Near-Tragedy Turned To Big Bucks

Amilya Antonetti was at a loss trying to figure out how to comfort her ailing infant son. But, reports The Early Show's Melinda Murphy, as Antonetti braced herself for a tragic ending, she found the cause of his discomfort -- in her own home.

"David came home and right away, I could tell something wasn't right," Antonetti tells Murphy in this "Going For It" segment.

From the time he was born, David cried constantly, stopping only when both he and his mother were completely exhausted.

Antonetti says the face she always saw was David "crying, crying, crying. Every day."

And his problems went beyond crying. "He started breaking out in a deep, deep rash, to where, you know, I could just peel it back, and it looked like it was going down to, like, the bone," Antonetti remembers. "I would probably say every one to two weeks, we were going into the hospital."

But no doctor could figure out what was wrong with David. They told Antonetti to prepare for the worst. She recalls their saying, "This child is not getting any better. The writing is on the wall. And you just need to prepare yourself to let him go."

"I remember praying," Antonetti says, "and I remember saying, 'Please, if you let me keep him, I promise you, I will do something. I don't know what I'll do, but I will do something.' "

And so she did, reports Murphy. She started keeping a journal, and began to realize that David always went to the hospital on Tuesdays, the day she did housework.

She began to understand what was making her son so sick: David was allergic to many chemicals in the cleaning products -- even soap. "Without realizing it, what I was bathing him in was causing a lot of his problems," she observes.

Antonetti's grandmother suggested she make soap herself, with an old family recipe that was surprisingly simple. "Not a whole lot to it," Antonetti says. "A vegetable fat or an animal fat. …a palm kernel or a coconut oil. Soda ash is what we actually use in the product to make it solidify -- baking soda and a little bit of salt and a little bit of vinegar."

Slowly but surely, David improved, but other children they met at the hospital were still struggling.

"I was listening to other moms saying the same thing: that their kids were having skin reactions to their clothes," Antonetti says.

So she began to share her homemade soap: "I went from making a little pot of soap, to a big pot of soap, to making a big kettle of soap in my garage. And then, you know, eventually going into a big warehouse."

Since 1995, her company, Soapworks, has produced hypoallergenic cleaners, and now competes with the likes of Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever.

Antonetti points out she didn't take on the big boys by herself: "I can invite people onto my team to say, 'Look, your purpose is to come in, help me with the financial thing. Your purpose is to help me with the infrastructure. Your purpose is to help me build the best, you know, creative sales program."

She won't say how much Soapworks is worth now, but after three years, it was valued at $10 million.

But Antonetti says big bucks aren't her true motivation: She wants to be certain the company sticks to its purpose: helping others. "The fact that I can maybe help people find the little trail back to better choices, I'm blessed that I get to be able to do it."

The business has grown by leaps and bounds. So has David.

"How much do I love you?" Antonetti asks him.

"More than life," David responds.

David is 11 now, and divides his time between his divorced parents.

Antonetti's time is divided, too, between raising a son in Arizona, and raising her bottom line at corporate offices in New York City.

She's come a long way from mothering a sick child, Murphy says.

Asked what her greatest accomplishment is, Antonetti doesn't miss a beat: "My son. All I wanted to do was help my son. And now I get to help other people's kids."

Soapworks products run the gamut from dishwashing powder to liquid and powder laundry soap and all-purpose cleaning fluid.

Antonetti also travels the country lecturing about how to start a business, and the particular challenges female entrepreneurs face.
  • Brian Dakss

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.