Battered Wife Emerges as Self-Fulfilled Inventor
By Alison Jacques
Obtaining a patent isn’t for cowards.
Luckily, Dana Knowles isn’t afraid. When she hit upon her decorative knitted wrist accessories she found herself with a personal project and a mission.
“Years ago I was in an abusive marriage,” Knowles says. “I always say my story began when he put a loaded gun to my head. I eventually ended up in a women’s shelter.”
Knowles went from a wealthy lifestyle in an abusive marriage to loneliness and poverty as she scrounged in a shelter basement through boxes of clothing. The humbling experience helped recalibrate her worldview.
“It’s not about the money,” she says.
It was during this rebirth, while nestling at home after an illness that she conceived Kuphs – fashionable and functional fabric wrist accessories. In fact, it was another abused woman whom Knowles had taken in who left the knitting needles Knowles used to make her first set of Kuphs.
Knowles didn’t how to knit well. She read up on it on the Internet. She didn’t start out creating Kuphs. It was an accident. Carelessly, some unfinished yarn project fell across her wrist. She liked what she saw and inspiration struck.
“I’m tall, 5’8”,” Knowles says. “Sleeves are often too short.”
She had a favorite jacket hanging in her closet she was unable to wear because the sleeves weren’t long enough. That night she wore her jacket with two knitted wrist coverings to a party and was approached by five women asking where she got them. Viola.
By this time Knowles was remarried and had a second-hand store in West Virginia called Day’ Javu. She began to stock her creation on her counter.
To her delight, her knitted accessories sold. Showing some marketing savvy, she sent samples to a local school for Spirit Night and even to celebrities.
“All I need is one picture of who ever, Jessica Simpson, wearing them,” she says.
Early on, she visited a friend in Dallas who was a co-owner of a lingerie shop. He took her to a trade show where her knitted wares attracted attention. Her friend told her to license her idea and to name it. Her 20-something-year-old son came up with the name Kuphs.
She searched tirelessly for strong, soft, beautiful yarn, even venturing to a yarn factory in Ireland, but she found what she was looking for in Turkey. Next, she located a manufacturer in Manhattan. “I was adamant about staying in the USA,” she says.
Getting her product trademarked, however, presented an unforeseen hurdle.
Knowles’ attorney is from a large patent and trademark law firm in Virginia. But she says he failed to catch an error in her trademark application. The name Kuphs was too close to the real deal, cuffs. No can do, said the United States Patent and Trademark Office. So Knowles added scarves to her Kuphs line and her attorney resubmitted the paperwork. The USPTO recently approved Kuphs as a registered trademark.
She was recently elected treasurer of The Inventors Network of the Capital Area, which meets monthly in suburban Virginia, Maryland or at the USPTO.
Knowles dreams of her store helping more women with no place to turn and wants Kuphs to enable her to someday write a big check to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
She is helping women at a homeless shelter. If they are referred to her by an organization, “they can come in here and use this as a big clothes closet,” she says. She also hires women with little or no job skills to help get them on their feet, and donates $1 from each Kuphs sale to the NCADV.
Her mission is larger than selling her creation.
“It’s never been about the money,” she says.
Editor’s note: This article appears in the March 2010 print edition.