In early 2020, Dana Hendrie was working as a 5-star rated tour guide in New York City when the pandemic hit and tourism in the city shut down. As she considered what to do next, Dana moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with her son James, who had recently graduated from Penn College. In a new city with time on her hands, Dana dreamt about her next venture. But one idea, which had been 40 years in the making, stuck out most. When Dana was a teenager, her grand-mother wore a strapless apron that al-lowed her to work in the kitchen with-out irritating straps pulling on her neck. Dana always wanted her own but could never find any on the market, so she decided the situation presented the right time to remedy the situation her-self. She applied the skills she learned working in a hot air balloon repair port to make a pattern from scratch and then created a prototype. The product proved to be a practical solution, so Dana researched and secured a provisional patent to protect her idea.
At that point, Dana began to consider starting her own business, which she would call Finally Free, a nod to the apron’s strapless design. She came across the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) website and was ultimately routed to Annie Hughes, Management Consultant at the Penn State SBDC. Annie worked with Dana on her financial models, connected her with free legal services such as the Penn State Law Entrepreneurship Assistance Clinic, and helped her develop a business plan. “We had a business plan drafted, but Annie really explained each part and helped us understand what a lender would be looking to see,” says Hendrie.
In November 2020, before launching Finally Free and their line of nine aprons, Dana wanted to ensure a scalable supply chain. Having previously worked at Levi Straus, Dana was familiar with vertical saws, and secured one to take her production to the next level. “I purchased a lot of equipment used from places like Habitat for Humanity, mu-nicipal auctions, and even yard sales. I know we saved thousands compared to purchas-ing everything new.”
Dana’s son and daughter Samantha helped her develop a website, and with Annie’s support they designed a marketing strategy. “I love Dana’s drive and willingness to bootstrap her business,” says Hughes. “With her patented idea and strong marketing strategy, I’m confident in her success!”
The initial concept of the aprons shifted when Dana realized the waterproof material used for outdoor cushions would make her product easy to wipe clean, a selling feature for those who spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Dana looks to expand Finally Free’s products with a line of spring aprons constructed of lighter, patterned material, and hopes to pitch the product to airline, craft, gardening, and service industries. She has also secured a vendor of 100% recycled material made from soda bottles, hoping to create a sustainable product with an eco-friendly focus.