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Maternity gear with a difference

Dennee Forbes' special navel piercings for pregnant women are often the end of a long search for mothers-to-be attached to their body jewelry.
/ Source: BusinessWeek Online

When Dennee Forbes became pregnant three years ago, she had the usual concerns: Morning sickness, finding the right name, and the baby's health. More urgently, however, she wanted to know whether she could keep her belly-button piercing during her entire pregnancy.

The dilemma: If she left it in, she ran the painful risk of having the inflexible metal barbell cut through her skin as her belly grew. If she took it out, she might end up with scar tissue that would make repiercing difficult following her baby's birth. But, Forbes says, she was unwilling to bid farewell to her piercing.

Gestating an idea
In search of a solution, Forbes, an administrative assistant in Rochester, N.Y, visited every maternity shop, piercing store, and Web site she could find. "There was nothing out there," she says. "I searched different places and tried to make it work for me. There were some funny ideas like buying string, and there were plastic navel rings, but they're short and hard and don't last through pregnancy."

So Forbes took matters into her own hands. Through her online research, she eventually learned of a flexible, medical-grade tubing generally used in open heart surgery for blood drainage. It is nontoxic, biocompatible, and nonmetal. The tubing already had other cosmetic applications -- in under-the-skin piercings, for people who want raised circles and other shapes just beneath the surface.

Using the pliable cylinder with two end-balls to cap the openings, Forbes custom-made a piercing for herself and found it the perfect solution. "It had worked out great, and I told everybody I knew about it," Forbes says. She figured she was probably not the only mother-to-be with a pierced navel. So her pregnancy, it turns out, was also the gestation of a business idea.

International clientele
About a year after delivering her daughter, Lydia, Forbes started selling a few pieces of the 14-gauge, 2-inch barbells for $12.95 apiece on eBay. "I wanted to see what would happen," she says. The minute they hit eBay, they were snatched up. "Every month I was doubling my sales," she says. "At first it was one a week, then four, and then 10. I figured that if I was selling like this, I should probably start my own Web site," she says.

In 2003, she formally launched Pregnancy Piercings. The piercings, which can be cut to size, now cost $15.99 and come in nine different colors, including blue and pink to signify whether the wearer is having a boy or a girl. Forbes says she sells hundreds a month now.

Customers come from all over, including Japan, Taiwan, Sweden, Britain, and the Netherlands. "My clients are ecstatic," she says. "Like me, they had searched everywhere and couldn't find anything."

Common desire
Sarah Pollak, owner of Moms the Word, a maternity-clothing store in San Francisco, recently ordered 25 of Forbes' piercings. "In the last few years, pregnant women who are pierced have come into the store," she says. "It was a need that came up, but no one said, 'Do you have a solution?'"

It may not come as a surprise that mothers-to-be in artsy San Francisco are interested in the piercings, but Pollack says her suburban Walnut Creek [Calif.] store is getting a shipment, too. "I've been in this business for 20 years," Pollak says. "I know my customers well." And since she started telling clients about the jewelry of sorts, a waiting list has formed. "Just because you're a mom, you're not going to give that up," she says. "The stereotype of a mother who wouldn't possibly have a pierced belly button has gone out the window. That's cool."

As piercing in general has grown more mainstream, the idea of a pierced pregnant woman is becoming less outre. "It's very common for women who are already pierced to want to keep them in," says Megg Mass, outreach coordinator for the Association of Piercing Professionals and the owner of the Infinite Body Piercings shop in Philadelphia. "No ethical shop would pierce a woman who's already pregnant," she says. "But women who have a piercing usually want to keep them. Doctors generally tell them they can't, but with flexible jewelry, most women can keep their piercings in."

Belly of the month
Pregnancy Piercings, it seems, has a growing pool of potential customers. "It's not necessarily that there are more women out there" with piercings, Mass says, "It's just that we see more who want to keep their piercing."

Certainly Forbes thinks so, and she's starting to spread the world about her self-financed venture. Recently she began radio ads in her local Rochester market. Although she hasn't yet given up her day job, in time she hopes to make Pregnancy Piercings a full-time vocation.

In addition to the basic barbells, she recently expanded the line to include $24.99 end dangles in floral and other designs, which can attach to the barbells, and interchangeable end-ball colors that cost $5.99. She has also begun selling ancillary products like anti-stretch-mark cream on her Web site,, which features a Belly of the Month photo contest. "I was determined to keep my piercing, and I made a business out of it," she says.

For this mom, necessity really was the mother of invention.