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Meet Industrial Designer Joy Mangano, The Reigning Queen of Infomercials

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"My name's Joy, by the way," exclaims Jennifer Lawrence in the recently released trailer for Joy. Lawrence is loosely referring to Joy Mangano, the peddler of Miracle Mops and queen of infomercials. The real Joy Mangano's industrial design career is all too easily dismissed as mere frivolity, but this film—written and directed by David O. Russell—is poised to change all that. Set to debut on Christmas Day, Joy boasts an formidable cast: Bradley Cooper will play an HSN executive, while Robert De Niro takes on the role of Joy's father. But, don't let the glamorous Hollywood pedigree fool you—Joy, by charting the turbulent entrepreneurial rise of a female designer—and single mother—from Long Island, is nothing short of radical.

Joy Mangano's career began in the most unlikely of places: Working part-time at an animal hospital in Huntington, New York. It was there that she had her first idea. Elegantly simple, Mangano devised a fluorescent flea collar that would safeguard runaway dogs and cats from oncoming traffic at night. However, it was when Hartz Mountain successfully introduced an identical product—her product—that Mangano realized that invention might be her calling. According to the New York Times, the 16-year-old vowed, "Next time I had a good idea, I would bring it to market.''

The common adage goes, "Good things tend to happen when you least expect them" and, most people don't expect to invent a nearly $200,000 million grossing product while mopping the floor of a suburban home in Smithtown, New York. But, not Joy Mangano. She told the New York Times that, ''I'd constantly be throwing them out or using sponges or paper towels to get the floors really clean." Far from the gripings of a perturbed housewife, Joy Mangano was analyzing a tangible problem. Her solution would be nothing short of brilliant.

Enter The Miracle Mop, a plastic mop with self-cleaning interlocking handles that allowed the wielder to handlessly wring out the device's all-cotton head. Ushering in a new age of cleanliness, Joy Mangano's invention dramatically simplified the lives of housewives, janitors, and well, just about anyone affronted by a dirty floor. In her own words, "I'm a mom, I work, I have a house to clean, things to organize. We all have certain similar needs, and I address them.''

Not one to back down from a promise, Mangano developed the product and begun the long, ardous task of building an empire. As a single mother with three children, a weekend job as a waitress, and a two-bedroom house, it wouldn't be an easy journey for her. She began in Long Island, where she hawked her prototype to friends, family members, and well, anyone who would listen.

She admits to the New York Times that she was often discouraged, ''They said, A mop is a mop is a mop. But I knew that wasn't the case. There was nothing like this out there. I thought the whole mop industry was being overlooked." In the end, she poured over $100,000 into the development of her novel invention, borrowing from relatives and emptying her savings.

It wasn't until 1992 that Joy Mangano received her big break. QVC, the cable television shopping network, hesitantly agreed to purchase 1,000 of her mops, admitting to her that they "Didn't really sell mops." And with good reason—barely any sold. Undeterred, Ms. Mangano convinced the resistant network to let her on the air. With a "sales pitch which came right from the heart," Ms. Mangano astonished everyone as a she calmly sold over 18,000 mops in the span of a 20-minute infomercial.

That infomercial changed everything for Joy Mangano. QVC quickly realized that she was their golden ticket into an untapped home goods market and bequeathed her a regular slot on the channel. Soon after, she founded Ingenious Designs and moved into her father's auto body shop. By 1995, sales of the Miracle Mop had exceeded $1 million per year and, in December of 1999, she sold Ingenious Designs to USA Networks for an undisclosed amount. A full ten years after the invention of her humble prototype, Ms. Mangano was sitting pretty as the triumphant queen of HSN.

To this day, her expansive 50,000-square-foot factory continues to churn out her clever concoctions. The Rolykit ($14.99) is a space-saving storage unit that unfurls for use, Piatto Bakery Box ($19.99) stores baked goods in a collapsible container, the Huggable Hangers (five for $9.99) keeps clothes from slipping through its cozy cladding, while the Jewel Kit ($39.99) is Joy Mangano's luxe velvet-lined jewelry box. And, of course, Miracle Mop remains the crown jewel of her empire.

Joy Mangano's story is an apt reminder that the anonymous contributions of female industrial designers are often hidden in plain sight. For proof, just look at the unsung hero of the flat-bottomed paper bag and its inventor, Maragaret E. Knight.

· Cleaning up in business, with a mop [The New York Times]