The process behind building a product.
Ever wonder what our system is for building a product? Do you have an idea that you want to take from A-Z? Then this is the blog post for you. I firmly believe that sharing and being an open book is much more refreshing as opposed to the typical gatekeeping so many industries have set up to make it harder for others to succeed. I use this process in nearly every product we develop.
SO HERE WE GO:
Today I am going to share with you what the process was with our new genuine suede saddle seat cover. SURPRISE! This is our newest bespoke offering to debut this winter. Why make a suede seat cover? Well, the idea came to me when I was forecasting my desires for my business and what I wish was out there. I like silicone on breeches, but I also like leather a little more. While the progress for the full seat breeches has been slower than expected, I also realized the barrier to them being widely accepted again, was that breeches need to be taken off and washed after most uses whereas grip on your actual saddle would not be as often. You can use a lightly damp cloth to clean off the suede cover. So, lower maintenance is a positive but so is the protection that a cover would provide your seat. But what really got me to invest my time into developing the idea full throttle was when I rode western-I much prefer my suede seat barrel saddle to my slick seat ranch saddle. Lastly, and of great importance is the idea of developing fewer polyester based products as well as considering options for those who do not like silicone. One draw back to silicone is that even the best silicone only lasts so long, whereas suede can last for decades. All those points made me more excited by the day for developing this product. As with everything, I want you to get your wear from the products we sell, and have them last as long as possible.
Step 1: Ideation. This is the fun part, right? Typically I have ideas while riding, while watching riding videos on Instagram or while thinking about horses and riding, while talking to fellow equestrian friends (ahem, GG shirt). I also have ideas while I am doing other horse or outdoor related things (read: ALL THE TIME). The only time I do not think about ideas or thinking of solving problems is while grooming. Grooming is my time to focus on the energy of my horse and my energy for the time we are together. I always like to be present before riding or working so we can decide what adventures our time together will bring. I also love the scents of grooming, the method of it, the way everyone has a type of routine…grooming is awesome :) So, whether you have a fleeting thought or an idea hits you square in the face, write it down. Write it down and revisit it often. If you aren’t obsessed with it, it might not be worth your time. Consider what problem your idea solves. This can guide you in so many ways.
Step 2: Research. See if there is anything else on the market like it. When I made the Phoenix leggings back in 2018, (seems like an eternity and a lifetime of experiences ago), I just made them before looking to see if there was anything else like them out there. Then I wore them for a day and loved them so much that I decided to look-and found nothing. Nowadays I try to do my due-diligence and search the inter-webs. There are brilliant people in the universe and I truly believe that not one thought is original (for the most part). But I REALLY encourage you to realize this: YOU ARE UNIQUE. Your POV is unique, your experiences are unique. That is your advantage. Use it.
Searching the market for your invention or idea accomplishes two things: It shows you if the idea is something already being developed or sold, and it serves as a barometer of whether the market is ready for it or not. While this is an important step, you also have to go with your gut sometimes. When I made my first prototype and drawings there was nothing on the market like it, so then I had nothing to gauge its need from. I did some focus groups early on with moms and that helped a lot. Nowadays you could poll your instagram, do a patent search, look at Facebook groups. But always do what you can from the angle that the answers of the questions are anonymous if possible. You’ll get more honest feedback that way. Also keep in mind that even if no one says they would buy it or use it, it is ok to be ahead of your time. Then, check the price point. Check the prices of the materials it will take to create your idea. Make as many financial related notes as possible. That will help you with talking to manufacturers down the road on what your spending will be, and that will help guide the pattern and tech pack process.
For my first product, I always had in the back of my mind just how much the Equestrian space is steeped in tradition, but I still had no idea the reality of it. I had an upward battle with a mix of dislike and confusion when I introduced breeches with built-in underwear. Always remember that you will find your people-no matter how long it takes, you’ll find them. So do your research, take notes etc. If there is something out there like it, test your design and function and make it superior. Better functionality and design will always have a place. Look at how many car manufacturers there are and how many varieties. Be relentless.
Step 3: Celebration time! You’re now at one of the hardest parts, haha. This is the PROTOTYPE stage. You either need to source someone to build your design for you or build it yourself. I have developed products both ways, and it really is design and function dependent. If you plan on patenting the idea or are worried about elements that are unique you can have those involved sign a NDA. All of those things should be run by a qualified patent attorney. Patent attorneys are expensive, but totally worth their money, even if you decide to not go ahead with the patenting process. When it comes to building your first prototype, no matter if it is a simple shirt or a complicated boot, make sure you really find someone who you jive with. This is where it becomes product dependent. If you have an item that is made from a textile, you'll need to have a Tech pack made. Tech packs are the bread and butter of how to make a garment or item and are a digital framework. They take the project from A-Z. The first step in this-past the drawings you've made, is a pattern. I suggest you have a pattern made first. The reason I say this is because as you develop your idea, the textiles, colorways, packing instructions, might all change and you'll be potentially wasting money having a tech pack made that needs adjustments. Make sure if you buy services from an independent consultant that you buy the source file! If you go the route of Tech pack but it needs changing then you won’t need to have it remade, just amended.
