pillow innovations 88 22.
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When my husband of 11 days brought home a gigantic red pillow for my birthday, I thought he was trying to tell me something.
"Aren't these for pregnant women?" I asked him, resisting the urge to pet the brightly-colored cushion and wondering where in the world I was going to put it.
"They're not just for pregnant women," he reassured me. "Try lying on it and you'll see what I mean."
I inched my neck and upper back into the middle of the crescent-shaped pillow. The ticking sound of small beads inside gradually slowed, and I sank into the softness. After a daydream that I had been transported to one of those gigantic toy rooms filled from floor to ceiling with colorful rubber balls, hubby was off the hook.
"OK, I see what you mean," I told him from my royal perch.
According to Yogev Avisar, the creator of Milega pillows, the first one he made was pure serendipity. "Like so many other things in life, it was an invention that connected two materials coincidentally," he explains. "I was making a lot of different things at the time, and I decided to make cushion hats using Styrofoam beads and a cotton and Lycra blend."
One day Avisar realized that there were only small beanbags available here, so he thought, why not make big ones? "We always knew we wanted to work in a studio of our own making things," he says. In fact, on a long trip to India, he and his girlfriend chose a name for their future studio. "Like every good Israeli, Michal and I went on a big trip abroad. During a 19-hour bus ride in India, we were dreaming about our future plans and where we would work when we came up with the name Milega."
According to Avisar, there are many translations for the Hindi word milega that the couple heard constantly while traveling. "It means 'possible' and 'please' as well as other things. People use it all the time in a positive way, and we liked it because it has some of the same sounds of our two names combined."
After they returned, Yogev and Michal got married. Twice. The first ceremony took place at the Fringe Theater Festival in Acre. The mutual friends who had introduced the pair were putting on a play that year called Hahatuna ["The Wedding"]. At the end of each production, a real bride and groom celebrated their union with a wedding reception. The troupe asked Yogev and Michal to be their first honorary bride and groom. "We couldn't get away with not having a big ceremony and inviting all the friends and family, so we had another wedding three months later," says Avisar. "Now we celebrate our anniversary twice a year."
In 1996, after the weddings, Avisar and Michal had the good fortune to live rent-free in a small neighborhood near Netanya. Not having the burden of rent allowed the creative pair to indulge in their artistic hobbies. Avisar made the first giant beanbag pillow and put it in the living room. Friends and neighbors started to order one after trying it out in their home.
"The first one I made looked like a piece of candy, because it had a drawstring on one side with the Styrofoam beads in the middle," says Avisar. "When people came over and sat on it, they liked it so much that they started to order from us, but we didn't realize how great it was until one of our friends, a rather expressive woman, sat on it and started screaming, 'This is ecstasy!' We knew she was exaggerating, but it was our eureka moment."
They met with lawyers, started to develop their business model and began sewing like crazy. Today, almost 12 years later, Milega has close to 40 employees and offers more than 100 different pillows of all shapes and sizes at its main store in Pardess Hanna, where the Avisars also make their home.
Two of Milega's four main pillows, The Big Yogi and The Small Yogi, were named in honor of Yogev, whose friends and family call him Yogi. But they were designed with a more personal need in mind. "When Michal got pregnant, she needed something for back pain that would help her get comfortable enough to sleep." Rather than pulling pillows off the couch and stuffing them into odd positions, the pair decided to design a gigantic, soft pillow that would bend and mold to support the natural contours of the body.
The flexibility of the Milega pillows makes them ideal for pregnant women, who often complain of sleeping difficulties. "Women who are nine months pregnant are able to lie on their bellies with The Big Yogi," says Avisar. "As soon as other pregnant women see that, a huge line forms and everyone wants to try it out."
Milega pillows are sold exclusively in Israel, but Avisar says plans for expansion are in the works with Los Angeles-based business tycoon and movie producer Moshe Diamant. "I get phone calls about once a week from someone wanting to export the pillows or copy them, so I didn't take it too seriously until I looked him [Diamant] up on Google and realized who he is," Avisar says.
The meeting was a great success. Diamant explained that his children, who spend time in both here and in the US, wanted the Milega pillows in their Los Angeles home too and couldn't understand why they weren't available. Diamant decided to find out if he could import them.
"We spent about an hour together, and the first contract has already been signed," Avisar says of the future plans. "We're hoping that Diamant can help make Milega a big hit in the United States too."
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