Pam Panella's Bug Off Suits Take the Sting Out of Summer

updated 07/30/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/30/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It was another delightful summer in New Hampshire. "There were blackflies everywhere," says Pam Panella. "They bite like mosquitoes. We couldn't even go outside."

Bugged beyond endurance, Panella, a 32-year-old drug counselor, took to her drawing board. Summer passed and fall too. Even an insect-free winter didn't deter her. Finally, just in time for the spring of 1989, Panella unveiled her answer to the flying hordes of stingers and biters—her own line of protective clothing, which she called Bug Off.

Panella's gnatty outfits are based on a simple concept. She took the mesh screening used to keep bugs out of tents and turned the material into a full suit. At first she was thinking small and wanted only to protect her daughters, Lillian, 7, and Olivia, 3; so the tinier prototypes all had flaps in the rear. "If I couldn't change diapers while my younger daughter was wearing it," says Panella, who is divorced, "I wasn't interested." For safety, she added fluorescent strips.

Panella's only business experience had been keeping the books for her ex-husband's tile-contracting company, but she set about lining up suppliers and sewers and by spring of last year had begun marketing her one-piece children's outfit, going door-to-door and stopping at local stores, touting its effectiveness as a deterrent to the Lyme-disease tick. Outdoorsy types—from golfers to hunters to gardeners—made a beeline to her first batch of 500 two-piece adult-size suits. Since then she has sold more than 1,000 Bug Offs from her home in Dublin, N.H., and they also are available through the Vermont Country Store catalog at $43.90 for adults, $28.95 for children.

For Panella, who works with drug-troubled adolescents at Dublin's Marathon House, the bug suit is still just a sideline. She has added such improvements as kneepads and a face mask—and is working on a line for preteens. Now all she has to do is iron out the bugs.

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