That’s precisely what Kristīne Līpiņa has done. The Riga native figured that by adding cutting-edge padding to children’s headgear, she could protect the rascals’ heads while making it so comfortable they barely notice. And so Pad Hats were born, turning a simple idea into a promising start-up venture.
“I have many years of experience of designing things that kids need and like,” she says. “And these hats mean peace of mind for parents too.”
A graduate of the Latvian Music Academy, Kristīne started her working life as a choir conductor. Then in 2002, she put down her baton and founded the fashion label Mini Mode, offering stylish wool, cotton and linen clothes for kids. Twenty years in this business has made her expert on how youngsters grow. A two-year-old’s body may be tiny, but her head is almost as large as an adult’s, and this got Kristīne thinking about ways to safeguard this most vulnerable organ.
“It’s not a helmet, but it significantly reduces the risk of injury,” says Kristīne. “Especially for kids like my niece, who thinks she’s a tiger and runs and jumps like mad!”
In the summer of 2020, Kristīne took her idea to a business incubator in Kuldīga and received funding to develop it further. The hats employ Body Adjust Technology (BAT), a unique type of padding invented a decade ago by the Latvian firm Blindsave. BAT is harder at cooler temperatures and softens when it gets warmer, allowing it to take on the shape of the body,
Until now, BAT has been successfully used in protective sports equipment for adults, such as soccer shin guards. But Pad Hat is the first time it has been inserted into children’s attire.
According to Kristīne, kids have half a million falls a year in the USA alone, of which ten percent have serious consequences. Ninety percent of these accidents happen in home settings. During outdoor activities like bike riding, youngsters often wear helmets, but in apparently safe environments, they’re left to their own devices.
There’s extra padding on the back, because in most cases kids fall backwards (think hurtling along on a scooter), and they can even be worn by toddlers learning to walk. Pad Hats can safely absorb blows equivalent to 150 kilograms of force. Laying her own body on the line for science, Kristīne says she put some BAT padding over her hand, then thumped it hard with a heavy metal object. Apparently, it hurt a lot, but there wasn’t so much as a bruise.
Unlike Mini Mode items, Pad Hats are only sold online. While the 50-euro price tag may seem steep, Kristīne stresses you get much more than a piece of fabric.
“It’s less than a single visit to a trauma specialist will cost you,” she says.
The hats are entirely made in Latvia, at factories in Jelgava and Saldus. Sourcing from China is uneconomical unless orders are for huge quantities, and there are quality-control issues, so it makes sense to use suppliers close to home. Kristīne says that in addition to funding, the Kuldīga incubator provided her with invaluable exporting know-how.
Kristīne is assisted by a financial partner who mostly stays out of day-to-day matters, and a technical specialist dealing with online marketing. The enterprise is currently negotiating agreements with partners in Europe, and there is potentially a very large global market.
But making a fortune is not what motivates her.
“I’d like to be a millionaire, and with this product it might well happen,” she laughs. “But that’s not the main objective. My greatest satisfaction over all these years has been the creative process and seeing how it brings joy to people. And how much money do you really need anyway?”