Over the past 3 years I’ve mentioned how the idea for ToteSavvy came to be in a few articles I’ve written. You may have read about our chaotic flight which led to a rough sketch, then a prototype which would soon become ToteSavvy. While both of those facts are true, the whole story behind ToteSavvy is much more complex.
It was the Spring of 2012 and I had just announced my first pregnancy to the world. My husband and I were elated to be expecting and couldn’t wait to begin to prepare for our little bundle of joy. Both of us are major planners and agreed upon completing our nursery and baby-proofing our house before the 2nd trimester. Don’t we sound like first-time parents?!?
Part of our prep work involved purchasing every baby essential on our generic “must-have” list. One of those items was, of course, a diaper bag. Now, being the fashion-driven woman I was, I decided it was only fitting to carry the most fashionable diaper bag the world has ever seen. I surely thought I could find such a diaper bag– even if it meant shelling out a pretty penny for it.
My husband was working in advertising sales at the time and regularly visited the NYC office. I decided to tag along on his trip to get some great shopping in. I had visited NY a few times before and knew that was the place to find literally anything. Every store was stocked with the best on-trend items. In my mind I could absolutely find THE BEST diaper bag in New York.
I excitedly set out on my first shopping attempt– headed to the big department stores. Barneys, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue were all on my list. I browsed around the department store for a while before the realization set in that every single handbag I was drawn to was not a diaper bag. When I asked the sales rep where their diaper bags were located I was directed towards a few designers who sold a version of a nylon puffy-vest looking diaper bag. “Is this it??” I said in a shocked tone. After suggesting there had to be a bigger selection I was directed towards the baby department. Even there the options were limited. It seemed that every brand designed into the same silhouette and fabric. Yes, I understood that pockets were needed but why did they have to be all over the outside of the bag? And why was the style so similar to every other diaper bag around? Was the point to call attention to the fact that is was a diaper bag and not a beloved handbag?
Feeling defeated, I ventured over to the designer section which was completely out of my price range. I figured I would just take a look and then strategize how to work it into our planning budget. Diaper bags are pretty crucial after all!
Even the high-end designers didn’t have great options. LV doesn’t make a diaper bag, but they did show me many options that could work. The other designers had 1-2 options that still screamed baby. Why was it nylon? Why did it have to have those darn pockets all over the outside? I fully understand utility but there was nothing simplistic or effortless about them. They didn't even compare to the variety of gorgeous handbags across the rest of the store.
I decided to call my search quits then and there. I sure as heck wasn’t going to spend mega-bucks on something I didn't love. Throughout my pitiful search I kept wandering past the Longchamp section. In an effort to not leave empty-handed I decided to just pick up their Le Pliage Large tote and call it a day. It was big, had a zipper and seemed like a great bag to use for baby. Done and done!
I didn’t think much about my make-shift diaper bag until my daughter was about 3-months old and we were planning a trip to visit family in Ohio. All of a sudden it occurred to me that I would be traveling with my newborn and couldn’t take the nursery on the plane with us. Trying not to panic I carefully laid out every baby item on the floor of the nursery, thinking about what I’d need for our flight. I methodically and efficiently packed my empty-vessel “diaper bag” with each item– fitting just about everything I needed. I ended up with a full tote that looked decently organized. I felt amazingly accomplished. I had done it. I didn’t need a true diaper bag after all!
Any seasoned mom is probably thinking… “how long did your purse stay organized?”… and they are so right! It took all of 15 seconds on the airplane for my precisely organized tote to turn into a chaotic mess. All 5 of the pacifiers we packed (inside a little baggy to keep them clean) were MIA while diapers became tangled within a swaddle blanket. Wet wipes? No idea… under the seat maybe? Needless to say, it was the last flight I would ever take that disorganized.
Upon our arrival, my mind was crazily racing as I tried to think of a quick solution. No way was I going to do that all over again in 2 weeks. I thought about running out to buy a generic diaper bag, or finding a bunch of little pouches to keep things together, but neither solution seemed right. What I truly needed was pockets. I couldn’t afford to waste time taking 3 different pouches out of my bag as I searched for a diaper– or try to unzip said pouch with one hand. I finally understood why a diaper bag was necessary, but still couldn’t come to terms with settling for one I didn't love.
While nursing my daughter a few days later an idea came to me. What my Longchamp tote needed was pockets. I didn’t want to sew them into the bag because then it would forever be a diaper bag. However, if I made them removable then I could simply use it as a diaper bag when I needed to, and as my chic tote on other occasions. That was it! The idea of a removable pocket system to organize my handbag was exactly what I needed!
