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From a Brainstorm to a Product Line

The journey from an idea to a huge line on store shelves.

by Mike Hartnett (August 15, 2010)

Have you ever wondered how a great idea becomes a successful product line? I recently chatted with Jean Kievlan, an industry designer/consultant, and Ellie Joos, a marketing consultant and trends contributor, who shared with me the evolution of their DIY cloth diapering concept. Now branded Babyville Boutique™ and marketed by Prym Consumer USA, it's a study of how creativity and collaboration spell success.

The inspiration.

Jean: In 2008, my son and daughter-in-law were expecting their first baby -- my first grandchild. I had waited a long time, so I quickly considered all the cute things I could make for this little one. I also volunteered to begin stockpiling disposable diapers, but to my surprise, my daughter-in-law told me she was using cloth diapers!

Cloth diapers? I had always used disposables and assumed they were still a good choice, but my son and his wife were a "new generation" couple living in a progressive city and probably had ecological and financial considerations. With an open mind, I began looking for diaper patterns and found there were only a few in the retail stores, and the only fabric and other needed supplies had to be ordered through catalogs or the Internet. I used what was available and made a few diapers and covers, but I was not completely satisfied with the results. I knew there had to be a better way to construct them, so I started drafting my own pattern. With the help of some on-line research, I finally made a cloth diaper that really fit my new grandson. I was delighted with the results.

With enthusiasm and an increased interest, I searched the Internet and joined several diaper-making communities. When I started participating on the forums, I became aware that this was a lifestyle trend and was much bigger than I imagined. Having worked in the craft industry, I knew there was an opportunity to offer better patterns and a more convenient way to purchase supplies, but I needed help in determining where to begin and how to proceed.  

Mike: When Jean called me asking for advice on developing her idea and getting it to market, she convinced me that she had a great concept, but I began thinking it could be more than just a diaper pattern and an instruction book. I saw she envisioned a complete range of products. With that in mind, I directed her to Ellie Joos. With Ellie’s extensive knowledge and contacts in the sewing industry, I knew she was the right person to partner with Jean in this endeavor. 

Jean: Knowing Ellie’s reputation and having worked with her on other projects, I was confident Mike was right and if we could collaborate jointly, my idea just might develop into a complete program.  I was a little hesitant about how to present my idea about this “back-to-basics” trend but because of her verve and pizzazz, I knew I wanted to convince Ellie to come on-board.   I decided to plunge forward and gave Ellie a call.

The Partnership.

Ellie: I was delighted to hear from Jean. We had often seen each other at shows and worked together previously. I knew she was a multi-talented author and a popular consultant, so I was intrigued when she told me she had an idea about a possible product line that supported a "green" movement and lifestyle trend.

Jean: I told Ellie up front that I wasn't just looking to her for information and advice, but I was interested in her as a creative partner to help me develop the products and guide me to the right "entity" to take it to the retail market. At that point, I shared with Ellie my discovery of the resurgence of cloth diapering and the reasoning behind it -- ecology, economy and healthier babies.

I explained what modern cloth diapering entailed and why the new, innovative textiles had made it so different from what we knew from our years of babysitting in the '60s. With the development of PUL (polyurethane laminate fabric), colorful hook-and-loop tape, and convenient plastic snaps, young mothers were sewing these diapers as a creative outlet and not just out of their convictions. I told her about the forums that brought all these enthusiasts together for support and encouragement, especially for the novices who were just learning to sew. I confessed my addiction to sewing the different diaper styles and how much fun I was having.

I also told her about the struggle to find the supplies and how consumers were relegated to shop over the Internet and co-ops where orders took weeks to arrive. I gave Ellie some links to research for herself and asked her to get back to me after she had a chance to take it all in and form her own opinion.

Ellie:  I admit I was curious and intrigued, and a bit skeptical. I knew Jean to be very knowledgeable, so I felt like her idea was worth looking in to; however, I had no idea what was in store for me once I started going to the websites and forums.

In fifteen minutes, I knew Jean was on to the something fabulous! I immediately saw her "vision" and was so delighted she had offered me the opportunity to collaborate with her as co-developer of these products. I emailed Jean immediately with my emphatic "yes.!"

The Plan:

Ellie: Jean and I decided on our goal: to design diaper fabrics, create patterns that fit, write clear concise instruction books, and develop the notions and embellishments for a comprehensive range of products. We did our homework. We researched supporting demographics and trend information in order to compile hard numbers for potential sales. We sought census information on how many babies were born every year in the U.S., what percentage of the families used cloth diapers, etc. Jean had already developed a pattern in a variety of styles and sizes, but we needed accurate information to forecast the true potential of this program.

Jean: We also knew we had to pinpoint priorities and asses our own strengths. I knew immediately that Ellie would be best at organizing the agenda and preparing presentations for potential manufacturers. I continued to design the diapers and manage the legal aspects.

Ellie: In January 2010, we presented our concept to Prym Consumer USA, our first choice as a development partner. We delivered our presentation to their sales and marketing team, lead by Laura Mooney, Director of Marketing. We felt confident that they recognized our perception and approach.

Jean: Shortly after CHA 2010, we received the exciting news that Prym had decided to work with us. With their talented development team and reputation in the industry, we knew we had found a company who would successfully bring our vision to fruition. 

Babyville Boutique: A comprehensive diapering and accessory program is born 

Ellie: We were thrilled when Prym assigned Gwen Edwards as the product manager. Her first task was to organize a team of talented individuals to fully develop our concept, starting with its brand name. Spearheaded by the creative graphics of Angel Hartline, in conjunction with the Prym graphic design department, the team brainstormed and Babyville Boutique was born.

Gwen and the Prym team managed the product's timeline, and key aspects of development including sourcing, sampling, packaging, pricing, and compliance. Prym was charged with getting this program ready for retail, building an online marketing campaign to keep moms inspired to sew for their little ones, and connect them to others with whom they can share their creations.

Jean:  Ellie and I still had a lot of creative work to do, too!  We worked on mock-ups and samples for the presentations as well as dedicated a lot of time to writing two instruction books. We attended to other necessary items, including working with photographers on the store signage and publicity shots.

Ellie: We were confident in Prym’s ability to place the program with key retailers, but we were still anxious to hear the results. Finally they came. All of our hard work, careful decision making, planning, and collaboration had resulted in an overwhelming response from Prym’s accounts.

Jean:  Words cannot express my appreciation to Mike for his thoughtful and excellent advice. Without Ellie, I may have been overwhelmed and Babyville Boutique may not have become a reality. By choosing the right business partner in Prym Consumer, we are very pleased that soon mothers will have the option of outfitting their babies with easy-sew cloth diapers and accessories that are unique, green, and readily available.

The Babyville Boutique™ Facebook page, now up and running, is alive with excitement and pictures posted by some of the creative diaper sewing testers at: http://www.facebook.com/BabyvilleBoutique.



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