When Jennae Liberty of Bozeman got tired of throwing away paper sleeves that insulated her hot cups of coffee, she searched the Internet to find a pattern to make her own sleeves out of cloth. After sewing through a pile of fabric and fleece, and after much trial and error, Jennae perfected a product that she began selling in May 2009.
The Coffee Huggers will fit standard 12- to 20-ounce to-go cups. If you like the look of the to-go cups but want to avoid even more waste, Jennae suggested buying a long-lasting plastic version (shown in photo above) from stores like Walmart or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, or a ceramic version from World Market.
I met Jennae last summer at the Bozeman Gallatin Valley farmers market. Her whimsical use of buttons on vintage-looking fabric caught my eye, and I have been a fan ever since, using my own Coffee Hugger regularly and stirring the curiosity of other coffee drinkers.
Not only is the design charming, but the combination of fabric and lightweight fleece is cozy to hold. I don't want to use paper sleeves any more. When I accidentally leave my Coffee Hugger at home, I don't seem to enjoy my cup of coffee or hot chocolate quite so much.
An important part of Jennae's business is giving a portion of her profits to various charities.
"If you're grateful for things in your life and you share that with others, then it's not only going to come back to you, it'll go on to others."
Jennae donates to charities such as the Special Olympics, the Humane Society, and the food bank, which are "closest to my heart, and because I think they help the greatest number of people."
Every entrepreneur hopes they'll have the next million-dollar idea, Jennae said, but start where you are in sharing what your business brings you. "So many people think, 'I can't make a difference, I can't give.' But if everybody gave what they could, even if it was a dollar, think of how much of a difference that would make in someone's life."
Advice for new entrepreneurs
"I love to sew," Jennae told me. She learned the basics from her mother as well as her Grami, a long-time lover of sewing who is still quilting. "I can remember just watching Grami sew when I was a little girl."
Jennae said she makes an effort to buy supplies in local stores, such as the Silver Thimble, Main Street Quilting Company, and Ro Sham Bo Paperie.
The name of her company came after tossing around ideas with a marketing friend at work. "I woke up in the middle of the night and said: 'That's it!'"
Jennae has faced her share of business-related challenges, and she encourages other women to just get out there and see how their ideas work.
"Don't give up. If you want it bad enough, find a way to make it happen. You get out of something what you put into it. And so if you want to get a lot out of something, it's going to be hard work. That's just something you're going to have to accept or not.
"Enlist the help of your friends. There are people out there who want to help you. And they will help you, whether it be coming up with a design for your logo, or helping you get started with selling, or giving you feedback. You can never have enough feedback. I still listen to what people say. I'm still trying to tweak my designs."
Where to buy
Although Jennae is currently cutting back on production to spend more time with her family and put in quality hours at her "real job," Coffee Huggers are available upon request, in single or bulk orders, by e-mailing her at email@example.com. You can also buy them in Bozeman at Sola Cafe and The Daily Coffee Bar, and online at coffeehuggers.etsy.com.
If your organization needs an item for a fundraiser, ask Jennae for her special rate. She can even make huggers in school or company colors.