Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How To Make Money With Designer Crutches

Laurie Johnson Story

Leg casts decorated with Sharpie markers are so five years ago. What’s the new must-have item for the injured fashionista? Designer crutches, of course.

For Laurie Johnson, founder of LemonAid Crutches, the idea of adding a little pizzazz to the drab world of medical supplies was born out of terrible tragedy. In 2002, a small-plane crash took the lives of her husband and 2-year-old son, and left her with a broken femur that wouldn’t heal. A year later, still in emotional and physical pain, Johnson decided to take life’s lemons and make lemonade.

It all started when her sister spray-painted Johnson’s crutches and fabric-trimmed the handles. “I sat there thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so silly, but they make me feel better!’” says Johnson, 46. “I said, ‘If I feel this way, someone else is going to feel this way, too.”

In mid-2005, the company put up its website, where it peddles fashionably functional crutches designed with themes such as Safari Adventure and Asian Inspiration. The fully padded and lined crutches cost from $140 to $175 a pair.

Although a self-proclaimed “capitalist at heart,” Johnson felt she could do more. In 2005, she founded Step With Hope, a foundation that offers financial support and counseling for people who have lost loved ones. She dedicates 50 percent of LemonAid’s profits to the foundation.

And though the designer-crutch business may seem like a small niche, Johnson has big plans for several new projects, such as offering crutches to children’s hospitals. She expects Lemon-Aid to bring in just under $150,000 in 2006. “There’s so much we can offer,” she says, “with just a little less in our pockets and a lot more in our hearts.”

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