Nursing and dietetics alumnae build confidence at the table through bonTop business
Written By: Rebecca Hoffa, firstname.lastname@example.org
When Purdue University College of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) alumnae Helen (Huser) Nill and Maria (Swiezy) Krach graduated with their respective degrees in nursing in 1983 and nutrition and dietetics in 1985, they never anticipated connecting years later to start their own business with three other women in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They didn’t even realize they’d encountered each other previously at Purdue when Nill had been Krach’s sorority rush counselor in Alpha Phi until weeks after they had officially met at a Fort Wayne Medical Society Alliance gathering.
Today the two women are business partners at Live On Goods, which specializes in providing stylish, dignified clothing protectors, which they named bonTops, to individuals of all ages and abilities as an alternative to a bib. These bonTops are designed to allow people with neurological disorders or other conditions where they may struggle with keeping their clothes clean and dry to do so without sacrificing their confidence or appearance.
The bonTops are designed to look like an actual top, rather than a bib. They come in several men’s and women’s styles and colors that are waterproof, durable, stain-resistant and washable. While the original prototypes were sewn internally, the bonTops are now assembled by KAM Manufacturing in Van Wert, Ohio.
“We think of the bonTops as a dining fashion accessory because you can have lots of different styles and colors depending on your outfit,” Nill said.
The idea originated from the women’s caregiving roles for various members of their families. Nill recalls being the caregiver for her mother-in-law and only finding clothing protectors that looked like a bib and seemed undignified. In realizing this lapse in the market, Nill was inspired to fill that demand.
Krach also was a caregiver for her parents, who were early champions of the bonTop, and her expertise as a dietitian showcased the need for individuals to feel good about themselves while they were eating to avoid negative consequences to their mental health.
“I found in my work that there’s so much isolation where people don’t feel good about themselves, so they don’t want to eat in front of others when they’re messy,” Krach said. “The whole idea was to design something that was beautiful or handsome so they could have an enjoyable dining experience.”
Nill and Krach lead the sales efforts for Live On Goods, having watched the company evolve from their relatives and friends when the company launched in 2016 to bulk sales in senior communities, memory care facilities, group homes, camps for teens with disabilities and more. The COVID-19 pandemic also led them to increase their online selling efforts.
One of the HHS alumnae’s favorite parts of their business is seeing the influence it has on individuals of all ages, boosting their confidence during meals.
“One thing that we’ve all super enjoyed is that the people that buy our bonTops a lot of times come with a story,” Nill said.
Nill and Krach noted that not all bonTop customers are elderly. Nill even wears one on her way to sales calls as she drinks her coffee in her car.
Nill recalls one bonTop customer who was a young college student who had fallen into a coma and had to spend significant time in rehabilitation. After her recovery, she had a lot of difficulty with eating without spilling on herself and required a clothing protector. After purchasing a bonTop, she was able to feel confident traveling to Europe, sipping wine in Paris wearing a black-and-white polka dot bonTop.
“When she and her mom came to try the bonTops that first day, her mom started crying because she likes to go to baseball games; she’s young; she’s being invited to weddings; and she doesn’t want to wear an ugly clothing protector,” Nill said.
Ultimately, Live On Goods’ mission is to empower their customers to feel confident, comfortable and independent at the table. Each bonTop is designed so individuals of all abilities can take them off and put them on without having to wait or ask for assistance.
“It’s the individual’s dignity,” Krach said. “I always go back to their dignity, and you know, there’s a tiny bit of embarrassment when someone says, ‘Would you like a clothing protector?’ I think it’s the way it’s presented.”
With Nill’s background in nursing across oncology and hospice care and Krach’s background as a private-practice dietitian, their healthcare experiences play a strong role in the company through their passion with connecting individuals to resources and solutions that improve their health and well-being. Further, their Purdue education also remains valuable in both their careers and volunteer efforts outside of the business as well as their entrepreneurial efforts within Live On Goods.
“You may not always stay in the exact career that you studied, but I think you know that you can learn things and adapt because you went to school,” Krach said. “I would say that’s probably one of the best things I’ve taken from Purdue is that I knew I was capable of doing work even in addition to what I studied at Purdue.”