my first template. We used them for a while and then realized we should be selling the templates instead of the bows! From that point I applied for patents and found a manufacturer. With the bows still selling really well, we were able to get small business loans to help with the cost of the minimum order.
Today, my kids are ages 9 and 7 and I own 2,500 rolls of ribbon and an international manufacturing company, Little Pink Ladybug. I don't make many bows anymore -- I teach people how to make them themselves with a craft kit I invented. That $12 ribbon I almost didn't buy was the best money I ever spent.
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