Marita Loffredo, the woman behind the “handi-capable” mitten brand Phalang-Ease, keeps a pair of mittens with her at all times, even in the summer. Supermarkets are freezing cold, after all.
The 52-year-old mother of two, who lives in Rhode Island, has a constellation of autoimmune diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and Reynaud’s are compounded by pulmonary fibrosis and hypertension. She wears a nasal cannula 24 hours a day. She’s the full spectrum of things that could go wrong when you have rheumatoid arthritis, she says with a laugh. Loffredo laughs a lot, and heartily.
She’s been sick a long time — since high school, when she was diagnosed with juvenile polymyositis — but she doesn’t let her chronic, life-threatening diseases dampen her sunny disposition.
New England winters, on the other hand, were a problem. For a decade, she struggled to find a pair of gloves that fit her hands, which have RA-related deformities. So Loffredo, who says she has “enough sewing ability and plenty of arthritis” got to work on a pair of mittens that would make the cold and snow more bearable.
Over the last three years, Loffredo took steps to bring her homemade designs to the public. She partnered with a manufacturer in New Hampshire to develop her Phalang-Ease brand warm winter mittens made from soft, water- and wind-resistant material with large flaps at the wrist. I caught up with Loffredo on the phone to get the scoop on her one-of-a-kind designs.
Health Central (HC): How did you come up with the name, Phalang-Ease?
Marita Loffredo (ML): To tell you the truth, the original name I chose — because of the flap — was Flippin’ Mittens. But my mother said: ‘No 80-year-old is going to go around and say: Where are my Flippin’ Mittens?!’ I told her that was the joke! The new name took me a couple of years. It’s a play on the bones in the hand.
HC: When did you start thinking about making your own mittens?
ML: After I had my second son my hands got really crooked. As the years went on, they got more and more disfigured. So the winters would come and I would have nothing to put my hands in. I couldn’t get gloves on.
HC: What was winter like before you made your first pair of gloves?
ML: It was bad. A few years ago, there was a snowstorm — an icy one. And it took 15 minutes for me to clean my car off. By the time I got in my car and began to thaw out, I was nauseous. The pain was so intense. I knew I needed something, and I knew I wasn’t the only one.
HC: What does your family think of your business venture?
ML: My boys, they’re adults now, but they’ve been through the whole process with me. And it was great for them to learn about seeing a project through and overcoming obstacles. It’s been a neat experience for the family and for myself. It’s satisfying bringing a product that is genuinely needed to fruition.
HC: What’s it been like to meet people who also need something like Phalang-Ease?
ML: Everybody has a story. On the outside, you might look healthy. But with autoimmune diseases, you can’t always tell that someone is sick. It’s been really fun meeting people and hearing their stories and seeing them happy that they finally have something that’s warm and soft that they can fit on their hands. One woman I met — her hands were worse than mine and she told me she can’t wait for it to snow.
Phalang-Ease mittens are $37.50 and come in small, medium and large. Call 1-888-8MITTEN (864-8836) or visit phalangeasemittens.com for more information.
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Casey Nilsson writes about psoriasis and autoimmune diseases for HealthCentral. Casey is an award-winning magazine writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. She’s a 2017 Association of Health Care Journalists fellow and her story on unfair labor conditions for people with disabilities was a finalist for the 2016 City and Regional Magazine Association Awards. Follow her on Twitter @casey_nilsson.