Tuesday, 1st November, 2016

An unexpected twist

Entrepreneurs Alan Yardley and Claudia Routier stumbled upon a unique fashion idea, but didn’t let their inexperience in the industry defeat their dream to take it to the world.

Every day people come up with innovative ideas, but very few actually have the grit and passion to turn them in to a commercial reality.

Auckland-based Alan Yardley and Claudia Routier had all the odds stacked against them. Before the electrical engineer and homeopath made their foray in to the fashion world, they didn’t know their couture from ready-to-wear.

Fast-forward to today and the couple have developed a unique fashion accessory, Twist, and are on the verge of launching in world markets.

It all began on an auspicious morning in December 2013. Claudia was clowning around in front of a mirror with a possum fur coat collar, wrapping it around her head like a Davy Crockett hat with the tails hanging down the back.

'I suggested she wrap the tails around her neck, which she did, and we both froze – she looked beautiful,' says Alan Yardley.

Claudia was so taken with the ‘look’ that Alan tried to find a similar accessory – a blend of a hat, headband and scarf – without success. After some discussion, they thought they might have a unique idea for a product and approached intellectual property firm AJ Park to get their opinion.

After extensive research and discussion between the couple and AJ Park, they decided their Twist was unique. And so, the couple formed the company French Accent and began their journey to commercialisation.

Over the next few months, Claudia made about 20 different prototypes, using many different materials from merino to possum fur.

Following advice from AJ Park, they invested in the initial stages of protecting their IP, and filed their designs for all the major territories globally.

'At this point, we had made a considerable outlay on something that we thought might do well, but we had very little real market feedback to validate whether or not Twist would actually be successful,' Yardley says.

The pair were buoyed when Claudia sold 40 Twists to a sceptical public at a Mystery Creek event in Hamilton.

'Once they had seen Claudia demonstrate it, they were ready to buy,' Yardley says.

Over the past 14 months, the couple have put together a detailed business plan and have had fantastic interest and feedback from customers, retailers, marketers and manufacturers.

Of course, given the couple’s inexperience in the fashion industry – and the fact they are launching a product – the process has been frustrating.

Alan has held down a full-time job while working on Twist after hours. And the couple have had to make smart decisions around the conflicting advice they sometimes get, says Yardley.

'We initially made the mistake in believing that everyone in the fashion industry is an expert in their field.'

However, Alan and Claudia Yardley say the trick is not to give up until you have overcome these challenges. Now, they are working with partners in the US to develop a manufacturing base in Peru to produce an alpaca wool Twist suitable for the winter 2015/2016 market in the US.

Meanwhile, an online boutique retailer in the UK is interested in the possum fur Twists, and closer to home, the couple have met with their first high-end Auckland women’s boutique retailer, who has ordered possum fur Twists.

Intellectual property firm AJ Park assists Yardley and Routier in the protection of their designs. Patent attorney Andrew Baker has worked closely with the couple to help them ready the product for market.

'Alan is a passionate and pro-active entrepreneur who asks lots of questions and works incredibly hard. In a very short period of time he has developed a concept into a product which is just about to launch on the marketplace,' says Baker.

Baker has offered advice on Twist’s longterm business strategy, distribution agreements and licensing percentages. 'We have refined his business plan, including exit strategy and profit opportunities.'

In his career as a patent attorney, Baker seldom sees such a persistent and hard-working entrepreneur, he says. 'Alan has done what he can to make sure this succeeds, and I have no doubt he will.'

Yardley says they chose AJ Park after careful research. 'We liked the AJ Park website, which had great information on the whole of the IP process, and made it easy for the layman to visualise what was necessary to protect one’s IP.'

Yardley concedes their first prototypes were crude and they were delighted that Andrew Baker 'got it'.

On Baker’s advice, French Accent has followed a successful and cost-effective path, involving detailed searches, strategies for protection, trade mark work and filing of designs, Alan says. 

Claudia and I have absolute confidence in Andrew and are committed to continue our Twist journey with him as our trusted advisor. We look forward to a long and prosperous relationship for both parties.

- Alan Yardley

 

An edited version of this article first appeared in the Autumn 2016 edition of Idealog magazine.