Prototyping and Production: Lessons in Getting Started

Proto2b

Not all fashion designers are necessarily inventors, however I think some inventors are certainly fashion designers.  I recently read somewhere that for every 3,000 ideas, only 2 will actually “make it” and become actual products.  That’s just 0.06%!!!   And while for many entrepreneurs, coming up with an idea is sometimes the easy part, prototyping and building a MVP (minimum viable product) can be overwhelming.  About a year ago, I started developing my idea for functional underwear for women to wear under yoga pants.  Sounds simple, right?  It turns out, it’s true what they say:  product development often takes longer and costs more than you expect.  In this post, I’ll share a bit about what I’ve learned so far in my journey.

One of the most common questions I’m asked is “how did you figure out how to even begin to do this?”  The simple answer is that is takes a long time and there’s no set way to do it.  There are endless hours of research, connecting and in some cases even begging people to hear you out.  People take different approaches based on experience, environment and other factors but in the end the goal is the same:  to develop a product from your vision.  The process is long but each milestone is more gratifying than the last.  Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past year.

First you have to decide to start.

We hear this all the time, and, while it seems it should be a very basic and simple first step it is actually one of the hardest.  It’s easy to become engrossed in years of research (literally) and busy yourself with business plans and meetings.  At some point, however, you have start and this can be super daunting for a few reasons.  I started my first prototypes by cutting up old underwear and t-shirts and sewing them together at Sector67.  Needless to say, they were not even close to my product now.  But with each step, I learned a little something to file away for my next prototype.  It’s an iterative process that sometimes seems to take forever.  Definitely do your research and talk to as many people as you can, and impose a definite start date for prototyping for yourself.

Proto2

Let’s talk intentions.

In the beginning you may be prototyping yourself so this point is less important.  Once I moved from making the proto myself however to relying on an outside party I quickly learned the importance of understanding their motivations and intentions.  Once you communicate your vision and expectations for the project you are managing the prototype in a more hands off way.  This can be challenging and frustrating, but it’s also a great opportunity to exercise your management skills as well as focus on developing other parts of the business.  Now, before I discuss with others who are a part of the development, I think about what their position might be and typically lead from there.  If their approach is no longer in alignment with the overall product vision it maybe time to move on and find another collaborator.  I think sometimes we hold on to relationships, particularly in the early stages, but it’s important to remember that there’s an entire world of smart people who can and want to help.  Your job is to find them; the ones who are truly passionate about your vision and your product.  Scour LinkedIn, attend networking events, tap into your existing connections and be relentless.

Fail. Learn. Repeat.  Emphasis on the learn.

Learning from mistakes is one of the most commonly talked about concepts, and it can be surprisingly challenging.  Sometimes I still catch myself stuck on an idea or concept and it’s difficult to think outside the box when it doesn’t work.  Taking proper time to reflect on mistakes though can save a ton of time (and money) down the road.

Although my product development stage is nearing the end (fingers crossed), it is not yet over.  The journey hasn’t exactly transpired the way I planned but the end result will hopefully be pretty darn close.  There will be more twists and turns and unexpected hiccups.  But isn’t this what entrepreneurship is all about?  Stick with your vision, fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride.

Learn more at www.eleveinnerwear.com.

Amy Miller

Amy Miller

Amy is the founder of Élevé Technical Innerwear, a startup that designs and manufactures women's sport specific athletic underwear (think underwear for yoga).Her background ranges from ballet to business and she has earned degrees in both Business Management and International Business from UW-Stevens Point.Amy is passionate about women's entrepreneurship and enjoys yoga, cycling, cooking, fashion and hanging out with her nine year old son. New to Madison, Amy is thrilled to be a part of the Madison Fashion Network!
Amy Miller

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