NEW HARTFORD – About a year ago, as the coronavirus pandemic hit with full force, Olivia Carlson felt a deep concern about children who would be affected by being quarantined or separated from their classmates, friends and, in some cases, even their extended families.
The 23-year-old woman from New Hartford came up with an idea to create a way for children to feel safer while explaining why the world had changed overnight. Maybe it would lessen their anxiety and confusion, she thought.
So, Carlson, who graduated from Central Connecticut State University in October 2020 with a degree in dance education (she teaches at Torrington’s Doncin School of Dance) and a specialization in entrepreneurship, launched what she called “QuaranTine Bears” or “QT Bears” in it short. QT Bears are 28cm plush teddy bears that wear a face mask and have a matching mask for the child.
“I started the effort in April 2020, and I created it when the COVID-19 pandemic first began as a way to comfort children as they adapt to wearing masks in their daily lives,” said Carlson. . “My father, who died of pancreatic cancer in August 2018, was my inspiration for this idea. Before he died, he and I were given matching teddy bears; he is now buried with him, but I still have mine and it gives me comfort when I miss my father. This is what inspired me to use teddy bears to comfort children who may be struggling during this difficult time. “
With the help of friends and family who used Facebook and shared Carlson’s first post about the new venture, QT Bears took off “literally overnight,” she said. She was unprepared for the sheer volume of orders she received.
“I am so grateful to my first clients a year ago – I believe that if my friends and family hadn’t shared my post and helped it go viral, I wouldn’t be where I am today with QT Bear LLC. “
Carlson only had six bears to start her business and had to order more quickly when the requests poured in on Facebook.
“As of now, a year later, I have provided more than 2,000 QT Bears to children across the country,” she said. “I have sold and donated them to children struggling with COVID-19, as ‘quarantine gifts,’ donated to children in hospitals, relatives in nursing homes and elsewhere.”
For the first eight months she personally sewed all the masks for the bears and children. “My family was also a big help with the production – my mom cut the fabric, my aunt helped with sewing, and my grandmother helped with labels and packaging,” said Carlson.
She now has a manufacturer that makes both the bears and the masks. This was essential, she said, to continue the business.
“At one point in the beginning I was at the sewing machine every day for 10 hours a day. Now that I have a manufacturer, I can produce more bears and focus more on marketing and building my brand, as well as putting energy into where I want to take my business, ”said Carlson.
The response from those who ordered the QT Bears has been great, she said. “Most of the time, people say that QT Bears make children smile when times are tough.”
Here are a few customer reviews:
“We have a 5-year-old child with autism and wearing a mask has been a transition for us with the sensory obstacles. This bear made the transition easier! “
“It’s a great reminder for the time the kids were in it, and Jordan has been holding it all day, he says it helps him with his emotions.”
“Thank you for making wearing a mask fun for our toddlers. We have ordered one for each teacher to show the students how to wear masks correctly. “
While the pandemic is taking its hold and many kids are returning to school (albeit with masks on their little faces), QT Bears is still going strong.
“Let’s face it, wearing a mask has gotten old by now, but having a bear that suits you will never be fun,” Carlson joked. “As long as people are still wearing masks, I will continue to sell QT bears to spread positivity. Who doesn’t like teddy bears? “
Carlson said the message she’s spreading is changing this year.
“As the pandemic… is coming to an end, I’ve been thinking hard about where I want to focus my attention now,” she said. “I don’t want to stop spreading positivity, and I’ve seen firsthand how much joy something as simple as a teddy bear can bring. I will now shift my focus to children who are really struggling and most in need of love. “
With the help of the QT Bear community and her friends and family, Carlson has been able to donate teddy bears to the children at Tuft’s Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Emerson Hospital.
“One hundred percent of the proceeds from my fundraising campaign will go to making bears for the children in the Emerson Hospital emergency department,” she said.
Carlson will also convert QT Bear LLC into a non-profit organization. “I have decided to do this so that I can continue to make a real difference in the lives of children who need it most,” she said. “I believe having a non-profit organization will give my business unlimited opportunities to serve others. I will launch a new breed of bear to help children and families fighting cancer. “
Carlson believes he taught QT Bears a lot about herself and enriched her life.
“The experience has changed me in many ways,” she said. “First, it opened my eyes to a whole new business world that I didn’t know existed. I have realized that I have a real love and passion for the world of entrepreneurship and it has led me to do a lot of research on other successful female entrepreneurs making a difference in the world. “
She added that by setting up her business, she learned that “as long as you really do something good and are authentic, you will be successful.”
But most of the time, it made her realize that true happiness comes from helping others.
“The feeling I get when I know I’ve made someone’s day is invaluable,” said Carlson. “While I’m not sure what to expect next time, I know I want to keep spreading a smile in everything I do, and with confidence anything is possible.”
Find Carlson’s current fundraiser at www.spotfund.com/story/62c52568-d275-4aae-ab9d-b22973a45585. Also visit www.QTBears.com.