Another Hair Brained Idea

updated 08/02/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/02/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

THE REST OF THE COUNTRY MAY NEVER FORGET THE SLOW-ERIPTING sexual Vesuvius Meg Ryan faked over a pastrami sandwich in a Manhattan deli, but what Tomina Ed-mark best remembers about the 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally... is the moment or two she spent in the aisle on the way to her seat. "I was following a girl, and she had kind of an interesting twist on her hair," says Ed-mark, 36. "I'm an avid knitter, and you know how knitters are always turning their things inside out? For some reason, the lightbulb went on, and I thought, 'You know, I wonder if I could turn a ponytail inside out?' "

Anyone else might also wonder why? But not Edmark. Already that year the inventive Dallas-based IBM marketing representative had turned a bad kiss ("My partner was saying how great it was, and I was checking my mouth for broken bridgework") into the successful guide Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know. Who knew what she could make of this pony tail thing? "First I put an elastic band on the end of a pencil," she says. "Then a paper clip on the end of my toothbrush." She took her final product—a modified circular knitting needle—to a party the next day and wove it through her girlfriends' long hair. Says Ed-mark: "They went nuts."

Ditto much of the rest of the world. Two years after Ed-mark first demonstrated her prototype, some 5 million women—from America to South Africa to Japan—turn their hair into twists and chignons with a flick of the wrist, thanks to Edmark's patented TopsyTail. (You've seen the commercial: Edmark, with long mane, stands in front of a mirror, sticks a $15 plastic rod in the back of her head and—voilà! a perfect coif.) So far, the gizmo has earned Edmark "close to eight figures" she says.

For that achievement, some of the thanks go to her father, Bill, 69, a retired cardiovascular surgeon and tireless inventor of medical gadgets. "I grew up with animal hearts in the refrigerator," says Tomina of his endless experiments. "Things were always dripping." Says John, 35, the second of Tomina's five brothers: "Our father always encouraged us. If you have a great idea, go with it."

When financially strapped IBM offered its employees incentive packages for early retirement last year, Edmark didn't have to think twice before taking her $25,000. "I was never going to get rich at IBM," she says. "I wanted to be my own boss." Now that she is, she has had little time to enjoy the fruits of her success. Unattached, Edmark does most of her cuddling these days with her shar-pei dogs, Topsy and Smooch, and runs her business from the converted sewing room of her modest Dallas home. She's looking for bigger digs—but plans to keep her office in-house. "I can work in. my bathrobe," explains Edmark. That, and she doesn't have to do her hair before work.

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