Under Wraps-School Leader, Inventor Unveils Braiding Machine

As a former classroom teacher, Gwendolyn W. remembers telling students about famous inventors. If things work out as she hopes, her name will someday be mentioned in the same breath as Thomas Edison or Leonardo De Vinci. Mrs. W. is the assistant principle at Garfield School, her alma mater. But in her spare time, she comes up with inventions. "I have so many invention ideas," she said. "They just pop into my head." One of them, called Flexible Braids, is being shopped around for potential manufacturers. The device has a patent pending, but Mrs. W still can't talk about how the invention works. But it is designed to allow braids to be re-curled without the need for a complete re-braiding or the dipping of hair into hot water. Re-braiding, Mrs. W said, can take eight to ten hours to change the hair style.

Flexible Braids, she said, can do it in minutes. "This, you can just re-curl it," she said. She built a prototype and tried it out on a friend of hers, Mrs. W said. "She said so many people came up to her and asked, 'did you get your hair re-braided?" Mrs. W. said. She came up with the idea for Flexible Braids in 1994. At the same time, she recalls, she also had an idea for a pair of scissors that would singe the hair tips, instead of requiring the end of a braided lock of hair to be held over a flame for singeing. She recently remembered her hair-singeing idea and did an Internet search. It turned out, the idea was put into production by someone else in 2001. "So I decided to go forward with this idea," Mrs. W said. "If the singeing was a good idea." She has registered the name and plans to bring other invention ideas to the marketplace if Flexible Braids takes off. If the product does take off and she gains financially, she plans to share the wealth with (her hometown) community.

"I say 'If I win, you guys win," Mrs. W said. "At Garfield, we need so much here. Even {the Community} needs so much. We need some positive things for kids to do." To that end, if she can afford it, she'd ideally like to help others in the inventing field. "I would love to open up a place to show kids or adults how to get their ideas produced," she said. If possible, she would go even further, Mrs. W said. "I feel I have houses I need to build and debts for others I need to pay," she said. But education is in her blood and she feels at home at Garfield. So even if she hits it big with inventing she wouldn't want to give up her position at the school. "I like administration and I love the children at Garfield," Mrs. W said. "I feel it's my destiny to be here."