Performance wearables for the urban active
With the motto "you were born to be in motion" I started a company in Mexico called HighGround Industries in which a partner and I designed and manufactured wearable goods for the urban active.
With Parkour as our main target an inspiration, we designed the Cocoon™ backpack to allow Parkour practitioners to carry their essentials while training. We observed, prototyped and tested early and often so that our concept would allow for complete range of motion, safety and comfort regardless of the vault, jump or orientation of the body. We established manufacturing and distribution channels and successfully launched our backpacks to the Mexican market.
The following is the design and development process we followed to make this happen.
Who's the User?
Big questions first. Our initial intended user groups was conformed by Parkour practitioners, as they can be seen as an extreme user. Even though both of us were familiar with Parkour at the time, we really wanted to understand our users, their needs and their lifestyles. Their mobility requirements are more than those obtained by combining a runner with an acrobat, especially since they train and perform mainly on the streets and urban environments. A product solving a challenge for this user group could easily be transferred to other user groups of a larger market.
What's the challenge?
Urban Athletes: They lack the means to carry a very short list of personal items while training. Current available options are either too big and clumsy, or don't protect their items.
For us: How can we enable urban athletes to safely and comfortably carry their essential items at all times (including training) without limiting their mobility?
What are users' current options?
Ergonomics and Anthropometric Challenges
We observed and studied the different techniques particular to the sport, and realized that there are only very limited regions of the body that are not involved in the movement or that would eventually contact the ground, obstacles or other body parts.
The size of the available space defined the envelope of the carrying gear to be designed, fixing the main constrain.
Concept Generation and Prototyping
With the user, user requirements, space envelope and product performance requirements defined, we were able to conceptualize an initial idea that was quickly prototyped in 2D and lo-fidelity 3D prototypes to understand the overall size and shape. The concept was refined and an initial set of patterns was generated and taken to a manufacturer to obtain a high fidelity, testable prototype that was immediately put in the hands of the user.
Being closely involved with the Parkour community allowed us to test, verify and iterate our initial concepts early and often, directly with the intended users during real use and in the real use environment. Because of this close involvement of the users during our test and development process, we were able to quickly solve and improve issues with durability and comfort that were found early-on in the development process. We were able to test and iterate not only our physical backpack, but also our branding and commercialization strategy.
In total, 6 months were required to transform our initial backpack idea into the Cocoon™ Parkour specialized backpack, from conceptualization, to design, branding, manufacturing and distribution, and launch it to the market. We established a small manufacturing operation north of Mexico City, with a production capability of 50 backpacks/day.
When demand increased we decided to outsource the manufacturing. I can honestly say that finding a reliable and trust-worthy manufacturer was the greatest challenge we faced. Stubborn to keep manufacturing in Mexico, we dealt with every kind of resistance and quality issues. It was a great lesson about negotiation and the value of networking. Eventually, we were able to transfer production to a manufacturer and we converted our existing manufacturing shop into a prototyping and innovation lab.
With both this lab in our hands and the Cocoon™ experience in our belts, we were able to expand our product catalog to three product families: Gear catering to rock climbers, Style catering to graffiti artists and urban muralists, and Dynamics catering to the Parkour community and other urban athletes and performers.
The products created for each category were received by the public with great success, and even though the company stopped operations when I moved to the US, we still receive great input and accolades from our customers all across Mexico.
Being a company of two I was fortunate to be involved in every aspect of it, gathering lots of lessons learned on product development life cycle, prototype generation and evaluation (lo-fi & hi-fi), user research, product testing, project management, supply chain and supplier management, sales and distribution, branding, trademarks and regulations, legal, accounting and funding.
You can learn more about this project by visiting: http://www.hgdynamics.com