You’ll also save money if you find out that when you thought you needed a pattern but really needed a CAD drawing or if you have a one size item and you do a tech pack and end up paying for size grading when you didn’t need it. You can do a tech pack at first if that is what you want or the person you hired wants you to do, but that can be done at a later date as well.
A good manufacturer can steer you in the right direction for your specific product. If you want a particular type of seam or fabric, who you hire matters. They will know what will work or not, and when in doubt I highly encourage you to try what you want. Another thing to note is that you are in charge of the project. You hired them, not the other way around. So if you think flatlock seams would be better or YOUR item, request them. It is your money.
You can find pattern makers and seamstresses online, but honestly my advice is to find someone as local to you as possible. Collaborating in person is a wonderful experience and a true way to get your POV across. As with all physical goods, seeing and touching it physically yourself while in the process of making it can make a huge difference. I realize this is not possible for everyone, so websites such as Upwork can be really useful. While taking an idea to a manufacturer for them to make into a pattern and a sample/prototype can be helpful due to ease of timing, there are some possible drawbacks-often a manufacturer employs their pattern makers and those who do tech packs, so they charge a premium. Likely, the price difference is to cover overhead and other expenses, so there is nothing wrong with the higher price tag. But when testing to see if an idea can even be done, these fees add up. Am I suggesting not hiring the best? Absolutely not. But I want you to know ALL of the info, and then you can make the nuanced decisions on your own.
The benefit of hiring a pattern maker through a manufacturer or someone they recommend, is that these individuals normally have a great deal of industry experience. So if the design is complicated, perhaps the process goes more quickly if you hire a person recommended. It truly is trial and error. Thankfully reviews exist online, and you can research the work of companies and pattern/prototype makers, manufacturers, tech pack developers, all of it.
Make sure that if you feel like your idea is falling on deaf ears or that if someone says your idea cannot come to fruition you RUN away from that, and keep pursuing what you believe can be made. Any manufacturer worth their weight can look at a poor prototype or terrible sketches and at the very least give you feedback or advice. I am so fortunate to have worked with a woman owned manufacturing company here in the US for many of my designs. A stellar manufacturer will be a combination of advisor, encyclopedia and mentor. But prior to meeting with anyone, buy some books or do some research so you know a little about what you speak of. This industry loves to take its time on things, and if people are busy, they won’t respond to queries timely. So make sure you present yourself as serious, dedicated and obsessed with your project.
If you put in the time to develop a relationship, it benefits everyone. Likewise, my project manager for our overseas manufacturing partner has been equally wonderful as our stateside manufacturer. FIND YOUR PEOPLE in design and manufacturing from the beginning of the journey, and it will change everything. This was a hard one for me, so trust me when I say I kissed a whole lot of toads before I found people who were invested in me. Be really honest with yourself and if you don't jive with the person or they have non constructive advice or opinions, find someone else. Life is short, and since projects take so much time-don’t waste precious time of yours on people who don't appreciate you or your business.
For our saddle cover, I sought out a leather company specifically. Thankfully, between the breeches I have created with leather incorporated, combined with my keen interest in leather it was an easy navigation on explaining what and how I wanted the suede used. From there I sent drawings and photos of saddle seats and measurements. I try to be as succinct as possible, and have everything I need in easy reach. Take photos of your sketches or drawings, hypothetical or real measurements, types of seams you like, fabric or textiles you prefer, even add things like weight, hand feel and opacity into your descriptions. For the saddle cover I wanted to make sure the drape was good, but it wasn't too thin. So I included the selected mm of suede thickness I felt ideal, and let the project manager and pattern maker test and try on my behalf based on their experience. I also asked about pricing-this can be tricky. Until a product is truly exactly what you want, it is hard to nail down firm pricing, which can also be determined by the quantity of items you order. That being said, this is not the time or place you want to skimp or try and save money. Make your product out of the best materials available to you first, and if it doesn’t pencil, then you make the needed changes. If you don’t start with what you really want to use or how you’ve envisioned it, you'll always wonder what the final product would have looked like or functioned like if you went high end first.
Now, take all of those files, notes and ramblings and put them in a Google drive folder for ease of finding.
Due to the length of this post, I will be continuing PART II of this blog next week. As always, thank you for reading, and if you have any questions about anything, please feel free to reach out and ask me. I am an open book ;)
xEm and May Babes