An 'aha' moment

Judging by sales, industrial designer Merav Fleischer's creations are striking a chord with nursing mothers.

Merav Fleischer 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Merav Fleischer 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When industrial designer Merav Fleischer was pregnant with her first son, she couldn't find anything to wear. Then, when she was nursing him, she still couldn't find anything to wear. Out of desperation, she thought up a concept for a shirt - well, three shirts in one - that combined form and function. The three-piece stretchy cotton garment received so many compliments that four years ago, she started to manufacture them. Since then, her clothing and design company, Derech ("Way"), has sold over NIS 1 million worth of merchandise a year. "Thinking up this shirt proved to me that the best inventions in life come from your simplest needs," Fleischer, 39, told Metro in a recent interview in her studio in Moshav Shavei Zion in the Western Galilee. Talking to Fleischer gets your mind whirling. You start ticking off things you'd like to invent to improve the little parts of your life. This reporter imagined that it might be like having a chance to talk with Benjamin Franklin, the United States founding father who invented bi-focal lenses, the lightning rod and the odometer, among other items. You start dreaming of things you might need and shaping those dreams into concrete products. Fleischer, a graduate of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, said that the concept of ergonomics is what guides all her products. She says this means designing with people's needs in mind: a product should be not only practical, but also comfortable for the user. That idea is the guiding principle of her company, including its name, which she interprets as "a way of life." She said she turns to the Japanese way of thinking for further inspiration. "The Japanese taught me to look at the little details," she said. "The way that they package items, combine ideas. Look at the kimono. It's a simple dressing gown with a sash that's been in use for hundreds of years." Her shirt, for example, is not only a shirt, it's a concept similar to the design of Skins, Israeli-American designer Mark Klein's breakthrough shoe idea that has a permanent base and changeable outer shells, or skins. (The Skins shoes will be available in Israel in January 2009). The shirt starts off as a layer. A half-layer, to be precise. It's a one-sleeve part of a shirt, cut diagonally. A woman then adds a second layer over that, and then a third. Since the pieces of the shirt come in a rainbow of colors, a woman can buy three pieces and mix and match the colors, ending up with eight different outfits. What makes the shirt suitable for nursing women is that they can just pull down one section to feed their babies. Fleischer explained that the time of nursing is when a woman's body - and her wardrobe - are in a state of transition. "Yet women want to wear clothes that are practical for nursing, as well as pretty," she said. "There are a lot of demands on women at that time," Fleischer added, and "they need to be able to demand a lot from their clothes." At the time she was nursing her son, Amit, now seven, she found "crisscrossed" shirts similar to hers but the material wasn't strong and after all the pulling on it, the shirts stretched out. She also said that at the time, nursing clothes were geared toward religious women and the styles and colors didn't appeal to her. "I don't like to run after fashion," she said. "But I do like to work with colors and styles that are attractive." She was surprised to discover that the shirts, made out of a stretch cotton, appeal to women of all ages and not just those in their "Mommy" stage. The company has sold about 30,000 of the shirts this year alone. Yet Fleischer, who designed a diaper changing table for the children's company Shilav (which is still being sold), said her favorite designs are not fashions, but what's called "industrial design." Take her diaper bag, for example. She drummed it up when she had nothing to use to carry all her baby's things. As any parent of an infant can tell you, when you leave your house with a baby, you sometimes feel that you haven't actually left - you've brought all its contents with you. She designed a bag with pockets and zippers for all the essentials - diapers, baby wipes, bottles, toys, etc. - and the bag itself opens up and turns into a changing mat. This reporter's idea of a great invention was a magic device that is able to pick up all the infants' toys and hide them when company comes. But Fleischer has already invented it: the takeaway mattress. The baby can lie on the mattress, playing with his or her toys. When needed, parents can buckle the four sides, turning the mattress into a foamy four-sided tent, the toys hidden inside. What about a tracking device that allows you to find your children's missing socks which somehow always manage to vanish on the way to or from the washing machine? Fleischer hasn't come up with that yet, but she has come up with longer socks for infants since baby socks slip off. Her designer socks go up to the knees and no amount of wiggling can fling them off a baby's feet. Some of her other inventions include refrigerator magnets with Hebrew letters, made with colorful pictures; monthly calendars in which the baby's photograph can be slipped into a slot so that doting grandparents have their own Toddler-of-the-Month series on the wall; little cloth carrying bags shaped like houses for children to take to nursery school and day care; and shirts that people can give as gifts to men who've just become fathers. ("Nobody buys any gifts for them," Fleischer said.) She also hinted that she has other fanciful inventions up her sleeve, but until she receives patents, she can't reveal them. Let's just say they fall into the "Why didn't I think of that?" category. (She has already gone to court in four cases of copyright infringement). Fleischer is married to Dori, a computer specialist, who also helps her manage some of the business aspects of her company. They now have three children. She says it's important for women to consider creative solutions for their own household problems. She thought up her Shilav changing table when she realized that she didn't have a way to fit a standard-sized changing table cabinet in her small bathroom. She had an "aha" moment, and her husband helped her build a changing area that fit into a corner of a room. Fleischer is currently selling her merchandise from a store in Shavei Zion as well as through the network of stores called Dyada. (Fleischer serves as their in-house designer.) The company's Web site is; telephone: 077-5521468.