It all started the day I broke the zipper of my long-established leather pencil case.
As an architecture student, a pencil case has become my everyday buddy I take everywhere with me, wherever I go. But in Spring of 2014 my old pencil case’s zipper stopped going back and forward. At that moment, I grabbed my sketch book and started to design my own pencil case. I decided to go for a wooden design, as within my Bachelor workshop at the university in Switzerland, wood was the only material available and was the one I had the most knowledge on how to work with. After several prototypes including a hinge, push button, drawer or a lid, it appeared to me that none of them were convincing. Therefore, I chose to go for the most minimal concept: a box without technical pieces to make it work and a hair band that I could borrow from my sister.
After a couple of months of personal use, I got a lot of positive feedback on my creation, questions and even a couple of requests for orders. This gave me the idea of taking my pencil case design and making a product production.
At that point, plenty of basic questions came into my mind like: ‘how do I deal with a bigger production ?’, ‘how much funding do I need?’ and ‘how and where am I going to sell my products?’. I had a small chat with a friend in the professional field who told me :
“Take a bit of your savings and make a bunch of them. The risk you take is minimal. Just do it!”
Both the adrenaline and the fear helped answer my questions, step by step with the process. I paid a visit to a carpentry workshop to get more information from a professional on how to bring my product into manufacture, knowing that it would be a small scale production. The TOK-case had to be glued, its band should be sewed and then had to be oiled as a whole piece. I discovered that it would be impossible for a young entrepreneur like me to arrive at the final product with each of these steps being accomplished by individual professionals, as the cost of the production would have been too high for such a small amount of products.
However, the carpenter - within his network – immediately sent me to a 'social workplace'. This place brought together craftsmen from different fields under the same roof and were assisting people with special needs to take part within the professional life. The perfect space for my TOK-case! Thus, the product got not only a social character, but was locally made with a local material – which, in my opinion, are significant aspects of a product's design that should be taken into account nowadays.
Together, we worked as a team, including the head of the workshop, to design the last elements to make the production efficient. One month later I dropped by the factory and saw tree trunks coming in, the whole chain of production from A to Z was revealed in front of my eyes. Very soon, my final products were stacked and ready to be sold.
It was indescribable to see incredible, skilled people bringing your own design to life.
I knew how much the cost of production was, but I still had to define what the selling price would be. In order to have a wide range of different people’s opinion, I spent a whole weekend in the city asking random people what they thought about the product: who would it be most suitable for and how much would they pay for it. This gave me a clear idea and direction for both what shops I should target for distributing, and a reasonable range of prices that I would coincide with. Afterwards, I dropped by several potential shops where I realized that most of the time the owners were keen on giving a try to sell my products in their shop. That’s how I knew I had a good product!
This is an ongoing project that gives me an enormous personal satisfaction.
Since the pencil case, I have developed two more products: TOK-lamp and TOK-wallet which both followed the same process. The brand, TOK-concept, is now sold in ten different stores in Switzerland and has a website to order products online. Since the first production, I have sold three hundred pencil cases!
DOING IT WITH PASSION KEEPS ME GOING!
This doesn’t allow me to earn a single penny but the personal satisfaction that these products have offered me - combined with the possibility of developing new products - is what has kept me going. TOK-concept has become a highly enriching entrepreneurial experience for me. My ultimate goal is to see people using my products and being happy with them.