Local, by Design: From Fabric Manufacturer to Fabulous Products!

Designers at the Fabrics Jam last September.

Designers at the Fabrics Jam last September.

DesignHouse Jams lead to great ideas but how do they become products? Often through a partnership between DesignHouse, local manufacturers, universities and their Industrial Design students.

This past year Chicago based IIT students have been hard at work developing ideas that came out of our Jam with Chicago manufacturer, Chicago Protective Apparel.  From the 250 ideas that came out of the DesignHouse Jam, the students developed concepts in the fall and this spring were able to narrow it down to 2 soft goods products under their newly created brand, object.

I went to go see the latest prototypes at their end of the year show at the IIT campus and spoke with one of the students involved throughout the year, Ian O’Donnell. He walked me through the concepts- a smartly designed urban wallet and a backpack designed for the urban freelance live/work lifestyle.

The wallet has a clever, super slim design that helps the user easily slide frequently used cards out. It is also made of material that allows card readers to read the card without the user taking it in and out- both great for riding public transit.

The backpack is targeted toward the freelance worker. It is divided into two compartments, one for personal items and another for work and includes special features in each compartment making essential items easy to grab.

Both products are part of the object brand, created by the students to tie the urban accessories together and make them part of a larger lifestyle. To help visualize this brand, the team created a logo,  graphic style and completed the presentation with a website, portable kiosk for the products and a slick promotional video.

We discussed some of the lessons the team learned as part of the DesignHouse Process of designing for local manufacturing.

“I was a little surprised that local manufacturing still exists” says Ian, “I’ve been designing digitally so far and I never realized how long it takes to machine, prototype and iterate ideas. It’s a long process.”

For instance, students created 6 prototypes of their backpack design, and estimate that they still have 3 more to go. During the process they also realized the detailed backpack stitching was not the best fit for Chicago Protective Apparel’s heavy duty equipment. CPA recommended they speak with Bearse, another local soft goods manufacturing, and that partnership is helping to develop the final product. Going through the process of iterations, working directly with the manufacturer and improving the design is time consuming, but the students have learned so much about what it takes to bring a product to life beyond the concept.

The next step is to actually launch the brand, which the students plan on doing during the upcoming Fall semester. With this next challenge, they will learn how to market and promote their new brand while experiencing the process of having a full production of products made locally. Interested in what happens next? Stay tuned!