Marci Kossi AllerWare

Marci Komssi
Founder of AllerWare
FoodASC Member since 2017

 

Please tell us about yourself and why you are interested in food allergies.

Thirteen years ago, my Ryan son was diagnosed with food allergies.

Being a first time mom of twins, I was already overwhelmed and adding food allergies to my list of concerns made new motherhood seem like an impossible task. Resources were limited and leaving the safety of our home was a daunting task.  Support beyond our immediate family was non-existent.

When the boys were about 1 year old, Ryan had his first anaphylactic reaction after touching a dog toy that at one time contained peanut butter.

Although a frightening experience I was glad I had epinephrine on hand, due to an earlier mild reaction which led to his diagnosis, and knew to call 911. Unfortunately, that was all I knew. It never dawned on me to watch out for hidden allergens in anything other than food.

It never dawned on me to watch out for hidden allergens in anything other than food. Click To TweetNo one gave me a “heads up”.  There was no book, support group or other resource that I could consult.

I knew I had to do something to make this journey easier for the next family living with food allergies.

As I began brainstorming, I noticed how often people would ask to give my boys food or a “special treat” and it dawned on me that I needed to create a reminder that children could wear as an added piece of protection.

Using my business background, I got started by creating a business plan and hiring an artist to help bring my vision to life. But, that is as far as the business progressed. I had great drawings and a plan to create temporary tattoos, however my vision was on hold and literally stored in my closet for 8 years.

I returned to full time work, becoming a busy working Mom.

A few years later, when I was in between jobs, one of my former Dress for Success clients gave me some of my own advice which was “Don’t be afraid to try something new”.

I signed up for a business planning class through the Center for Women and Enterprise.   I removed the bag of artwork from my closet and rebuilt my business plan.

This time however, I knew that the products had to include more than just temporary tattoos. The product line was expanded to include stickers for children’s lunch boxes, paper bracelets to be used on class trips as an added reminder and garden flags to go outside the door to remind those well-meaning friends and family to leave the allergens at home.

A few months and a lot of work later, AllerWare, LLC was born!

Marci and Ryan of AllerWare
Marci and son Ryan, the inspiration behind AllerWare, LLC.

I guess you’d say I have always been an entrepreneur. As a child, I would make and sell cards around my neighborhood, or put on plays and charge .10 cents for admission. When I was in 9th grade, I became an Avon Lady! I have always wanted to own my own business but was waiting for that light bulb to go off and say, “this is it!”.

I hold an MBA in Organization Leadership and International Business from Johnson and Wales University.

Before starting AllerWare, I was the Director of Admissions for Bay Path University where I continue to teach leadership classes.

Following my role in admissions at Bay Path, I continued working with women as a Program Manager for the organization Dress for Success in Worcester, MA. My position consisted of helped women strengthen their skills in interviewing, resume building, networking, career advancement and more.

In addition to teaching at Bay Path University, I also teach at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Connecticut. It wasn’t until I left my job at Dress for Success that I knew it was time to start my own business.

 

Please tell us about your business.

AllerWare is an allergy-mom-owned company with a firsthand understanding of the needs of allergy parents.

Our products are thoughtfully designed to keep kids safe and give their parents peace of mind.

Additionally, our products are all designed in house and made in the USA. Since the majority of our products are used on a child (tattoos and bracelets), we wanted to make sure the quality and manufacturing are safe for most, if not all.

At AllerWare we believe that when a mom is feeding her baby for the first time, she is bonding; intrinsically telling her child she will nurture and keep him/her safe forever.

Food should be regarded as life giving, not life taking.

Food should be regarded as life giving, not life taking. Click To Tweet

baby drinking milk. AllerWare

We understand that young children with allergies need a special level of protection and parents need peace of mind.

We are committed to protecting children while alleviating the feeling of helplessness parents often feel when they are not able to be with their child.

Our products act as that reminder, when parents can’t be there.

 

Describe a challenging experience you had related to food allergies and your lessons learned.

On the second day of 2nd grade my son was given the wrong lunch box, which contained a peanut butter sandwich.

Immediately after taking a bite he knew something was wrong and turned to a lunch aid for help. He was quickly taken to the nurse’s office.

Although I had had a detailed conversation with the nurse before my son started school, I never reviewed the action plan step by step. I assumed the nurse understood the importance of administering epinephrine after someone consumes their allergen.  

