Bump-Proofing Those Noggins

Amanda Krzenski, left, and Karen Krzenski, right, designed the Whoopsiee to let adventurous toddlers explore while affording parents some peace of mind. Julie Fitzgerald Photo

   Necessity is the mother of invention, and sometimes the mothers are the inventors. That’s what happened with the new Whoopsiee — a half-hat, half-helmet of soft, reversible fabric engineered for adventurous toddlers by two South Fork moms.
    Karen and Amanda Krzenski are the co-creators and sisters-in-law, and besides being mothers, they both have backgrounds in child-related work. Karen Krzenski co-owned and operated the Side by Side day care center in Southampton for 16 years, and Amanda Krzenski has been a kindergarten teacher at the Springs School for more than a decade.
    Although Karen Krzenski’s children are older, Amanda Krzenski is the mother of the 29-month-old Kirra, who has also become the company’s guinea pig.
    When Kirra was starting to crawl, the family had recently moved into a new house with “wood floors, tile floors, sharp corners,” Amanda Krzenski said. To keep her from bumping her head on all that hard stuff, she wore what her mother termed “an ugly little something” passed down in the family, and most likely grandma-made. “Although it was a homemade, hideous-looking hat, it was a lifesaver,” she said. “Kirra could crawl, she could fall over, and she would just get a gentle bump. I didn’t want to inhibit her exploration, but I did want that peace of mind.”
    It was after several trips to “Aunt Karen’s” with the fashion faux pas on Kirra’s head that the Krzenski women, with Karen’s mother, Sue Adabody, an artist, began to work on a prototype. “Karen could see that it was awful looking, but it worked,” said Amanda Krzenski. “She said she wished she had something like that at the day care.”
    “We looked around to see if someone else had the idea, but there was nothing out there,” said Amanda Krzenski. She came upon a similar idea in a catalog, “but it was not breathable material, not machine washable. It was like a soft foam helmet, the kind they use for martial arts classes,” she said. “There was a hole in the market.”
    The Whoopsiee team has expanded, but it’s still all women and it’s still local. All the products, as well as the Whoopsiee itself, are manufactured in the United States. But the hats, which come with either a fish or butterfly on top, are also available online for around $45.
    “It’s not cheap to make things in America, but we thought it was important,” Amanda Krzenski said. “So the price point has to be a little higher.” The team recently manufactured 203 Whoopsiees at its factory.
    Why the extra E? When they went to register the name and the Web site, “it was already taken. So we added another E,” she said.
    The most popular model so far is the androgynous blue-and-green polka-dotted version of the Whoopsiee, “which makes a great shower gift,” said Amanda Krzenski. The team is hopeful that the Whoopsiee will be available in the spring at a few local stores, and maybe in a catalog as well. In the meantime, it can be found at whoopsiee.net. There are pret-a-porter hats, along with a chance to “design your own Whoopsiee.”
    Kirra has already told her mother that she won’t share her Whoopsiee with her 6-month-old sister, Cameron. “We’ll have to get another one,” Amanda Krzenski said.