After returning home a few weeks later I was eager to get going on my “diaper bag caddy”. Sewing has always been a passion of mine so I was excited to put my practical skill to use. I started with the simple concept of adding pockets to my bag. These pockets would, of course, have to be shaped with the right dimensions for each baby item I needed to carry. I took out every baby essential in our house and measured them one by one. To my amazement, many of them had a similar shape. Diapers and wet wipes fit within a standard size pocket, as did many bottles, cups and baby kits. Clothing and blankets could even be rolled to fit perfectly within this pocket size I had developed.
I made a couple pocket prototypes and thought about how to add them to my handbag. They were the perfect size but I couldn’t figure out how to keep them from collapsing without sewing each to the bag. Then it hit me. I had just finished a DIY toy box tutorial for my daughter’s nursery and new the perfect material to use to keep those pockets upright. I used a rigid mesh material to act as a wall for my pockets. It was thin, pliable and super lightweight– literally it couldn’t have been more perfect for my purpose.
After a couple days of on and off sewing I had completed my first prototype. I felt invigorated as I quickly packed my bag with each essential and gazed down at the organized perfection. I could see each and every item inside my pockets. It was easy to just reach in and grab what I needed. When replacing an item I could easily slip it back in without repacking everything else. This was it!! I finally had my solution!
I carried around my prototype in my handbag for months– proudly showing it to friends and family. In the back of my mind I knew I had something, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to take the next step everyone was urging me to take.
At the time I was still sewing bridesmaid dresses under my own clothing label and was making a decent living. Though I would never admit it at the time, I was looking for a way out but didn’t want to admit defeat. In my eyes, closing the bridesmaid business meant I had failed. Failure was not an option for me.
It wasn't until my daughter was 15 months old that I took the next step to turn my little “diaper bag caddy” into a true product. Life with a toddler was harder than I ever could have expected, and I knew I didn’t want to spend 8 hours a day sewing dresses. I had been carrying my organizer in my bag every day and still found it to be the most useful baby item I owned. I knew it was time to stop sewing and look into manufacturing.
I had considered manufacturing my bridesmaid dresses but never committed to it. The cost was high and it was hard to justify such a large investment when styles and popular colors were always changing. What I needed to sell was one product that never went out of style. One product that I could confidently stock up on because I knew I could sell it. That one product had been sitting in my handbag for a year. It was finally time to develop it.
I researched manufacturers online and sent out emails to my top 10. I imagined I would have everyone begging to develop my product and I would narrow my results down after interviewing each one. Boy was I wrong! After a few weeks I got a response from two manufacturers. One was kind enough to let me know that they only do mass production orders (10,000+ units) but would be happy to speak with us down the road. The other was a small handbag manufacturer based in NY. They liked my idea and thought it was something they could prototype.
Within a few weeks I was shipping my only organizer cross-country along with fabric samples, sketches and a copious amount of notes. I was terrified it would be the last time I would ever see it, or worse, my idea would end up for sale online the next day. Luckily, the manufacturer I connected with was one of the good ones. They crafted their sample within a few weeks and quickly FedExed it to me to get my feedback.
As I grabbed my scissors to open the package and examine my first sample, my body was flooded with emotion. Would it be a terrible sample? Would I have to pay for 5 more revisions that I couldn’t afford? Would it be perfect and I would actually have to go through with this? To my delight the sample looked amazing. They had nailed the execution of my exact pattern but with expert craftsmanship and quality materials. I couldn’t believe it. I held in my hands a true product– one I could see being carried in the totes of parents everywhere. Then the panic set in. I had no excuse. I had to jump in head-first and build a brand.
Within a few weeks I was working on a full Kickstarter campaign and getting ready to launch my idea to the world. Within 1 week of the Kickstarter project being live, I learned the biggest lesson about business and marketing. Nothing happens by chance and everything is earned. We had a slow start but after countless hours spent asking friends and family to pledge, we were close to hitting our goal.
If I had to do it all over again my strategy would be completely different. I underestimated the power of marketing and press. Something I never underestimate now. What I didn’t know when I first launched Kickstarter was no one knew what my product was. The name wasn't right and it took too much time to explain the benefits of my organizer.
By shear luck we met our $35,000 goal and were funded with about 1 day to go in the Kickstarter campaign. It wasn’t until a year later that I began to understand how to appropriately market my product. First on the action item list was to come up with a better name. With the help of some amazingly smart friends and countless hours going over every combination imaginable, ToteSavvy was born.