Local man hopes invention can create jobs

By Hatzel Vela  bio | email | twitter

A local man is giving the old school hospital gown a make-over.

"People constantly complained about the hospital gown," said Harley Richards, who came up with what he calls the EZ-Gown, a robe he patented which doesn't have ties, instead uses plastic snaps that close the gown for privacy.

The idea was born out of frustration from patients and people who like him have worked in the medical field for decades.

"They were always having their back side showing," Richards said referring to patients, whom he said felt they needed more privacy from their gowns.

It took Richards almost four years to get a patent. Then he had to find a place to make his gowns.

A good fit for USNER Products, Inc, said Jim Slonecki, the owner of a small sewing factory in North Charleston.

"It fits our production perfectly and it's incredibly expandable," Slonecki said.

Richards said his creation is picking up steam here in the Lowcountry, but he is hoping it gets some national attention.

"We're just breaking into smaller venues, like the Med Express or Patient One Medical Centers," Richards said.

For now, the production of the gown and other products is enough work to help Slonecki keep a handful of workers around.

But the pair's ambitions are bigger. They want to tap into the big leagues when it comes to hospitals.

"You take five or six hospitals that would pick up on a deal and go with it. We could probably employ 16, maybe 20 people," Richards said.

"If you're making 50,000 [gowns] you can be much more cost effective and you'll be much more productive so you can sell it at a much more competitive price," said Slonecki, who feels like being competitive is key in an industry barely surviving because most of it has gone overseas.

Aside from tapping into private hospitals, Slonecki and Richards goal is to snatch up a government contract. They've been working with politicians at the federal level with the hope they can help land a major deal.

Each of the gowns cost about eight or nine dollars. Richards said they're not cheap, but they are comparable to gowns of similar quality.

©2009 WCSC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.