Tameka Founder of Capable Clothing: Giving Patients With Limited Mobility Back Their Independence
Nursing is considered a stressful and physically demanding profession by some. Still, health care professionals are more likely to suffer from back pain caused by workplace injuries than workers in other jobs. According to surveys by the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are more than 35,000 back and other injuries among nursing employees every year, severe enough that they have to miss work. This was Tameka Norris' experience, a nurse sitting at home recovering from a back injury. But it wasn't only her. She noticed every week that various nurses were missing work for the same reasons.
Not only that, Tameka is a spinal cord injury nurse; therefore, she constantly lifts, rotates, and turns to reposition her patients. She said, "I was sitting at home thinking there had to be an easier way. There had to be an easier way to lift, turn and reposition these patients so that we weren't ruining our bodies for the future. And I talked to fellow nurses, I spoke to the clients, and we started thinking of different ways where we could make a product that would help the nurses.
And it really grew into something that the patients wanted to be a part of, and the nurses wanted to be a part of, so we came up with one product that helps the nurses. It saves our backs and our bodies, and for the patient, it gives them more independence, lessens skin breakdown, and gives them more dignity."
Tameka is the founder of Capable Clothing. Capable Clothing assists individuals with limited abilities and injuries (spinal cord injury, ostomy bags, rheumatoid arthritis, and the elderly) to gain a more independent lifestyle and reduce injury and skin breakdown. Capable Clothing also assists the caregivers of these individuals by designing clothing that reduces lifting and turning, thus reducing back strain and injury.
The design of the pants allows easy access for both the patient and the nurse to empty the urinary catheter. The pants have a waistband design that makes the clothing more comfortable for the patient. Tameka removed the back pockets so patients would experience fewer bedsores. Because individuals in a wheelchair need constant repositioning, they find that their pants would slide off of them. So Tameka raised the pants high enough to prevent that from happening. These newly designed pants had given patients back their dignity and their independence.
What are you most proud of when it comes to Capable Clothing?
Tameka is most proud of being able to give patients back their independence and dignity. She loves working with wounded veterans who gave their lives to this country who now experience mobility issues—and can feel better about themselves. She said, "Anytime I can give back to those individuals, that's a proud moment for me. And it's a proud moment for Capable."
What fears did you have along the journey?
Tameka said, "I didn't think in terms of fear. I thought about problem-solving, which didn't leave room for fear." She viewed her idea as an opportunity to make someone's life better, so her problem-solving skills kicked into gear. As a nurse, she had to learn on the job and not in a textbook, preparing her to approach her business similarly. She said, "So I was working all the time, like oh, that doesn't work well, let's try this. We'll move this over here. But the pants, like when that came together, that was divine. That was definitely in divine order. So when that came about, I was like, oh, I think I have something more here. So I didn't have room for fear because I knew that I had a product that people needed, and it worked."
What is new to Tameka is learning to be a business owner. She had to learn the language because she was intimidated by a room full of business owners. Therefore, learning how to run a business was fearful for her.
What's the biggest risk you've taken so far?
The biggest risk that Tameka has taken was leaving her nursing job to pursue Capable Clothing full time. She said, "I'm just going to step out on faith and believe in you. And I'm going to be obedient. And let's see where this thing goes because nurses make a good income, and I have to let that thing go. I couldn't step into this business arena and keep holding on to that good old reliable check. So I let it go."
Tell us about any major setbacks that you had and how you recovered.
Tameka hasn't had any major setbacks. She steps with caution and doesn't rush forward, respecting the process and flow of entrepreneurship. Leaning on her faith has allowed her to accept the entrepreneurial ride. Everything is a matter of perspective. She sees nothing as an obstacle but a problem to solve.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
This was Tameka's first pitch competition. Tameka watched as many BGV pitch videos as possible when she found out she was going to pitch. Like many underserved founders, she didn't know what a pitch deck was.
Tameka said, "I put together a pitch deck that I thought was awesome. So we had practice, I showed my pictures on my pitch deck, and they were more geared towards nursing. And then some people were like—I don't know if you want to show that, you know, one guy was like, I don't have the stomach for your pictures like that, I'm getting queasy. So it was a learning process. But I have to say, with BGV, they gave me the correct feedback.
