This blog post is written by Alyssa Jhirad ’18 and is a supplemental piece to Hathaway Brown School’s Spring/Summer 2017 HB Alumnae Magazine. Read the full issue at hb.edu/magazine.
Balancing babies, a dramatic career change, and successfully completing medical school may be impossible for most, but not for Tara Gallagher ’85. Earning a degree in Marketing and Advertising from Northwestern University, Tara pushed her way through the advertising industry, only to realize that marketing was not for her long-term. Once a week, Tara would volunteer at the children’s hospital in the evening; she would read books, play board games, and just talk to the children and their families. “I was looking forward to doing that every week more than my everyday job,” says Tara. Her time at the hospital made her realize that she wanted to do something more meaningful and improve improving the lives of others. After working in advertising for 4 years, Tara found a greater passion in medicine, so she returned to Cleveland to attend medical school at Case Western Reserve University. There, she balanced her school work with taking care of her first two children, which she had in her first 2 years of school.
As soon as Tara moved back to her hometown of Cleveland, her schedule was taken over by her wedding, medical school, and the pregnancy of her first daughter, Fallon, who was born at the end of her first year of medical school. Moving back to Cleveland for medical school was a complete 180 from what she had been doing. However, she successfully completed medical school while having two kids, and even though she had to withdrawn from the residency match, she used the knowledge she gained several years later when designing an innovative woman’s undergarment, the Bumbrella. Along with the morning sickness and the rigorous course load of medical school, her school days were longer than most since she had classes Monday through Friday and half a day on Saturdays: “So as the gross anatomy course is going along I am pregnant and going along with it- I’m getting bigger, bigger, and bigger every month so it was little hard to get in there and do dissections with the other students. And on top of it, I had to wear a special respirator mask because I couldn’t be exposed to chemicals because of the effect on a developing fetus”. This was only her first of four rigorous years she would spend in medical school: She realized she had a long way to go.
During her clinical rotations (3rd year of medical school), Tara was pregnant again with second child. “I found out I was pregnant with him the beginning of that third year. I did internal medicine for three months and that wasn’t too bad. I did some night call. And then I started to have a lot of morning sickness and not feel so great during my surgery rotation- that was brutal. You’re in the OR, you’re gowned and glove, it’s hot and you feel like you’re going to be sick.” Although it was difficult to be in surgeries, Tara claims that it made her medical school experience all the more unique. The reward of coming home to her beautiful children after a long day in school was one of the most satisfying feelings for her. According to Tara, her kids were her motivation to keep going and succeed through school. Tara graduated with distinction from Case Western Reserve University-School of Medicine in 1999; however, she never pursued her residency because her son sustained a serious head injury. She decided to focus her time and energy on her growing family as a full-time mother. Although she was disappointed with stalling her medical career, she enjoyed immersing herself fully in her children’s lives. Her bubbly and bright personality shines as she turns every unexpected negative into an inspirational positive.
After 15 years as a stay-at-home-mother, Tara began designing her product: Bumbrella. Tara was inspired to create this product after recognizing the increased incidence of women’s health issues associated with overuse and misuse of shapewear that became popular beginning in the late 90s. She read countless articles in medical journals and mainstream magazines. She learned women were suffering unnecessarily with abdominal pain, numbness and tingling in the upper legs, and urinary tract and yeast infections. Spanx, a well-known brand of compressive shapewear, was created to squeeze and reshape a woman’s figure. Spanx squeezes the abdomen which is quite uncomfortable and can lead to long term medical problems such as gastric reflux disease and other digestive issues. Describing her product, Tara says, “It’s actually not like Spanx at all…It’s not tight like shapewear and it smooths- it’s like a modern slip- most younger girls don’t know what a slip is, and there’s really nothing else for them to wear until this.” Bumbrella is a 2-in-1 mini slip. Its lightweight, comfortable, no-squeeze design features an attached panty that allows women to feel comfortable in their own bodies. Tara talks about how she has a strong feminist beliefs and that this product is based off of the belief that women should not have to hid their natural bodies and try to appear thinner, but rather they should feel comfortable in their skin. If women want to change their bodies, Tara promotes healthy diet and exercise rather than wearing a band-aid like Spanx. Medicine and business are on two completely opposite ends of the spectrum, but somehow Tara has managed bridge her two passions, fashion and medicine, and create an amazing, useful product.
Tara’s first step in creating her product was extensive research. Since research is everything in a product, she first had to determine the competitors, target audience, and educate herself about the small business world. Tara says, “You have to lay that solid foundation. Everything you do in life has to be built on a solid foundation”. The research was a time consuming process, but also the most helpful. Tara is inspired by her athletic wear because it offers the comfort she wants: “I run and I play tennis and I’m always wearing running skorts and I am so comfortable. I can run a half marathon without readjusting my clothes, but I go a party and wear a dress with a slip and I’m constantly uncomfortable and adjusting it.” Tara wanted to design a product that is both comfortable, practical and easy to wear during a long work day. She brought the idea to her amazing and supportive family, specifically her mother, who sewed a basic prototype. Tara then brought her crude prototype to a pattern-maker with had over 40 years of experience in the intimate apparel industry. Together, they developed a more accurate prototype, successfully bringing Tara’s vision to life. Once the prototype was ready, industry fit models helped perfect the garment by offering their opinions about the fit, design and feel. After this, everything started to fall into place.
She took all the advice she could get, and now she has a unique, patent-pending product that is organically growing across the USA and Canada and she couldn’t be happier. Tara aspires to helping women of all ages of feel confident in their clothes without sacrificing their health.