Bengkung belly binding is a Malaysian postpartum practice, involving an intricate wrapping and knotting of cloth around the midsection. The 15-yard-long, 10-inch-thick piece of cloth, wrapped from the lower hips upward, provides stability and healing for muscles, skin, and organs, but also prohibits movement and can be uncomfortable.
TQ Evans was dissatisfied by this age-old design.
Evans, a mother of three sons delivered naturally, wore the traditional belly binding around her house and her Charlottesville neighborhood, but when she went into town, she was uncomfortable with the bulky fabric. In search of a new spin on the old techniques, she created Prende Pants, a pregnancy recovery legging that combines Bengkung binding and the lifestyle of a mom on the go.
“I actually spent hundreds of dollars ordering everything under the sun that I could find and nothing actually did it,” Evans said. “Either it was very, very tight, it just simply didn’t work, or it was too loose.”
Unable to find a product that suited her needs, Evans imagined her own product that would combine tradition with comfort and style. She applied to the Community Investment Collaborative’s Entrepreneur Workshop, a program designed to motivate and teach entrepreneurs about launching or growing their businesses, and graduated in January.
“I was able to get connected with different people that would help me in different ways to kind of create their pieces of the puzzle,” Evans said. “They helped me get to the point of designing [Prende Pants], learning about fabric, learning about sewing, learning about how to even make a prototype.”
Evans has been working with local mothers and a manufacturer to ensure the product meets her specifications. She began her research by meeting with mothers in focus groups, asking what their needs and frustrations were when it came to their post-baby bodies.
“I literally sat on the Downtown Mall and stopped every single mom that I could to talk about her birth experience,” Evans said. “I heard the stories of local moms and their after-birth experiences and the frustration, even years after having a baby, of still being uncomfortable or insecure about their midsection.”
Evans compiled the feedback and created a prototype that she brought to Solid Stone Fabrics, a fabric manufacturer in Martinsville. Annie Miller, vice president of product design and development at Solid Stone, appreciated Evans’ flexibility.
“She brought in the basic idea,” Miller said. “We put it on a mannequin and started working with it and brainstorming with different ideas. She wasn’t set with a real specific development of the garment, but she had the concept and she knew what she wanted to do.”
After the first prototype was created, Evans distributed leggings to local moms in different stages of post-pregnancy life. Interested to see how different sizes fit on different women and how the product lived up to her expectations, Evans repeated this process three times.
Kim Anderson, a mother of three who met Evans through a shared daycare center, wore one of the prototypes.
“They weren’t like those compression shorts things that just kind of push your skin or fat one way or another,” said Anderson. “They just kind of compressed it in and smoothed everything out.”
Anderson shared her thoughts with Evans and was impressed by her receptiveness.
“She had a vision, but she also realized that other people’s insights and interactions were beneficial,” Anderson said. “Sometimes when something is your baby, it can be hard to take someone saying, ‘What if you did it this way or that way?’ but she was really great about it and really open.”
The leggings are in the final prototype phase, and Evans is awaiting one last version to ensure the material and design meet her standards. Although she tested the leggings with local moms, they have yet to be worn over a long period of time and their effectiveness remains to be seen.
Evans is waiting until the product is finalized before she determines their price. However, she is sparing no expense when it comes to ensuring the customer receives the best possible product, packaged with care and created with high-quality materials.
“It means that the pants are maybe not as low cost as they could be if I were to outsource to China,” Evans said. “But my customer cares about that. My customer cares about the impact on the environment. My customer cares about supporting the local economy.”
Evans showcased her product to the community in April at the Tom Tom Founders Festival’s Crowd-Funded Pitch Night. While she didn’t win the prize that night, she said she wants to support the local economy and to give back to the community that helped her to create Prende Pants.
“Charlottesville has a lot to do with the birth of the Prende Pants,” Evans said. “I live in a place where I have access to resources and programs like CIC, with all of these different people who I met who could have charged me an arm and a leg for their services, but are just so supportive of local entrepreneurs.”
Sales of Prende Pants are set to begin this coming winter.