Entrepreneur puts best fuzzy foot forward in plush-pajamas business

While Valerie Bent doesn't go to work in her pajamas, she could. And there's a chance she might be working on your next pair of PJs.

The desire for the coziness and comfort of footie pajamas in adult sizes led this former stock broker to start a company specializing in them.

The Big Feet Pajama Co. (www.bigfeetpjs.com) ships flannel, fleece, jersey and cashmere PJs around the world, and they've become a favorite of celebrities, including Whoopi Goldberg, who bought "hundreds of pairs" last holiday season as gifts, Bent said.

"Whoopi found out about us at the 2006 Academy Awards," Bent said. "Our PJs were in the party bags, where people think plasma TVs, diamonds and gems and trips to Hawaii. Why in the world would they want us? We're a $45 pair of PJs, but people get a kick out of kitschy gifts.

"I've heard from so many people who loved them and then purchased more for friends and family," Bent said. "We're a unique product. You walk into a department store or mall and you aren't going to find these, but we're working on that."

Bent said her PJs are now available in about 50 stores in the United States, including all Cabella's stores. They are also in boutiques across western Europe and Canada, Bent said. A typical day has shipments from her Las Vegas warehouse going to Australia, New Zealand and many European locations.

"Business has been phenomenal," she said. "We tripled business over 2005 and doubled that in 2006." Bent founded the company in January 2005, and shipped the first pair of adult footies in September 2005. The garments are designed in Las Vegas, with manufacturing in China. Fabrics come from all over the world, Bent said.

"I was looking to do the manufacturing domestically, but it was too darn expensive and I was not pleased with the working conditions I saw in North Carolina. I saw the factories (in China) in person and spent two or three days there talking to workers and management.

"They use adults and they have phenomenal working conditions, including apartments, a nice campus and cafeterias."

Bent's desire to find grown-up sized footie PJs came after she was treated for thyroid cancer.

"One thing the thyroid does is regulate body temperature and I am always freezing. At night I had a tendency to wake up with head colds. I wanted a pair of footies, but found not many people were producing them. They were hard to come by, so I decided to build a business around it," Bent said.

The business has a huge e-commerce component; about 70 percent of the orders come from individuals. Bent said she's sold out the past two Christmas seasons and is working now to avoid a repeat this year.

Orders are accepted online or by the toll-free number (888) 682-3338.

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