Erica Cole remembered the sirens, the flashing lights, and the frantic activity around her, when she woke up in the hospital. She did not remember the car crashing into hers, and she did not yet know her leg had been amputated. It was a long, difficult recovery, including getting used to a prosthetic leg.
As soon as she could, she set out to pick up her life where she left it: chemistry major at the University of Iowa, US Department of Energy intern, applicant for a Fulbright Fellowship, costume designer for the UI theater department and for Herky the Hawk, the school mascot. She also decided to take lessons in improv acting, ballroom dancing and scuba diving. She was “embracing” the new normal of her life, as many had advised her. None of whom had to deal with a prosthesis.
Her biggest challenge and greatest frustration was getting dressed in the morning—a discouraging way to start off the day. She ended up wearing shorts or sweatpants all the time; she couldn’t get anything else over the bulky prosthesis. And she wasn’t a baggy shorts/pants kind of gal. There had to be better choices.
She thought about all the zippers she had sewn into Herky’s costumes so that the person playing Herky could get into and out of the costume easily. (Sometimes that person was Erica herself.) From that thought, Erica went on to design the perfect jeans for her, the Amp Pant, soft, comfortable, and flattering.
No Limbits Amp Pant
- The Amp Pant has durable, hidden YKK zippers on both inseams, making dressing, undressing, and adjusting the prosthesis during the day so not a problem!
- The material is a soft, high-stretch, quality denim that feels good and looks great.
- The area around the knee has just enough extra room to accommodate the prosthesis and then gradually tapers back into a fashionable straight leg look.
- Super soft and durable patches provide an extra layer of protection where carbon fiber sockets and mechanical knees increase the wear and tear on the material.
The Amp Pant made such a huge difference in Erica’s life that she wanted to help other amputees. But where would she start?
Starting Up No Limbits
- Erica entered Idea Storm, a pitch competition at the Iowa JPEC (John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center) and won. Novice entrepreneurs describe their business ideas to a panel of judges that awards start-up capital to the best presentations. Like Shark Tank.
- Encouraged, Erica participated in the Iowa Startup Games, also sponsored by JPEC, during which entrepreneurs work with mentors to create a business plan in a weekend.
- She completed a successful Kickstarter campaign.
- She received a fellowship for the Halcyon Incubator, a non-profit committed to helping social entrepreneurs transform their ideas into sustainable and profitable ventures.
- A year-long fellowship with the prestigious Future Founders provided mentoring, skill development, entrepreneurial retreats, a peer community and volunteer opportunities.
- The Target Incubator is for startups with a mission of making life better, and Erica was able to establish a supply chain for No Limbits.
Erica’s R&D efforts not only benefited her company, they benefited her. She surveyed more than 300 amputees to determine what features would make No Limbits clothing as inclusive as possible, and she was inspired by them.
She needed to solve the problem of producing denim in an environmentally friendly way—not easy. Here is one area that her knowledge of chemistry came into play. Producing the garments before dying them meant using only the dyes and chemicals needed, eliminating hazardous waste.
Erica also insisted on factories with only ethical manufacturing practices.
The Future for Erica and No Limbits
- Erica hopes her Amp Pant demonstrates to others in the fashion industry that adaptive clothing is a huge, new and unique space in which to create apparel that will be both functional and stylish for those with limited physical abilities.
- No Limbits is getting ready to launch wheelchair-related products and products for people who have lost an arm or hand or simply who have lost some degree of fine motor control in their hands.
- Erica intends for No Limbits to evolve into a large company, like Old Navy, for instance, that appeals to people of all ages, where they can find garments that work specifically for them at an affordable price—garments that are fun and uplifting.
- She also wants to connect with applicable communities, such as veteran groups, to keep in touch with their needs and give back to those who helped her.
- For now, and for the last few years, Erica volunteers with “Humanize My Hoodie” as a lead designer. The organization designs clothing that will open a conversation about senseless violence against people of color.