Six years ago, Jennifer LeBrun first created dryer balls as Christmas gifts for family.
Now LeBrun ships those dryer balls worldwide through her Parksville-based company, ULAT Dryer Balls.
LeBrun said she and her husband Koichi had to cut costs one Christmas.
“We couldn’t afford to give Christmas gifts and I have a background in fibres,” LeBrun said.
“I knew about wool and I had wool remnants. I thought, ‘Well, we have to use what we have at home for our Christmas gifts,’ so I just was playing and putting things together, brainstorming, and thought, ‘Well, a dryer ball, let’s give this a go.”
Dryer balls are meant to be a natural replacement for dryer sheets.
LeBrun said after creating the initial dryer ball, she and her husband put it in the dryer with a load. But the dryer shut off soon after.
“Then we thought, ‘We’ve now got to buy a new dryer. It’s broken,” LeBrun said.
But, they pulled out the clothes and they were all dry.
“This is bizarre, this is great. It’s working,” she said. “I was like, I think we have something here. I’m that kind of person, and my husband was like ‘Here we go.’ That’s OK. I’m an optimist and willing to try things.”
From there, LeBrun said, she called her lawyer to make sure they weren’t impeding on someone else’s invention before finally applying for a patent.
Just this week, LeBrun received the patent for ULAT Dryer Balls.
ULAT Dryer Balls, LeBrun said are made with 100 per cent Canadian wool. She said in the beginning, she used purely merino wool.
“As we were growing, I didn’t think it would be fair to purchase the merino. What’s going to happen to everybody else? That’s not fair. That would be selfish.”
Now the Alberta-based mill ULAT Dryer Balls buys wool from creates a blend of premium Canadian wools that meet LeBrun’s expectations for the product.
LeBrun, who used to live in Vancouver with her family, moved to Parksville in November 2016.
Now, LeBrun said, they run the entire business out of their home. Which hasn’t changed the business too much, but has slowed down the process, she added.
LeBrun said ULAT Dryer Balls hires work-at-home moms to help make the dryer balls, and in Vancouver, they would also hire retirees.
However since moving to the Island, LeBrun said, ULAT Dryer Balls only has about three work-at-home moms to help.
“Our buyers have been really patient, and customers have been really patient too.”
But none of that has stopped ULAT Dryer Balls from being recognized by Small Business BC.
ULAT Dryer Balls has made Small Business BC’s Top 10 list for the People’s Choice award.
But LeBrun will have to wait another two months to find out the results as the awards ceremony isn’t until Feb. 23, 2018.
LeBrun said looking back at when she first created the dryer balls, she didn’t think it would grow to be this big.
“It’s been outstanding, nothing that I thought could be possible,” LeBrun said. “People thought we were crazy, they were like ‘Patent? Whatever.’”
For more info on ULAT Dryer Balls, visit www.ulat.ca.