In the year 2000, Van DiBernardo returned to Buffalo, New York where he believed he was going home to die.
Van was a shoe designer for the DKNY brand, designing and prototyping in Spain, Italy, France, and Brasil. A diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis put an end to his career, both globally and in New York. His condition progressed until he was no longer able to take care of himself. After one of several months-long stays at Columbia Presbyterian, Van returned home completely broken.
When summer rolled around, Van experienced dramatic set-backs brought on by the heat. Even exertional heat from physical therapy, or a too-warm room, could trigger the worsening of symptoms.
My name is Luanne DiBernardo, and Van is my brother. By chance, I also moved home to Buffalo after 15 years in Sarasota, Florida, where I worked in corporate advertising.
Van's struggle became close and personal. We had always been close, so his fight to rise to some margin of health was arduous and difficult to witness.
During summer months, Van either stayed indoors to avoid overheating -- which commonly compromises the chronically ill -- or he'd wear a cumbersome industrial cooling vest that became wet as the ice packs melted. I can still remember the day I handed my soggy brother a sketchbook, a set of graphite pencils, and said "you're a designer -- design a cooling vest that looks as good as it works; I'll do the rest."
After years of prototyping, then more years of trying to make a success of our first start-up company -- we realized we may have been high on innovation, but we were out of money. It was during the nation's hottest summer on record that we informed Tom Burns, our manufacturer, that we were done. That same day, Tom made us an offer we couldn't refuse. And that same day, we accepted.
Tom is a serial-entrepreneur who owns many companies, but its his Buffalo-based cut-and-sew shop that is responsible for our quality apparel since our early beginnings. His offer has paved the way for Oro Sports + Safety to rise to the head of the pack -- in quality, materials, and customer service.