They didn't hold back, and they helped me; even the people I was competing against helped me, and we helped each other. We gave each other feedback, so I wasn't afraid. And it turned out wonderful. I felt like I was with family."
By the time the pitch competition came around, Tameka felt more confident. She said, "I had enough practice that it was like, okay, girlfriend, you're going to get out here, you're going to sink or swim because you have said this pitch in your head a hundred times. And if you mess up, you should know your pitch well enough that you should be able to smooth it over so that no one knows that you messed up."
There was a moment when Tameka felt a bit intimidated during the competition. She said, "I get intimidated when it comes to the numbers on the business side because I can talk about my product all day. So I was a little nervous about that. But I think the judges were genuinely interested in my product. They had genuine heartfelt questions.
They weren't trying to break me down or embarrass me. They were very supportive. And even if they gave me a question that I didn't know, I don't think they would have been trying to be mean. I think they were just trying to make us better businesswomen. So I didn't have a lot of fear going in. I was a little anxious, and I said just push the bird off the branch and fly."
When Tameka applied for the BGV pitch competition, she signed up for two more, not knowing what she was getting into. She said, "BGV coached me. We went over our pitch decks together, and we supported each other. They gave me the confidence I needed, and I did place second in BGV, which I thought was amazing. I thought that was amazing because my business is not online. And so I'm like, well, I don't know where I'm going to get people to vote for me, but it happened.
And then, the second pitch competition that I signed up for was worldwide. So, I really didn't know what I was doing. So I went to that pitch competition, and when the audience heard my pitch, the audience started giving me like literally raising their hands and giving me money. They gave me over a hundred thousand dollars on that stage that day." Tameka didn't win that competition, but she received so much more than a winning title.
She said, "Through BGV, I learned that you have to ask, right? A closed mouth doesn't get fed. I'm the only one who had an ask in my pitch; I'm asking for $250,000 because I want to do blah, blah, blah. And he said to me when you said that, I thought you were in the wrong place, you're in the wrong competition, but that touched their hearts. There was an ask. I was in the right room at the right time, and the holy spirit just moved on that whole thing. And I came out with over a hundred thousand dollars in pledges—but God, right?"
Tameka walked away with more than funding for her business, the people in that room were on the boards of hospitals, and now Tameka has upcoming meetings with major hospital brands and the VA to bring her product to their patients. She's received the biggest order that she's ever received. She said, "Sometimes maybe winning first prize is not for you, but sometimes that exposure can launch you."
Tameka said, "Look at God, there's so much going on for Capable. And I promise you, BGV was a launchpad for that. And I don't know if other pitch competitions do that, where they nurture you, but they nurtured me. They helped me make myself better to get to where I am, where I'm going, cause I'm not there yet, but I'm going to be there real soon."
Tameka's advice for those looking to pitch is, "I would say listen to the advice and don't think of the people you're against as your competition, because I was like, well, okay, we're competing against each other.
That wasn't it. That wasn't what it was about. And I honestly didn't understand, but we're in a competition, right? So I didn't understand the spirit of helping each other, and we were competing against each other. But once that started flowing and everyone started helping each other, I'm like, oh, I get it. We all want to see each other win. So my advice would be to listen to the advice and don't push back against it. And just try to show up as much as you can to the practices.
And just humble yourself to the process and be able to answer those questions. Go back and listen to some of those old competitions and listen to some of the questions they asked you and be able to answer the questions because some of the same questions I got at BGV were some of the same questions that I got when I went into the second pitch competition."
Tameka is using the pitch funds for manufacturing. She dreamed of having 500 or 1000 orders, and now since the pitch competition, she's been asked for 50k and 100k orders. It's a double-edged sword for her because now she needs to secure funding to meet those orders.
Support isn't always given to Black and Brown women in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Tameka said, "I've seen a lot of programs that are leveling the playing field, so to speak. I'm seeing a lot of programs that are trying to help women, people of color, and Black and Brown individuals to grow in business. The country recognizes that we have a problem because they didn't acknowledge that there was a problem for so many years.
So I think the fact that we're acknowledging it is a good thing. Many things are going on to help Black and Brown businesses. I'm going to take that as a positive and run with it. I haven't seen a lot of negativity because I've never been in the boardroom.
