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•  The Story  •

It all began on December 23, 2009, as I was watching the 11 o'clock news...

Devin Scillian of WDIV was in Toronto talking about the new red 2010 Olympic mittens that were designed for the Vancouver Olympic games. He was standing by an empty bin which, only moments earlier, was filled with pairs of mittens. They were flying off the shelves but he was able to snag a few pairs. As he was displaying them to the viewing audience, I responded to the TV with: "Those are nice mittens. I like the red. Not sure why people are going ga-ga over them though. Now, you know who needs mittens? Michigan! We're the "Mitten State". And that was that.

I was born, raised, educated, work and live here and I know firsthand, how handy our hands are when it comes to our state and geography. After my "epiphany" so-to-speak, I tried to push the idea aside because my plate was already full. Being self-employed, I'm VERY aware of the economy; how it affects consumers and business owners alike. My focus was on keeping my web business alive - not making apparel. However, the idea would NOT leave my head. It was fully formed as you see the Mi Map mittens now - instantly. In the beginning of February, 2010, I contacted someone who's familiar with this type of entrepreneurial endeavor. Although I'm already an entrepreneur, my business is founded on years of education and experience so the path was a bit straighter. Mitten making? I did not know where to start. Actually, I didn't want "to start" but still I could not shake the concept. My contact suggested that I connect with the FastTrack New Venture program offered at TechTown on Wayne State University's campus.

I began the program in April 2010 and completed the program in June 2010. Although I already had the idea and the initiative going in to the program, I was lacking information on manufacturing, NAICS codes, law considerations, etc. These are things that don't concern my web business so I had no frame of reference. While in the program, I created mitten prototypes, created the business name*, became an LLC, designed the logo, developed the website, created the business cards, began the business plan and determined the materials I'd like to use. This is in addition to the regular class work assigned and running my web development business. I say this to point out how valuable having a framework of mentors and like-minded individuals surrounding you as you embark on an adventure such as this. I don't know that I could have done this without such strong encouragement. During our first class, we broke into groups to discuss our business idea. That was a pivotal point for me because in 5 minutes, my group convinced me to move ahead at warp speed.

*During our working years, we don't often get to experience getting credit where credit it due. Many of us would like to hear "good job" every once in a while. I believe we are all trying to do our best while on this earth, we want to make a difference. Mick Musial, Esq. has made a tremendous difference to me. Mick came up with the name Mi Map. Mick is an attorney who spoke to my New Venture class and he then became my attorney. I had settled on another name, but he found that I couldn't use it. I was beside myself because it was the perfect name. However, Mick suggested Mi Map and I LOVED it!! In fact, it is WAY better than the original name and I am grateful for Mick's creativity. I must add that his legal advice has saved me money and trouble. Entrepreneurs: Do yourself a favor - get a lawyer!

Also due credit is Andrea Cowan of The Royal Oak Chamber of Commerce, who is an expert seamstress. The next day after class, I approached her about sewing a prototype pair and within a week and a half, the first shot at Mi Map mittens were in - I mean "on" - my hands! In that same week, Joan McNish of Honors did the heat transfer which was the finishing touch to the prototype pair.

I knew that Mi Map LLC apparel absolutely had to be made in Michigan. I mean really. After many calls, I found a local company named New Horizons Rehabilitation Services, Inc. and I was ecstatic to see that they were capable of cutting, sewing and packaging the mittens. Here's another mini-lesson: Don't believe everything people tell you. I was told by so many who've "been there, done that", that I'd have to go to Mexico or Central America to manufacture my apparel. That made no sense to me. This is akin to hearing there are no software engineers in Michigan to fill jobs so we'll have to outsource. There are oodles of talent in this wonderful state and my persistence paid off because I hit pay dirt with New Horizons. Talented people who know their stuff and who had the patience to work with me and bring these mittens to fruition! Dave Stoker, my contact at the plant, hooked me up with vendors for elastic, thread, packaging and pattern-making. Since Dave had worked with them directly, I was confident that I was in good hands. Cindy Crenshaw, the brilliant sewing manager at the New Horizons Davisburg Plant, used her expertise to refine my original pattern for the outer layer. This stream-lined the process we are using.

This apparel company started out as "Wouldn't it be cool if..." and quickly morphed into "We will manufacture clothing here. We will assist those who need our help. None of us got here without help! We are proud of our state. We are one of a kind." I plan to create more than just mittens. there are a number of other items that are waiting to be made but I had to start with the most obvious product. A mitten.

Stay tuned...I have more merchandise a brewin'!

 ~ Christine

Christine Chubenko began her career as a software engineer in 1986 and then brought her years of experience to the web development community in 1999. Her knowledge base includes software development projects in web design and development, digital imaging, graphics and animation and other geeky areas. Christine has been a speaker at various national conferences throughout the United States, focusing on web for small businesses. She has also been adjunct faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, and Oakland Community College in Royal Oak, MI. She received her Bachelor and Master degrees from Wayne State U. It just so happens she has an Associates Degree in Fashion Merchandising and Design from OCC. Who knew THAT would be put to use after 25 years?

Christine is the founder of the Michigan-based web development company What Webs We Weave, LLC. She understands the importance of combining technical knowledge with creativity and artistry to optimize the benefits of today’s web technology. Now she makes mittens and hats, too.



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