Nearly a decade after she first invented the Basket Mate, Najma Jamaludeen is preparing for its retail debut at Bed Bath & Beyond.
She fashioned the contraption — a mesh cover that keeps clothing from falling out of laundry baskets — in 2005, while living in a second-story walk-up with three young children.
“I just kept thinking, there must be a better way to get these clothes down two flights of stairs and to the laundromat,” said Najma, who has a degree in apparel textile merchandise.
The road to retail shelves, though, has been one fraught with years of tweaks, dozens of back-and-forths and hundreds of sales pitches.
In the end, Najma says the process has cost her more than $26,000 — roughly $6,000 in manufacturing costs and the rest in fees for patent attorneys and business licenses.
“For some people, maybe success does happen overnight,” said Najma, 42, who lives in Dundalk outside Baltimore. “But that’s not how it worked for us. You learn to be patient.”
Najma’s brother, Yusuf Jamaludeen, who has a background in sales, stumbled across her invention one day back in 2005. “I thought, I can sell that,” said Yusuf, who lives in Centreville.
Within a few months, the two had secured a deal with the Shopping Channel, a Canadian cable station.
That’s when the Jamuldeens hit their first road block.
The Shopping Channel had ordered 500 pieces. Najma found a manufacturer in China, mailed in her prototypes and placed an order.
But the product that came back was all wrong. The stitching was too loose, the quality of the material wasn’t right. Even the drawstrings were too flimsy. By the time the product had been perfected on a larger scale, two years had passed.
“That was our first major disappointment,” Yusuf said. “We just couldn’t fill the order. We had to go back to the drawing board.”
The next big break came in 2009, when the duo competed on Oprah’s “Next Big Thing.” The Jamaludeens made it past the first round, but never made it to television.
“There’s a lot of rejection when you’re trying to get someone to take a look at something that's never been created before,” Yusuf, 35, said.
Najma and Yusuf created an infomercial, traveled to regional trade shows and set up a Web site to sell their product. But the majority of their efforts went toward snagging a nationwide deal with a major retailer.
“Nearly 100 percent of our marketing so far has been toward distributors,” said Najma, adding that the company has a small warehouse in Silver Spring.
It was another few years before Basket Mate landed its next big break, 18 minutes of fame on the Home Shopping Network. In between two early morning appearances in March 2012, they sold out of all 500 units.
The Jamuldeens would not disclose how much it costs to make each item, and they said it was too soon to tell what revenue or profits might look like.
For now, Najma is in the process of shipping 1,000 Basket Mates to Bed, Bath & Beyond, which will begin selling the items at 50 stores across the country this spring.
Even that deal took time. The Jamaludeens say they have spent the past year reconfiguring their packaging to meet the mega-retailer’s specifications.
The Basket Mate now comes in a cardboard box (instead of a plastic package) and sells for $9.99 per piece (as opposed to $21.15 for a two-pack, as it had been sold on television).
“It took a really long time,” Yusuf said, “but it’s finally coming together.”