We had the good fortune of connecting with Angelle Albright and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Angelle, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Chemo Beanies’ start was quite interesting, and we often refer to ourselves as accidental entrepreneurs. Our business was truly borne out of necessity from my own personal struggles dealing with cancer. I hope our story inspires others that they too can turn their own personal lemons into lemonade.
I was just 38 years old with three children under nine when I was diagnosed with a 34% chance of surviving breast cancer. My wonderful world instantly turned upside down. How does a young mother deal with the idea of losing her life and leaving her small ones behind? These thoughts haunted me daily in ways that are hard to verbalize, yet at the same time, I was dealing with the reality that I was going to be completely bald in just under two weeks. Honestly, I felt as though this was a cruel punishment. How could one deal with spending my last days looking like an alien? This may seem silly to most, but only women who have been placed in this horrible position can truly understand how it felt like a curse. I wanted to focus on my survival, but I was quickly rushed into shopping mode, which was the absolute last thing I felt like doing. I was known for my long, curly locks, so finding a wig that looked just like my hair was nearly impossible. I ordered something online, and honestly, looked like Howard Stern in drag. It was just awful! Then I was forced to go scarf shopping. Attractive department store scarves were upwards of $200 and then I had to learn to tie them. With the recent mastectomy, I couldn’t even lift my hands over my head to do it. Each thing I tried was adding weight to my fragile psyche, and I literally gave up as the scarves were constantly slipping off my head exposing my situation to the world. I was humiliated and the feelings were just too much to bear. I searched online, but all I could find was old fashion headwear and grandmother’s turban from Sunset Blvd. I gave up and wore a black bandana that exposed all of my baldness on the back behind my ears and just dealt with the reality I was presented with. I only survived my poor prognosis because of a new drug called Herceptin, created by UCLA researcher, Dr. Denny Slamon, who singlehandedly saved my life and millions of others since. His story was turned into a TV Movie called “Living Proof,” which fate brought the filming to my back yard in my hometown of New Orleans, and I was asked to be in the final scene of the film. Reading the script taught me that one man can literally change the world by his actions, and somehow, I came away with that experience believing that if I survived the unsurvivable, then my life too could hold some important meaning. I lived my life for five years believing my life had new meaning. Then the unthinkable happened; my sister was diagnosed with cancer as well. I was determined she did not suffer the way I did. A simple solution occurred to me: I said, “Why can’t there be something that slips on the head similar to the way a sheet covers a mattress, that would stay in place, and have a little skirt at the bottom that covers the neck and gives women the feeling that they have hair without having to tie a thing. My niece, Adrienne Metz, who lives in Orange County, jumped on what I said, and went down to the Fashion District in LA and found some 4-way stretch fabric and told her friend who sews what I said I wished I had, and she created 4 prototypes just for my sister and flew to Louisiana to get them in her hands before she ever lost her hair. We had no idea that when she wore them to Chemotherapy, everybody would ask about it and want one too! This was the moment we knew we had a busienss. We quickly jumped into entrepreneur mode and learned how to do everything along the way. Eleven years later, we have sold over 160,000 pieces around the world and can be found across every online platform, as well in most hospital gift shops and a major drug store chain.
Our goal is to be available to women immediately upon diagnosis, so they would not have to suffer the same way I did. There is no need to panic, knowing that the perfect solution to their problem exists and can be in their hands immediately. Chemo Beanies were created as much for the psyche as they were for covering the bald head. Our patented design offers women a fashionable alternative to hot and uncomfortable wigs, requires no tying, and provides full coverage that won’t slip off. We truly want women to be free to focus on their healthcare, not their headwear.
I would finish by saying to other entrepreneurs to trust their gut. If you know they have a product that solves a problem and is needed, you will succeed. My sister, sadly, lost her battle with cancer, but her spirit lives on in our work. As the inspiration for our products, she knew first-hand the benefits of our invention and was passionate about making sure all women knew we existed.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Chemo Beanies was founded in 2011 out of love and necessity when one sister was diagnosed with cancer after the other struggled with finding a comfortable, simple, yet stylish solution to covering the bald head during chemo treatments. Our beanies are made right here in the U.S.A. in Los Angeles. At Chemo Beanies, we set ourselves apart from our competitors by not just selling hats made elsewhere, we designed, created, an intentional solution that solves a problem for women in need. Having a passion-backed product makes all the difference in the world when it comes to explaining and promoting your product. Also, being made in the states, although more expensive, gives us an advantage over our competitors when it comes to quality control, design control, and recently, controlling supply-chain issues. It wasn’t always easy as many try to copy us and make the product overseas. We overcome the challenges by enforcing our patent, but it’s difficult to keep up. Our mission is to outwork, outperform, sell quality products that, over time, are noticed by our customers. We are most proud of being made in the USA. We employ many Americans through our LA Manufacturing and this allows us to sleep joyfully at night. What would be the point of starting a company that helps women and hurts women elsewhere at the same time? Winning the Chase grant was one of the biggest helps to advance our company. The grant allowed us to lower our costs by buying in bulk and taking financial risks that are difficult for new businesses. That win truly changed the trajectory of our business, and we may not be here today without that influx of cash. It was the equivalent of getting a shark without the shark. I want the world to know that Chemo Beanies was founded to help solve a problem. Our hearts are on the customers, not our bottom line. We give back annually by donating to organizations that give away our beanies to women in need. We are grateful to everyone who appreciates our mission and supports our USA-made, women-owned, survivor-owned, socially-conscience business.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If one of my friends joined me on one of my many business trips to Los Angeles, I would immediately take them to the Fashion District, where Chemo Beanies was born. I love the diversity and possibilities that exist within those blocks, and I think it is one of the most oddly inspiring areas I’ve ever been to. Over 11 years, I have watched the homeless situation change there, and my heart is to show kindness and offer help to those in the area. I often do what I can and try to give back love and financial assistance while visiting the area. During the week, I would definitely take them hiking in the Hollywood Hills and on to Griffith Park & Observatory at night. Of course, a drive down the PCH from Santa Monica to Malibu with dinner at Nobu. The Getty Museum and house tour would be high on the list as well as the Petersen Automotive Museum. Visiting the shops on Rodeo drive and a drive through Beverly Hills would be a necessity, as well as the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Food is easy and just good everywhere! My daughter went to USC and has a whole list of hot spots in West Hollywood, Downtown, and Beverly Hills. Love, Love, Love L.A.!!!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I had great mentors as we were going through the early stages of this process and would like to shout out to: George Boudreaux, the inventor of Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, Dann Schwartz, original co-founder of Invisalign Braces, and Angel Investor to many, Walmart Get on the Shelf Competition, Chase Mission Main Street Grants, and my good friend and spiritual mentor, Rwandan genocide survivor, Immaculee Ilibagiza, NYT Best-Selling author of the book Left to Tell.