Diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager, Ann Peyrat didn’t like the sound of the word diabetic — especially the “die” part — and quickly declared herself a “betes babe” instead. Now she’s developing a fun and fashionable line of accessories called Betes Babe to help others wear their “betes” in style.

Ann Peyrat has lived with diabetes since she was 16. Rather than give in to the disease, she was inspired to create an apparel line that would help others — particularly girls — feel better about themselves.

Ann Peyrat has lived with diabetes since she was 16. Rather than give in to the disease, she was inspired to create an apparel line that would help others — particularly girls — feel better about themselves. (Betes Babe photo)

LD: Tell me about your business.

AP: I was16 when I was diagnosed. I remember that because for most people it’s their sweet sixteen, but for me it was my no more sweet sixteen. I was always looking for products, new things to manage my disease and everything that was out there was either black or a steel kind of cold, hard medical look, and that’s not me. I’m pink and girly and match my outfits and I just didn’t see anything out there that was beyond this kind of utilitarian look. So in the back of my mind I was always searching for something and then got to the point where I said, “Well, why don’t I just make something that I like?”

It blossomed from there, but I never really had the big push to go out and do something as a business for other people until everything that happened with the (Santa Barbara) News-Press went down. All of a sudden I knew I couldn’t work there anymore … so that was kind of the push to say, “Hey, let’s dig in your heels and this is the time.”

LD: So were you making things for yourself?

AP: Yes, and just designing. I like to sketch or do little drawings, so I have a journal of all these ideas that I want to do. Some of them I don’t have the technical know-how to do. But for me that is one of the challenges. I’ve never run my own business before. I don’t know all the steps. But to me, it’s more satisfying to figure it out myself rather than just having to pay somebody to do everything for me. … I started out with just some small graphic design things, some T-shirts and things that are at CaféPress.com, so I didn’t have the overhead of having a warehouse … I’ve gotten responses from all over the place. … I’ve got orders from New York, Illinois, Michigan — just all over.

LD: Teenagers and young girls seem like a natural market for your products.

AP: Yes, I actually have a young friend, a schoolmate of mine, her daughter who is in third grade was just diagnosed and so I took her out just to be sort of a betes buddy, just so that she would know somebody else who had it who was maybe a girl. … I think girls and boys go through different things, and especially girls with hormones. It’s a different animal to have girls.

LD: I also think girls, for whatever reason, are so much more fashion-conscious. What are all your products?

AP: Right now I have T-shirts and bumper stickers and I’ve got a messenger bag, a canvas tote bag and all of these things have different messages on them, like “I heart insulin” or “I try not to be too sweet, it’s a betes thing.” I’ve got a tank top, I’ve got a golf T-shirt. You can check them out online at www.cafepress.com/betesbabe.

And then I have a few things for people who do want to wear their medical alert. I have a charm bracelet and I have a few different charms that can be put on it just to give maybe a little bit more attention to it. They don’t have any writing on it, but they have a red cross-type of medical symbol on them. And what I like about them is they’re silver but they all have kind of a stamp indentation on them, so if you want to change the color or you want to match your outfit, I’m sure a real jeweler would tell you not to do this, but I just use nail polish. … I also have some bracelets that have a satin ribbon and a felted wool flower on it.

LD: Those are really cute and they don’t look like a medical thing at all.

AP: And because I am manufacturing them myself, I can customize them. We make those specific to your disease, so if you have asthma, I can put asthma on there instead of diabetes.

LD: What is the best seller?

AP: Actually, it’s been one of my very basic “I heart insulin” shirts.

LD: Ultimately what is your goal with the business?

AP: My goal is definitely to grow it into a really big business and then sell it to somebody and maybe remain the face of it or help out in some capacity. But it just always really appealed to me to have something that was my own and to see it happen and if I have an idea to see that come to fruition. … But I got a part-time job because I need health insurance.

I did go through the WEV (Women’s Economic Ventures) program so that did help with getting going, but I still don’t know a lot.

LD: It’s a new market, so that makes it harder to figure out how to do things.

AP: Exactly. And because I have diabetes myself it makes it more personal to me and I think that I’m maybe more passionate about it than somebody else might be. It’s really one of those things where even if it’s slow at first, I’m not going to drop this idea just because it’s hard. I really want this and I want to do this for the diabetic community at large, and that’s inspirational to me to keep going.

LD: I know it’s hard sometimes with a chronic illness. Do you have any advice for somebody who was recently diagnosed with diabetes?

AP: Don’t be afraid to talk about it. You’ll be less alone if you’re able to talk about it. I think a lot of people are really interested. Nobody is going to make fun of you. I think people are sometimes afraid to be different. But especially with my business and having something cute that you can carry, I want people to feel like, OK, maybe you are special but it’s not special bad it’s special good. And again, for me being really open about things, I think it just starts a conversation. Somebody sees me carrying a cute bag and says, “Hey where did you get that bag?” That’s an opportunity for me to educate them a little bit and tell them a little bit more about what diabetes is, that you don’t have to be scared of it, you don’t have to worry too much.

Also, I think going along with talking about it is finding a support group or finding other people that you can talk to if you’re feeling alone. Believe me, you’re not.

LD: What else do you do when you’re not working?

AP: I wear many different hats and one of them is dog walking and dog sitting. I actually just got my first dog three years ago and I can’t believe I didn’t do it before that. There was no life before I had my dog. … I like to go to movies; I like to go out for food. … I’ve got a group of friends and we do Bunco every month, and then I’ve got a group of friends and we go out to dinner once a month, and then I’ve got a book club we do once a month. Things like that.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

AP: I guess optimistic would be a good one. Not always, but usually. I hope that I’m a good friend; that’s really important to me, friends and family. And I’m creative.

Vital Stats: Ann Peyrat

Born: Oct. 7 at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital

Family: Parents Adrian and Gloria Peyrat, and brother Alan

Civic Involvement: Volunteers at Fund for Santa Barbara and Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, donates money to others

Professional Accomplishments: Santa Barbara News-Press Public Square editor, special sections editor, and editor of Woman Magazine; UCSB, assistant to Chancellor Henry Yang; Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Foundation development coordinator; founder of Betes Babe

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Naked by David Sedaris

Little-Known Fact: “When I was 29 I lived in a van for a year to save money.”

Local Diabetes Resources

» Diabetes Resource Center of Santa Barbara County

» Carpinteria Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative

» Sansum Diabetes Research Institute

» Betes Babe

Write to leslie@lesliedinaberg.com.