We had to learn the hard way that she didn’t. My son was not given his EpiPen but rather given Benadryl and told to lay down while she called me. I actually drove the 3.5 miles to the school with an extra auto-injector in my hand!

Thankfully the Benadryl slowed the process.  Upon arrival at the hospital, he was given Epinephrine due to progression of his symptoms which resolved following treatment.

Now I never assume someone understands food allergies, how to use an epinephrine auto-injector or when to administer.

I always ask open ended questions such as 'How have you handled previous allergic reactions?”.Click To TweetI always ask open ended questions such as,  “How have you handled previous allergic reactions?”, “When is the last time you administered epinephrine?”  and  “How many children in your care are living with food allergies?”. This allows me to get a better understanding of their knowledge base.

 

Describe a rewarding experience you had related to food allergies.

I spend a great deal of time talking with educators, daycare providers, parents and children about understanding food allergies, hidden allergens and ways to keep our friends living with food allergies safe.

A few days after speaking at a local school assembly for 2nd through 4th graders, a mom came up to me in the town library and thanked me for sharing my story and explaining food allergies in a way that the children understood.

Her daughter came home informed and felt empowered to be able to help keep her friends living with food allergies safe.

She said her daughter now checks her lunch bag and her sibling’s bags to make sure they are bringing foods that won’t harm their classmates.

 

What motivates you to do what you do?

I am not only motivated by my children but my desire to make sure all children living with food allergies feel safe and included.

The Komssi Family
Marci and her children.

Do you have a go-to resource? If so, what is it and why is it useful?

There are so many useful resources available now, ironically it can be overwhelming.

Besides our allergist and my local support group, my primary go-to resources include, Facebook groups and websites like No Nuts Mom, AllergyMoms, AlleryEats.com and of course FoodASC.

Parents often ask excellent questions and it’s wonderful to hear how other parents handle various situations. Now that my son is a teen, I like to hear how fellow parents are managing their teens carrying epinephrine and preparing for college.

It’s also great to know I’m not alone. Thirteen years ago, I felt very isolated.  Fortunately, I no longer feel alone due to relationships I have made within our local community and via social media.

 

What do you wish other people knew about food allergies and what’s one action that can be performed to increase knowledge and awareness in the general population?

It is a dream of mine that everyone will take the time to better understand the signs and symptoms of food allergies and realize that a tiny bite can hurt.

Sharing our family’s food allergy experiences with others is one way I have found to bring awareness to this serious subject.

 

What advice would you give to someone just embarking upon this journey?

First and foremost, find a support group either on-line or on-ground. Having others who can share their experiences and make recommendations is very important.

Remember, no one knows your child better than you. Use your parental instincts when making the best decisions for your child and their needs.

 

Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

AllerWare is still in the growing stage and we are currently in the process of working with retailers to bring our products to store shelves.

As the New Year approaches, I am gearing up to hit the speaking circuit in order to continue raising awareness for those living with life threatening food allergies.

It is my belief that getting out there and talking about food allergies, the signs of an allergic reaction, the importance of carrying epinephrine and how to keep those living with food allergies safe will help save a life.

 

Thank you Marci for being part of our Member Spotlight!  Have any more questions for Marci? Ask them in the comments below.

 

Member Spotlight is our monthly column in which we interview FoodASC members to highlight their businesses, publications and personal experiences.  If you are interested in being featured or nominating another member for the spotlight, please contact info@foodasc.com.

 

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Leave a Reply

  1. Marci

    Donna,
    I never want to lose the persons interest by continuing a conversation that isn’t going anywhere by feeding them more information. I usually let them know that if they ever have any questions or concerns I am available to talk. If the opportunity comes up again to talk further I use that as my chance to help those who “don’t get it”, “get it”.

    1. Donna DeCosta Listing Owner

      Great point, Marci. People are ready to hear what you have to say at different times.

  2. Marci

    Thank you Cheryl. Those open ended questions are a great way to start a real conversation.

    1. Donna DeCosta Listing Owner

      Marci, if you find someone doesn’t understand food allergies based on their answers, what have you found is a good way to continue that conversation in a non-threatening manner?

  3. Cheryl Arnold

    Marci, I really need to memorize your stellar, open-ended questions! Great spotlight!

    1. Donna DeCosta Listing Owner

      Thanks for your comment, Cheryl. Yes, Marci’s questions are great to ask anyone taking care of your children.