This post originally appeared on American Express OpenForum.One of the better reasons to start a business is when you find a unique and clever solution to an everyday problem. When such an “aha” moment happens, it’s a good idea to get yourself a little help from a patent lawyer, and then figure out how to create that product or service quickly, albeit masterfully. After all, good ideas that are new and new ideas that are good don’t come along too often.
Well, one did for fashion designer Pablo Porfirio. After years of designing clothing lines for both men and women, he witnessed countless pairs of non-tailored pants that were too-long and had fallen victim to scuffed cuffs. To avoid such a pants malady, he found himself playing around with at-home accoutrements to remedy the ground grazing and harsh hurdles that were a result of damp weather, switching between high heels and flats and pounding the pavement. Pants that weren’t expertly tailored and customised to an individual’s pair of shoes didn’t stand a chance of surviving. That is, until Porfirio got his great idea. His product, called kuffzUp, acts like a safety pin. It’s essentially a simple strap device that suspends and maintains fabric, hems or cuffs.
After adjusting the hem on my jeans to rest nicely above the ground, Porfirio shared the story and his evolution into product design.
What inspired you to invest your time and money into developing kuffzUp?
While designing some leather jeans for a hip-hop brand, I thought I should find a way for the hems to stay at a specific position because frayed denim is one thing, but leather is another. Many failed ideas later, I gave up because of the amount of variations in shoe style and cuff openings. A few years later, a factory I work with was producing some silicone and foam products, and the guy asked if I had any ideas he could try to make. The light bulb went on! I’d never thought of making a separate product to fix the cuffs—just something attached—since I design clothes, not devices.
You are already an established fashion designer. What convinced you that product design and development was a worthy project to pursue?
I haven’t put fashion design on the back burner, since I need to keep an income. For the past year, I’ve been designing and rejuvenating the brand, Members Only. I worked on kuffzUp in my spare time at night. Once I felt I had proof of concept, it was easy for me to commit more time and money to something I saw as essential as a safety pin.
You’ve essentially reinvented the wheel, only it’s reinventing the safety pin in your case. That kind of opportunity doesn’t emerge too often anymore.
When I realised that I had come up with a new type of pin, one that connected fabric at distal points, I became really excited and lost a lot of sleep over thinking about what that meant and how to perfect it. The product can be used for any number of applications where pinning needs a bridge from one point to the other. It has become bigger than the sum of its few parts, and useful for more than the original intention. If I [hadn’t been] paying attention to a small nuisance and seeing the potential in fixing it, I wouldn’t have been able to develop a more versatile product that’s useful for things I never intended to fix or pin together.
What are the steps involved with creating and pursuing this as a viable investment?
Technology and the Internet play a huge role in this. Being able to communicate easily from home and work with high quality off-the-shelf software to execute—all in my spare time—is more valuable than you might imagine. Also, if I didn’t have the clothing design experience in product development, the connections to factories and wasn’t able to do all the sketching, designing and prototype development corrections, as well as designing the packaging design, none of it would [have been] possible on the tiny budget I had to put it together.
How have you protected your invention from being snatched up by copycats?
I purposefully kept it under wraps with the exception of testing on dozens of friends and family. A new product like this has to work right out of the box. No chance to release a Beta product. If people find it has issues, I doubt they would give it a second chance. I have driven my factories crazy with the most minute details. In fact, three factories quit during my development sampling. After two years it finally all came together: product, packaging and website design. Now it’s time to make some noise and let people know there’s a simple solution to several problems that couldn’t be addressed with any previous single product.
Do you see yourself as an inventor now?
I’m still a designer with a focus on solving problems. People dressing poorly is a problem to me. Frayed hems and messy cuffs are also problems. I see many small problems all around me that aren’t being addressed fully, so if I have to design more products or clothes, I will. Part of design is to give people what they want before they know they want it. Product design is a little more directed at what they need before they need it. With millions, if not a billion, frayed cuffs around the world, it’s pretty safe to say kuffzUp is needed.
Have you begun to seek out investors?
Currently I’m able to meet my small investment needs personally, since all aspects are still being handled personally. Producing a single product, compared to a full line of clothing is much easier to finance alone. It won’t be till I ramp up volume and the product range into the next stages that I will need external financing. Going national, then international, will put pressures on me that I don’t have at the moment.
What big ideas and vision do you have now for kuffzUp?
The next stage is obviously the marketing and product diversification: making more colours and sizes to appeal to broader customer tastes. Selling to retailers and partnering up by co-branding with jeans and sports attire companies will create revenue, as well as bring more brand awareness to kuffzUp. I am taking a simple and practical product and turning it into a device for social change. I took a charity wristband, cut open the loop and super-glued safety pins at the ends of what became a strap. The kuffzUp design … resembles a charity wristband at first glance, but is far from being a simple non-utilitarian wrist decoration. My plans are to bring it full circle, and make it possible to incorporate charity via corporate sponsorship and the sharing of free kuffzUps from friend to friend. An Internet app and site will make this possible, but not till there is some momentum in the proliferation of kuffzUp into becoming a staple item in every home.
What advice do you have for other small-business owners with a product that aims to solve a problem?
Work on the problem till you find no other way to make it. Then put it aside and pretend it’s a new problem. See another way to do the same thing. I was still discovering other ways as I was writing my patent so I had to include many embodiments since I found so many ways to do the same thing. Before spending money on legal fees, trademarks and utility patents, spend your time on knocking yourself off. Once you have your design, see what other way it can be done so others can’t do it to you.
How much has this cost you so far?
I did nearly every aspect, except the legal stuff. I didn’t want to make a serious mistake that could cost me millions down the road. The legal basics, patent application and trademarking cost me about $8,000 with all the renewals and follow up. The rest of the work which I didn’t do, such as molds, samples and product development cost me another $4,000. The product itself costs what it costs, so it depends on what you might develop. It will cost at least this, and more if you can’t do all the other work by yourself. The marketing isn’t even included, which also means cost of sales and PR.
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