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Just Did It

How I created a new product

Amanda Mitchell shows off her invention, Strap Keepers. Stacy Zarin

It all started because I couldn’t keep my shirt tucked in. Although my kids told me that the untucked look was stylish, I still wanted a little adhesive product that would keep my shirt where I wanted it.

I was very happy staying at home with my children, but I wanted a project that would provide more mental stimulation. So, putting my experience in consumer product marketing to work, I developed a questionnaire and started asking strangers in malls if they would buy something to solve the problem of unruly shirttails. No one seemed as interested as I was. However, these mall strangers kept telling me they wanted something to keep their bra straps hidden under their shirt so that the look of an outfit wouldn’t be ruined.

They were right.

It would be great to pop something on easily and not have to match your bra strap color to your shirt, which helped a little but still didn’t solve the sloppy problem of showing and slipping bra straps.

The next step was to see if a solution had already been invented. A friend and I did some research and found that there had been attempts to solve this universal problem—a further indication that there was a need in the marketplace—but nothing had worked effectively and comfortably enough.

Further confirmation came after a patent search revealed nothing that fit my vision. I filed a provisional patent application, which effectively gave me first place in line with this type of product.

So there I was with a big idea that hadn’t been done yet. I clearly remember the marketing textbook from my Commerce school class, which states that the first step in product development is to find out what consumers want and meet their needs. I also had a good handle on what I wanted the product to be. I wanted it to be disposable, effective, easy to use and so comfortable that women wouldn’t know it was on. The adhesive needed to stick to clothes, but not to skin.

The problem was I just didn’t know where to go from there.

Armed with a PowerPoint presentation and lots of enthusiasm, I eagerly contacted two major companies. The idea went nowhere. Without a prototype, it was impossible to generate much interest.

I had to develop an actual working product. I was hesitant to invest a lot of money to create the product, but I didn’t want to give up. Once again, I didn’t know where to turn.

The Internet and the kindness of strangers came to the rescue. I wanted my product to be adhesive, so I Googled adhesive companies. I called one and they loved the idea. They sent me material and adhesive samples. None of the adhesives worked, but they were kind enough to refer me to another company that worked with me for about a year, sending samples from three different labs until we got the right adhesive.

My only expense up to this point was a few hundred dollars for a die to cut out what would come to be known as Strap Keepers. I hired a patent attorney who agreed to file a patent application for a flat fee, which allowed me to keep my costs from escalating. 

Now I had a product, research to back up its marketability and patent-pending protection. The next decision was whether to start my own company or license the product. I knew that I needed power behind my product because I believed it was such a great item for women everywhere. And I didn’t have the money or expertise to start in my basement.

I decided that I wanted to find a major company to take the product. During the process of finding the right company, I e-mailed the board chair of a large corporation. I heard nothing for a long time. Then, out of the blue, I received a call from the president of their intimates division, who loved the idea. After several months of product testing, I was told we were a go. But the head of research left the company and his replacement didn’t want an accessory product. The deal died.

But that former head of research still loved the product and took it to several companies for me. A deal was struck with Brazabra Corp., one of the big players in the lingerie accessory business.

Since Strap Keepers hit the market, the response has been overwhelming. This summer, sold out four times and now keeps a huge stock. The product has been featured in Family Circle, Fitness Magazine, the Washington Post, Redbook, Baltimore Magazine and an upcoming issue of Seventeen.

Becoming an inventor was not something that ever crossed my mind. I don’t see myself as an inventor, and when people ask me what my next invention will be, I look at them with puzzlement. I don’t anticipate any more inventions but, then again, I didn’t expect this one.

The message of this little story is “Do it!” That is not to say that the process will be without stress, but if you have passion, perseverance and the confidence to weather the roller coaster of inevitable ups and downs, good ideas really can become great products that take off.