A heavy, hefty blanket. It became one of Pamela Hunter’s tools to help calm her young daughter diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, a condition causing the brain and the body to struggle to communicate effectively, resulting in extreme discomfort and physical agitation.
The Mount Washington resident and mother of three was unsatisfied with the mostly synthetic options she found. (It’s a niche market that has suddenly taken off, because who doesn’t like the soothing feel of a chunky, cozy blanket?) And it wasn’t long before Hunter wondered if she could make one of her own. She headed to a fabric wholesaler in spring 2017 looking for a way to craft one for her daughter, Ransom, as well as for her aunt, whose Stage 4 uterine cancer had returned.
From her garage, Hunter launched Sheltered Co., devising a technique that recycles and repurposes cotton fabrics into a heavy yarn that's suitable for this particular use. And she quickly sold out whenever she listed her handmade inventory online. Nordstrom purchased 50 blankets to sell in nine locations, which Hunter said were all snatched up in 10 hours, much to the retailer's surprise. "People were calling them, and they were like, 'What is happening?'" Hunter recalls.
To expand capability, Hunter launched a Kickstarter campaign this past May. She hit her goal of $30,000 in eight days, ultimately raising more than $83,000. She had a sense that demand for a stylish, soulful weighted blanket was out there, but the response was nonetheless astounding. After fulfilling obligations to her Kickstarter backers, the next 120 blankets released as Sheltered Co.'s fall collection were gone in one day.
To manage the company's development, "I only sell them once they're made," she says about the goods that are made in a downtown Arts District studio by a recently expanded team of six. To keep the retail cost as low as possible while still building a viable business, Hunter maintains a direct-to-consumer model via the website, shelteredco.com. (The partnership with Nordstrom was a rare exception.)
While a blanket that's priced starting at $285 and weighs around seven to 10 pounds might seem a luxury, "I want people to be able to afford them. This is a needed item," she notes. "It's completely different than other blankets." Seventy yards of fabric are required to make each one, which has a soft, breathable texture. She even has offered a payment system for people who cannot afford the full upfront cost.
Hunter feels she's part of "a community that's growing and feels very tightknit," pun unintended.
Sheltered Co. combines her passion for design and textile sustainability and a dedication to special-needs populations — she was a job coach for special-needs young adults before working in the various creative fields of vintage clothing, wardrobe styling and art directing — along with her own daughter's well-being. Among Hunter's goals is to create a nonprofit arm to hire and train people with special needs, and then donate those blankets to vulnerable youth.
"Weighted blankets are out there, but we created something that didn't exist," Hunter says. "We ultimately want to help people."