Finding the right solution: Sulphur teacher moonlights as international businesswoman
Gina Foster leads an active life. For 27 years, she has been a teacher at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf, and for the past several years she has spent her evenings, weekends and summers focusing on her business Pockets.
Pockets specialty is creating sheets guaranteed not to pop off the bed during the night, and they have customers residing all across the world.
Foster said the idea for the company began seven years ago when her children were getting ready to go to summer camp.
“My daughter and son were going to go to summer camp, and on the shopping list of stuff to go buy, my daughter had added duct tape,” Foster said. “She wanted to tape her sheet to her plastic summer camp mattress. She said, ‘mom, every year my sheet comes off and I have to peel my face off the plastic mattress.’ The whole thought of it repulsed her, but I’m a problem solver, and I’m not going to send two kids off to summer camp with duct tape! So I sewed a sheet for her that wouldn’t pop off, and I found out that she and her brother were the only two kids who woke up with their sheet still on the mattress.”
She began selling the sheets on eBay and Etsy, and the business took off to the point that she needed to buy a building for all of her supplies and operations after it had begun to take over her house. At first, she was only making one type of sheet, suitable for summer camp mattresses or maybe dorm rooms, but people were requesting sheets for their beds at home.
“Every time I did a trade show I kept getting questions about sheets that won’t pop off for the home mattresses,” Foster said. “So for every hundred times I said no we don’t sell sheets for home mattresses, I would sell one of our bed sheets. I thought wow, I’m selling one, and I’m telling a hundred people no.”
Wanting to expand her business and continue helping people, she ended up designing sheets for all different kinds of mattresses. This includes sheets for truck drivers to use in their cabins.
“They were telling me that they hated it when their top sheet would fall onto the floor and they’d end up stepping on it in their greasy shoes,” she said. “So I figured out a way to make a top sheet that never touches the floor. I listened to our customers and figured out a way to fix their problem, and that’s how our company has grown.”
She also manufactures sheets for a custom mattress company out of New Zealand.
“The owner reached out to me and said he’d been searching for over a year for a company to make sheets for their beds,” Foster said. “They’re another homegrown company, and even though they sell hundreds of mattresses a year, they weren’t able to afford to work with a large company that would make them buy 1,000 sheets at a time.”
She said the company currently has some samples from Pockets and larger orders are currently sitting in quarantine because of COVID-19. After sitting for two months in quarantine in Los Angeles, they are now sitting in quarantine in New Zealand before he can pick them up.
When the pandemic hit earlier this year, she began making masks to donate to local businesses and health care providers, and they proved so popular she began selling them.
“I thought, oh my gosh, I’ve got fabric, I’ve got workers, and I’ve got industrial equipment,” Foster said. “We can make face masks. So I started researching how to make a qualified face mask — not an N95 — but exactly what it takes to make them safe when N95s aren’t required.”
Now all VA Centers across the state of Oklahoma wear her masks when the N95s are not required.
“We started out with a donation, and they appreciated the donation so much they actually placed a large order for all of their centers across the state,” Foster said.
Foster said she plans to continue teaching until she is eligible for retirement, at which point she will focus exclusively on her business.
“This is my 27th year at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf,” Foster said. “I have six more years until I can retire, so right now I’m juggling both.”