Every weekday for eight long weeks, Patricia Royall had to rummage through a pile of hospital johnnys in search of one that had at least some of its ties. She’d usually bunch it up so she wouldn’t expose her backside as she padded out to the waiting room. It was 2008, the year she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she was going through a series of radiation therapy treatments. Patricia shared the waiting room with several other people also receiving cancer treatments and also trying to maintain a modicum of dignity as they, too, sat with their johnnys bunched up behind them.
You might think that the state of their hospital garb was the least of their worries, but as Patricia says, “It’s bad enough that you have to go through cancer treatment, but to be humiliated at a time when you are so vulnerable is terrible.”
One day she found a soft and faded, but still colorful, johnny at the bottom of the pile. It was too big and it was missing its ties, but her co-conspirators in the waiting room noticed that it was different and demanded to know where she got it. They commiserated about how awful the johnnys were.
“There was one elderly gentleman that day,” recalls Patricia, “who was wearing these extra large pants that looked like pajama bottoms and they were so big for him that he was clutching them and holding them up to his chest.”
When Patricia was called for her treatment, she wrapped her flapping Johnny around her, marched in and asked, “Can’t somebody come up with some better idea of what you can wear that’s a little more dignified?”
The tech answered, “Well, why don’t you?”
That’s what started Jazzy Johnnys.
Patricia’s background is in the arts, but not fashion.
“This was a huge learning curve for me,” she admits. “I had to find stitchers, I had to find production, and I had to decide what fabric I would use.”
She found her fabric at a textile show in New York -– Tencel, a sustainable fabric that Patricia says is 100 percent organic and biodegradable.
“It’s anti-bacterial, temperature regulating, skin sensitive, and also wicks off moisture, so it keeps you dry,” she says.
She received two seed grants from the Maine Technology Institute, which invests in business entrepreneurs and people with innovative ideas. As Patricia explains, “I received them for introducing a plant fiber fabric to the health-care industry, creating an innovative way to distribute my product through the health supply chain and benefiting the environment.”
In September 2009, she launched her first line of prototypes at a fashion show with cancer survivors as her models. Her designs include pants, kimono robes and wrap jackets, and, of course, johnnys – jazzy johnnys. She also just launched Jazzy Juniors for Kids.
What Patricia envisions is that instead of patients rummaging through the johnny bin like she had to, they will be given one of her Jazzy Johnnys to keep as their own.
“You’d be given your own garment that nobody else has ever worn,” she says, “and you would bring it back and forth to your treatments and be responsible for the maintenance of that garment.”
She calls it the B.Y.O.J., or Bring Your Own Johnny, program. She believes the patients who would benefit most are those undergoing cancer treatments, long-term care or rehab services, and is marketing it to appropriate health-care facilities.
“It has the potential to save the health-care industry hundreds of thousands of dollars and reduce its carbon footprint.”
But most important to Patricia is the impact that her garments would have on the people who wear them. She tested them in them in pilot projects at two Maine hospitals and got great reviews.
“Patients want to wear something nice that feels good,” she says. “They deserve to have something that is comfortable, dignified and stylish. It might even help them heal a lot faster.”
Jazzy Johnnys founder Patrica Royall models one of the company’s stylish products. All are made of Tencel. See the Jazzy Johnnys line at www.jazzyjohnnys.com.
Patrica Royall is in pink in this Jazzy Johnnys group shot. See the Jazzy Johnnys line at www.jazzyjohnnys.com.