Local business makes protective electronics cases
PAT COPELAND | SUN
Rita Payne holding her final pac products for protecting
electronics is surrounded by some of the prototypes she
made using dresses and quilts she bought at Goodwill,
wetsuits, yoga mats and shower curtains.
ANNA MARIA – Some might call it a tragedy, but to Rita Payne, the day she dropped her $800 iPad in her driveway and it shattered into a thousand pieces became her lucky day.
“I had already gone through three phones by dropping them, so I went to the Apple store and asked for a case to keep my electronics safe,” she recalled. “All they had was a piece of plastic that goes over the screen. It offered no protection at all.
“I realized there was a huge need for something to protect people’s electronics. It had to be portable and impact and water resistant; something to go to the beach or coffee shop or carry on your bike.”
Payne headed for the Goodwill store, bought quilts and dresses and began sewing. She solicited the help of Mary Pat Swamy, of Key Royale, for a design. Her first prototype had a pocket, a flap and a strap, and she sold 45 to 50 at the Bridge Street markets.
“Then I realized that if I dropped it, it would break because the corners were only protected by a little bit of material,” she explained. “On these types of electronics, if you hit the corner, they shatter.
“I looked at wetsuits, yoga mats and shower curtains and then I had an 'aha' moment when I sewed the yoga mat and shower curtain together and put a strap on it. The beauty of it is that you never have to take it out because you can operate it through the vinyl.”
She added diagonal pieces of Velcro to protect the corners and mesh pockets for additional storage. When she saw that the shower curtain created distortion, she replaced it with marine vinyl to make it crystal clear.
Rap Pacs are born
She named the cases using her initials Rap (Rita Ann Payne) Pacs and added a charging port under a flap, so the tablets can be charged without taking them out of their pacs. Next came the true test.
“I threw one off my deck 12 feet up onto the ground, and it was still operating,” she said. “I threw it into a puddle in the pouring rain and opened it to show it was still running. My neighbor videotaped it, and it’s on the website.”
She found a pattern maker, Patty Spiro, of Sew Tec in Chipley, Fla., and after receiving her first pattern, she decided to have patterns made for smart phones and Kindles also. Spiro made the first samples, adding some finishing touches such as a handle and a clip on the tablet pac for a phone.
Payne’s goal to seek an American manufacturer led her to a company in California. She sent a pattern and received a sample, but when she called, the person on the other end of the phone spoke Chinese.
“I asked for my pattern back, and when they wouldn’t return it, I hopped on a plane and went to Los Angeles,” she recalled.
“I rented a car and drove to the factory to get my pattern. I investigated and saw giant boxes from China. They were sending everything to China to be manufactured.”
Made in America
Undeterred, she looked at an atlas and picked eight towns with populations of less than 1,000 and high unemployment and called the chambers of commerce and mayors’ offices to try and find a light industrial labor force.
“I got one response, and it was a dead end,” she continued. “Then I went to Craig’s List, and a woman named Arline Parvin in Lakeland responded immediately. I took the patterns to her, and she made them in two days.
“The pacs float, and the electronics can be used while they are inside the case. They can be cleaned and disinfected with household cleaners.”
Another of her goals, to put women to work, was being realized a little at a time. To add to that, two sisters at Quest Outfitters in Sarasota make the Velcro, webbing and clips, and Debbie Wohlers, of Holmes Beach, created the website.
Ten percent of the proceeds from the pacs goes to micro loans for women in the U.S. through Payne’s group Women Working for Women at Work. All the materials used in the pacs are produced in the U.S.