In 2013, Tamra Johnson’s daughter faced a life-or-death situation.
After contracting an E. coli bacterial infection, Johnson’s daughter, Maleena, lost function to both of her kidneys.
Fortunately, a kidney transplant from Maleena’s father, Jamie, saved her life, but it created a new problem: hydration. Maleena was expected to drink over four liters of water per day, Johnson said.
“She was drinking constantly and either dropping her water bottle, losing it or forgetting where she set it down,” Johnson said. “After watching her struggle and suffer, all I wanted to do was something to help make her life easier.”
That’s when Johnson transformed from a stay-at-home mom of five children to an entrepreneur. Johnson fashioned a paper water bottle sling and took the prototype to local sewing teacher. Not only did her daughter love it, but soon Johnson found herself wanting a fashionable, fabric water bottle holster.
Not long after, a business was born.
“The product was so convenient and useful for my daughter that I decided I wanted one,” said Johnson “Then I started thinking about the items I never leave the house without and figured out how to add them to the water bottle holder. What I was noticing is every time we’d wear the product around people would stop and ask where I got it.”
Eventually, Johnson and her husband couldn’t ignore the fact that there was a demand for a product like this, she said. Thus Johnson, who said she is not the type of person to do things halfway, decided to hit the ground running.
In 2015, Johnson launched HOLSTRit. The bottle holder now comes in a variety of different styles and colors, features pockets to contain everyday items and can be worn cross-body or around the waist.
Since its launch, Johnson has sold more than 3,500 products. With every sale, HOLSTRit gives a portion of the proceeds to the National Kidney Foundation.
“It never was my intention to start a business,” Johnson said. “To see how far I’ve come without knowing anything, and everything I’ve had to learn in the process, has been pretty amazing.”
The product isn’t just for staying hydrated. Johnson said the HOLSTRit is perfect for anyone riding a bike, going for a hike or for women who just hate carrying around a purse.
“I’m not a huge purse person,” Johnson said. “Every day, I throw my wallet in the bottle holder and then put my phone and my keys in the back.”
This month, HOLSTRit announced that it will be sold in the Made in KC shop, the firm’s first retail opportunity. HOLSTRit also has an established partnership with Charlie Hustle, in which bottle holders are sold with its trademarked KC heart logo.
Johnson said that the transition from stay-at-home mom to business owner was a difficult one, yet she has gained confidence along the way.
“My biggest personal issue was just doubting that I could do it,” Johnson said. “Before I started this company, I wasn’t even on Facebook. I definitely felt insecure about running a company and I had to learn a lot of it on my own. But going to trade shows and interacting with customers has been super fun.”
As HOLSTRit continues to grow, Johnson said she continues to amaze herself with what she’s capable of. She added that she’s proud her hard work could serve as a role model for her children.
“The greatest thing my oldest daughter (16) said to me several months ago is ‘You know what surprised me, mom, is I didn’t realize you were such a hard worker,’” Johnson said. “Which is funny because I’ve worked my tail off for them my whole life. But then I thought, that’s not a bad thing that I’m teaching my kids to work hard.”
Beginning in August, HOLSTRit will sell products featuring the University of Kansas logos. Johnson said that her goal for the year ahead is to become more connected with Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community.