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Swaddling World's Children in Love

Entrepreneurs: Athena Demetrios wants her baby blankets, which she personally blesses, to envelope youngsters in comfort and security.

October 28, 1998|CLIFF ROTHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As you read this, Lisa Vermont will be on a plane from her home in Northern California to Khabarovsk, a small province in southern Russia, to adopt an abandoned baby from an orphanage. In her suitcase is a special flannel baby blanket, something to make 11-month-old Danica feel safe in the world as she makes the journey to her new home.

This is the story of her new blanket.

It's from a small, year-old Los Angeles company that has grown from the embers of the once-wounded heart of founder Athena Demetrios, who wants to "blanket the world with love," as her company's slogan promises. The soft little "blankies," as Demetrios calls them, made of cotton flannel with a 2-inch border of silky satin charmeuse, angel babies and cuddly cows floating on pastel backdrops--have been sold by the thousands across the country, each blessed by Demetrios before being leaving the Luv Dat Baby factory.

"The strongest healing force in the universe is love," Demetrios says. "When I bless the blankets, I believe that the resonance of love is infused in the fabric. I want that baby to be blanketed by . . . that resonance."

The words printed on the packaging, addressed to the baby, say it all: "Here is a blanket to call your very own. Sleep in peace, precious one, and angels will watch over you. This blanket has been blessed by a loving grandmother."

Luv Dat Baby blankets have been propelled into more than a hundred stores nationally, including select Nordstrom and Bellini stores, as well as smaller boutiques like Subtle Tones in Santa Monica.

And the blankets are also reaching down into the most wounded of society to touch lives in ways that Demetrios initially dreamed of. In the spring, she and partner Bunny Hart launched a charity drive to make the blankets available to children in less fortunate circumstances. They chose the little-known but dynamic Children's Institute International, which, among other services, provides emergency intervention for children caught in the cross-fire of domestic violence, quickly rushing them into shelters. The blankets are a source of comfort and stability when the children may have nothing else.

"These blankets bring joy to so many children. And besides that, they're cute," says Sandy Brooks, wife of country singer Garth Brooks, by phone from their Tennessee home. The couple found out about the blankets and charity drive when he worked on a music video in Los Angeles with Demetrios, who spends part of her time as a makeup artist.

John Travolta was a sponsor in the spring drive, which funded 200 blankets. The drive is again gearing up to fulfill the initial goal of 500 donated blankets, soliciting an additional sponsors who will buy Christmas blankets for the children.

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The seedling of the idea for the blanket was a serendipitous moment at LAX.

"I saw this little baby dragging a blanket, just too big for her, but she just wouldn't let the blanket go. It was like me dragging around a whole comforter," Demetrios says. So she designed a blanket measuring 18 inches by 21 inches--just big enough to feel ample to a child but small enough to carry around.

But it was the birth of her granddaughter, Ali, that was the catalyst to go into business.

"I wanted to create a blanket for her, something that would welcome her into our hearts and into the world," Demetrios explains. "And she became so attached to the blanket that . . . my son-in-law suggested I make these available to other children."

Like many entrepreneurial visions, the blankets also originate from a private, primal place. The 51-year-old grandmother of two remembers a natural impulse, even as a child of 5 or 6, to cover her siblings.

"After the house was still and quiet and everyone was asleep, I would get out of bed and make nightly rounds, ensuring that each of my six brothers and sisters was covered with their blankets. When I knew they were safe, warm and secure, the world felt right."

Finding Strength in Adversity

Demetrios overcame a "childhood with challenges," as she euphemistically calls it, but doesn't want to go into details.

"I just don't want to sound like a victim, which I'm not," she explains.

"I do believe our greatest gifts at times are born out of overcoming adversity. My experiences became my best teachers. They have helped to shape my character and have given me an empathetic and compassionate heart."

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Affirmations, faith in the universe and your higher self and belief that anything is possible have brought Demetrios to the magical place she sees herself in.

"I needed $150,000 to go into production--legal fees, trademarking, fabric, you name it--and had just left this discouraging meeting with my son-in-law and partner, John [Cornish], who was telling me it was high-risk capital and difficult to raise. I was driving home, I'll never forget this, driving down Vine and I made a right-hand turn on Fountain.

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