Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Prototype Party

A few weeks ago, the board and staff at HCHT invited some of our friends to get together and evaluate  new product ideas for our artisans. It was a wonderful evening with amazing food (I'm still thinking about Meagan's artichoke dip) while our stylish friends told us what they liked and what they didn't. This is Jenny, the vice-president of our board, enjoying the dip, which was really, really good.

We have two goals for our new products: We want to honor the artistic and cultural heritage of our artisans. We also want to use environmentally responsible and up-cycled materials. Many of the new pieces were made by the women, several by Caren and me, plus a few ideas we've been gathering. It was wonderful to hear the honest reaction of people whose opinions we value. We loved that Ruchi Agrawal and Patricia Haber from Handmade Expressions came; they met with Caren a few weeks ago and brought designs to the party that reworked our artisans' original products in amazing and simple new ways.

We laid out the new prototypes in categories. Above you can see the yarn the women use to weave each bag, our woven bags, and several rice bag products.

We had several different types of jewelry.

Looking at all of the jewelry the women had been making, it was amazing to think how much work has gone into the new product development. We have pushed these women to change their designs and to try new things; some of these products will never work and some are so good we're going to be ready to produce them immediately. We feel a debt to these hard-working artisans to figure out what is popular and what will sell so that their time is spent in making items that are marketable.

We numbered each prototype, put a small bag beside it, and asked our friends to answer three questions: Would you buy this? If so, how much would you pay? If not, what would you change or what suggestions do you have?

We got feedback on each product and then asked everyone to cast a vote on their five favorite prototypes by putting a neon sticker on the bag they liked the most. That helped us see which ideas were immediately the most popular.

After everyone had given us specific feedback, we gathered in the living room and brainstormed for over an hour about what new products we could develop.

One of my favorite ideas was Reagan's--she suggested we turn a hill tribe woven bag into a sophisticated clutch. I already made a prototype (from an old woven bag, a Cheerios box and some duct tape, not my most professional work!) and that one's in the pipeline. Dearing suggested a simple one, making an up-cycled lunch box like a mini version of our Rice-Cycled tote bags. There were also several great baby product ideas that we're working on now.

Honestly, we didn't take many pictures while we were brainstorming  because were all writing down ideas. My mind was so full by the time I left, it's taken me about a month to process everything. We've been thinking through and pairing down based on what's marketable, what's easy to make, and what the women want to work on. They have vetoed a couple of projects and come up with some amazing new ones. We are committed to this being a collaborative process and it is crucial to us that we work with the women to make items that they are as excited to make as we are to sell.

Mostly I was reminded of how amazing it is to work with such a great team. This is Meagan, me, and Caren, the core group who meet with the artisans and have ESL class during the week.

Erika, Jenny and Terra (our beloved president of the board who was so busy hosting that she's not in our pictures) are an integral part of what we do. There were friends like Fran who have sat with many of our artisans and taught them to sew; Mary, the intern from last summer, and Kelsi, the intern this summer, whose excitement and passion inspire us; Constance, our new friend with a thousand ideas who just got back from Thailand and who is already moving us in new directions; Megan, who comes every Tuesday for homework help; Jen, our one-woman network and brainstorming machine; and too many more to name. Thank you so much to everyone who came; your creativity and feedback have blessed us more than you know. And to the many of you who weren't able to make it, thank you as well for your constant support.

And now for the results from our prototype party: we have at least three new products ready to go as soon as the artisans can make them. We're launching lovely gray and yellow spring scarves on our website early next week. Caren's getting them tagged and ready for the website, so pictures are coming soon. Trust me, they're gorgeous, and just in time for Mother's Day. Watch our website--we're releasing our new products in limited edition launches, so if you like something, you better grab it fast before it's gone!

Here is Huang Nan's Sunbreak necklace, a hand-crocheted turquoise bib necklace from up-cycled aluminum washers. You can't have this one--I call dibs--but we'll put them up on our website as soon as she makes a few more. I'm absolutely in love.


And Ma Kay Htoo's Basmati Bag, the perfect little grab-and-go purse. It's made from up-cycled Basmati rice bags; we're excited to work with smaller purses and I love this one.

Ma Kay Htoo is new to our group and we don't have her picture yet, but she came to her first class last week with her gorgeous little girl and they had matching pigtails. We're so excited to have such a skilled seamstress (and cute mom!) as a new HCHT artisan.

In the next few months, we'll launch two new product lines: Threads of Hope (bracelets, necklaces and earrings incorporating traditional art with up-cycled materials) and Eco-Baby (bibs, diaper changing pads, and toddler art kits--all sewn from up-cycled rice bags). Soon after that we're going to launch Eco-To-Go, including lunch boxes, picnic bags, and many other items. If you're not our friend on Facebook yet, go there to get the latest updates on our artisans and their products. We'll announce our new product launches there, so you don't want to miss any news! Thank you for all your support as we work with this amazing group of women!

No comments:

Post a Comment