How I built my brand: Illuminated Apparel

Building a strong brand around your product is vital for startups. We're proud to support many distinctive startup brands - one of which is Illuminated Apparel, a business creating interactive glow-in-the-dark t-shirts. From the first t-shirts created in a kitchen on a home-made screen printing machine to appearing on The Gadget Show, their brand has developed with the help of customer feedback, but they've kept their original vision at the core of what they do. Here's how they built their brand.

Where did the idea for the product come from?

I have always had an interest in the fashion tech area – my first foray was a bamboo clothing company a few years back - but I was looking for a way to combine fashion tech with my other passion, which is music and festivals! I thought of something I’d like to wear that was exciting, interactive and fun, and the idea of a super cool glowing t shirt was born. As I had never actually printed a T-shirt in my life, I knew this was definitely going to be a challenge, but that's something I'm always up for.

After hours of research/Youtube videos/phone calls and experiments, I thought there must be a way to charge a luminous ink using direct light. However anything that was commercially available wouldn't create a bright enough glow and was too expensive. This is when I decided to try and create my own! My mother’s kitchen became my laboratory (you can guess how happy she was!) and after lots of trial and error and a frequently-glowing kitchen, my glow ink was born ! I managed to create something that is ten times brighter and five times cheaper than commercially available inks.

What’s the defining element at the core of your brand?

To sum it up in one line: to offer fun, innovative, interactive products for both adults and children at a reasonable price without compromising on quality.

What was the process of designing the T-shirts like?

This has been a real rollercoaster of a ride due to not having any background in design or t-shirt manufacturing. The best thing I did was to go back to basics by building my own screen-printing equipment. I used scrap wood and a converted rotisserie oven for chicken (very odd I know, but you have to bootstrap before you know if something is going to work or not).

There were plenty of failures and many hours of sulking, but I finally managed to print a kind of decent-looking T-shirt with my glow ink - the first step on the road to creating a commercial product.

After finessing the procedure I had managed to print enough T-shirts to launch a Kickstarter Crowdfunding Project to see if anyone would be interested in the product.

Going through the process from the start gave me a greater understanding of all the techniques involved and possible problems. This knowledge and confidence gained me access to the factory floor of a large T-shirt printer to help with getting the method right, which saved time/money.

What sort of market research did you do?

I started with just friends and family, who always manage to highlight every problem under the sun. From there I turned to my friends to help me create a promotional video for my Kickstarter Project, which was the first time I managed to capture people’s reactions.

The best market research was a direct result of the Kickstarter project. There is a great community of people who are always keen to offer ideas and feedback. After sending the T-shirts to 28 countries around the world just before Christmas last year, I received some fantastic feedback, PR and business enquiries. This validated the product and the business idea for me, and confirmed my decision take it on full time.

What were your biggest challenges?

My biggest challenge so far was to create a commercially viable product that could be produced on a big scale. I had gathered some good interest post-Kickstarter so was keen to start, and purchased some proper equipment so I could handle some orders internally.

Trying to improve a product while trying to market/selling it caused lots of problems and wastage. To solve this, I had make the hard decision to shelve the product and stop new sales while I ironed out a few glitches that I knew would the printing process and product. This was a hard time for the business as I lost three months of revenue, so everything got pretty close to the nail.

Luckily it was been the best decision I made and production and quality improved enormously. We were ready to launch the product on two of the biggest gadget websites before Christmas, and we featured on The Gadget Show Christmas Special.

How has the brand evolved since your first ideas?

Illuminated Apparel has come a long way in just a year. I feel the brand is way slicker, the product is 100% better, and this has also created new opportunities for the company. Also, working alongside clients has really helped with getting the packaging right - a big part of how the product is marketed.

What’s next for the brand and design?

We recently exhibited at the Ideal Home Show Christmas Show, where which we received some great ideas directly from the public for products we could create using the technology. We have exciting opportunities to incorporate the t-shirts and some new products in upcoming events next year, and as well as the fun side we're looking to develop it as an educational tool and possibly as an aid in rehabilitation of stroke victims. Oh and there’s the travel, sponsorship, corporate to build on too – it’s going to be busy!

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