I'm not a serial entrepreneur. I've always been a nurse. And now that I'm thrust into this arena, I feel like I'm getting so much support, and I might be looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses, but I definitely feel supported. And I feel like there are a lot of programs out there that are growing because they're acknowledging that there the scale was unbalanced, and then the pandemic made it even more unbalanced.
So I see a lot of major businesses trying to have programs that include Black and Brown entrepreneurs. I'm excited about it. And we stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us that could sit in the seat and tell you about the struggle and tell you about the imbalance and those women who marched, the men who marched for me to be sitting here saying, oh, I don't really feel like there's anything bad—well, praise God, because of the people who came before me. So I stand on their shoulders."
What's the most critical lesson that you've learned about business?
Tameka believes every entrepreneur needs to know their numbers. Because an opportunity may come up, and you don't know who you'll meet. Investors are always about the bottom line and how a business will make them money, so knowing your projections is important.
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to succeed in business?
Tameka believes a good attitude is the most critical asset all entrepreneurs should possess. She said, "I think that being a person that people want to do business with—I think being approachable is huge. And just having a good attitude can open a lot of doors. It sounds silly, but it's true. It's true because I've been in some rooms, whereas maybe I shouldn't have been there in the position that I was in, and maybe someone else should have been there because they won or but I was the person chosen. They found me to be more approachable. They found me to be, oh, she's so nice. You know, oh, we want to do business with her. And I just kept a good attitude, which just left me open.
And that kind of puts the power to me. It puts the power in my court because then I can choose who I want and don't want to do business with."
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Tameka loves changing people's lives. She loves creating products that give people back their independence.
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs?
Tameka said, "I think America is finally waking up to the fact that the playing field needs to be leveled. And I am seeing a lot of Fortune 500 companies that have programs for women and people of color. I just pray that we take advantage of those.
And then each one who makes it up reaches back and pulls somebody up. And that we can learn outside of what we were taught in our families, for instance, whether we were taught to be entrepreneurs or not, that it's possible for us. And that's what I would like to see. I would like to see a world where I have a major brand here, and I have a major brand there, and I can choose a person of color to work with.
Let's not make Black Wall Street a thing of the past. Let's make it a thing of the present."
If you and I were meeting three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel over the moon about your progress?
Tameka would like every hospital in the country to have a Capable Pant and Shirt instead of the hospital gowns that people wear. She would like people to have the option of feeling dignified when they visit the hospital.
How do you measure success?
Tameka was never raised to believe that she could have a powerful impact on this world. She never thought any of this was possible for her. She said, "I'm a little Black girl from Gary, Indiana, and I was raised to grow up and get a good job. And I said, okay, well, that's what I'm going to do. But I never had entrepreneurs in my family. I never really saw people who prospered that looked like me. And now I feel like the sky's the limit.
And if I can make an impact on this world, and maybe there's another little Brown girl out there who says I can do that too. Cause I never thought I could become a nurse, let alone a patented inventor. Those are the people we read about. And now to think that so much is possible. I want to leave an impact on every life I touch."
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing. How do you take care of yourself?
Tameka likes to spend time with her husband. They are both entrepreneurs, so they do their best to find time to spend with one another.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
Jeremiah 29:11, "For, I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord's plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
What is a book that you would recommend?
Book: A Promised Land by Barack Obama.
What's your favorite business hack or app you can't live without?
What's one food item that you have a hard time saying no to?
What's next for Capable Clothing?
Capable Clothing has numerous partnerships in the works, such as Wounded Veterans of America. She is working on fundraising and her mission to have Capable Clothing in every hospital in the country.
Any last words…
Tameka shared, "I would like to thank Black Girl Ventures for considering my product. I was definitely, without a doubt, the baby of the bunch, and that group of women I was with in Chicago, those sisters, they had some amazing businesses. They came in like I've been in ELLE; I was one of Oprah Winfrey's greatest things.
And I was like, I haven't done any of that. I'm like, how did I get in this room? And someone typed into the comments; you deserve a seat in this room. And I tried to digest—I just didn't—I think I just got lucky, but I was with some amazing sisters, and I learned a lot. I'm just thankful to Black Girl Ventures for letting me be a part of that, growing me up, and launching me into this world. I promise you. I promise you—sitting in the rooms I've been in, it's only been, what about two months sitting in the president's office of these major corporations?