Founder’s Message

About Leslie Brooks, founder of Hippo Hug Weighted Blankets in Calgary, Alberta Canada

I have always had a lot of room in my heart for helping and empathy, I have never had a job that wasn’t some form of service. During university in Calgary, Alberta, I worked in a nursing home in England as well as with a family with several physically disabled children here in Calgary while taking classes. I began my full-time career working with children with autism at the Society for Treatment (STA) of Autism in Calgary as an Early Intervention Therapist (EIT) after receiving a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Calgary.

Then in 2008, I had the joy of becoming a mother. I made the choice to stay home full-time in Calgary, Alberta with my son, Grady. After a few years I began to work part-time as a home therapist for high-functioning school-age children with Autism; again doing intensive behavioural intervention. And then as a behaviour consultant under the direction of a psychologist, here I was the one primarily responsible for writing the behaviour programs and ensuring consistent implementation by the therapist working with each client.

It was while creating a program to aid a family in Calgary, Alberta with their child’s behaviours surrounding sleep that I mixed my sewing skills with my deep Autism knowledge base. I created what could be called Hippo Hug’s first product – a specialized sleep sack designed to offer deep pressure during sleep as well as preventing the client from accessing their diaper.

As I juggled the challenges of childcare, seeing clients and long commutes from home, the idea that this could be a business germinated in my mind. With the support of my husband I took a leap and Hippo Hug Weighted Blankets was created in late 2011.

I had a modest goal of making ten weighted blankets the following year. I felt that was enough to keep me busy and still stay and engaged mom but maybe earn enough to pay for a dinner or two out with my lovely family. In 2012, I made 60 weighted blankets! I was so surprised, I knew there was a demand but I had no idea.

The following year I doubled that and growth held steady until 2016 when I received an email from Maclean’s magazine asking to participate in an article they had planned. I was already quite busy and almost said no to their request for weighted blankets to photograph. I am so glad I didn’t, it took another leap of faith and things really started to take off. I had a few people casually helping with tasks but suddenly I had over a hundred orders. I hired more staff and kept pushing back my timeline to make a weighted blanket from two weeks, to four to six. I felt so terrible that I had to make people wait so long! But I was doing everything out of a single bedroom in the house, about 120 square feet! Thanks to the feature in Maclean’s we made 525 weighted blankets for people across Canada.

Because things were growing quickly, I was taking on work I never thought I’d have to consider. Luckily my son was in school full time and I had assembled a good team, but I needed more space! In December 2016 Hippo Hug opened in a mixed-use space with room for a storefront and lots of space for manufacturing. A perfect cap to our five year anniversary!

2017 saw more growth for the company and more learning curves for me but each challenge was welcome and as many said I was having the kind of “problems” entrepreneurs dream of. My new, and old, staff helped me refine processes and we have become very efficient, able to complete a weighted blanket in a day if needed. We were on track and excited to be helping so many people with their sleep and sensory needs.

Then weighted blankets went viral with an American company’s Kickstarter campaign to drop ship blankets that were manufactured overseas. While it felt a little like they, and other new to market competitors, had stolen our thunder a bit, our sales exploded. And being ‘the little local company that could’ it meant we had an added advantage when Christmas rolled around as we were able to ship custom blankets out the week before Christmas when our competitors couldn’t. In 2017 we made 1250 Canadian weighted blankets!

2018 solidified that desire to keep manufacturing a beautiful and individualised weighted blanket here in Calgary, I hired more staff and now we have 10 exceptional women working for Hippo Hug in various positions. Having such a great team meant that things flowed smoothly after I was hit and run over by a truck in the summer. The accident showed me how valuable it is to have good and caring people working behind the scenes, especially in a company where were really care about each of our customers. It also highlighted the need for a comfort care item like weighted blankets in hospitals and on emergency response vehicles.

I am excited to see where 2019 takes us and looking forward to hugging thousands of people in Canada without ever having to leave my desk. Thank you for all your support!