What’s better than coming up with a product that hits the market right as millions of potential customers are reaching the age when they’re likely to need it? For Anita (Gemperle) Mahaffey ’80, the bonus was the fact that she herself was experiencing the menopausal night sweats for which her pajamas could provide relief.
“This business has combined a lot of my passions,” Mahaffey says. “I love to market products — I love that creativity. I love to design products.”
Mahaffey built on her decades of experience importing robes and other items from Turkey when she started her Cool-jams line of moisture-wicking, quick-drying pajamas in 2005.
When she traveled to Turkey as an exchange student in 1976 just before starting her freshman year at USD, she had no idea that the relationships she forged in that Muslim country would help pave the way to a career as an international businesswoman.
“It’s kind of serendipity … because if I didn’t have this (exchange) program in Turkey, I probably never would have come back to connect with these people,” she reflects. “It’s funny how your life works, that synchronicity.”
After receiving her undergraduate business degree from USD, Mahaffey pursued a career in the corporate world. But as her family grew, she craved an entrepreneurial business that would let her be at home with her children.
She helped found Funika in 1987, supplying robes, towels and sleepwear to Macy’s, LL Bean and other stores.
When a number of factors converged — international air travel became more fraught after 9/11, she dealt with some serious health issues and her mother died — Mahaffey knew it was time to go in a new direction.
Mahaffey now runs the online business Cool-jams out of her San Diego home, using the same factory as Funika and continuing the business relationships she’s been building for decades.
“The men that I work with in Turkey are far more progressive than any male bosses or partners that I’ve had here in the United States,” she says, smiling at the sheer irony of that revelation.
Her timing with Cool-jams couldn’t have been better. The niche she’s found is aimed straight at the baby boomer generation that now has 2 million women turning 50 every year.
“It’s really helpful for a lot of people,” she says. “It’s really encouraging when you have a product that solves a problem.”
Mahaffey loves to mentor USD students and alumni in the ways of the international business world. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.