Update: The Origin of the Leggings

Hi friends!

The holidays happened. I was very busy until about December 11, my shipping deadline, after which I was not busy at all. I opened an Etsy store in December as well. Too late, though, for the holiday rush. Oh well.

There are about twenty dazzle bags in the wild now, mostly in Washington and California, but as far afield as New York. I will probably not make any more bag designs, however. Onward to my original inspiration… leggings. I am presently designing my first pair of leggings based on the Nebraska pattern.

Dazzle camouflage leggings and tote bag
Digital prototype of Nebraska leggings, the USS Nebraska (c. 1918) and my Nebraska bag (c. 2017.)

Let me back up a bit. Why am I designing leggings?

Good question. I do not wear leggings, I do not dance ballet, or competition cycle in sleek man tights. I am in no way an expert on legwear. I haven’t been in a yoga studio in five years. So what started me down this path?

Last summer I was walking down a dirt road near my cabin when a fellow pulled up in a well worn pickup truck with a “Namaste” sticker and a load of landscaping tools. He turned out to be a neighbor of mine, a fellow named Jeff Bossler. Jeff works as a landscaper on the island. He is also, I learned as we chatted on the side of the road, a longtime artist. Jeff draws, paints, and photographs—mainly landscapes and other natural subjects.

So this is where leggings come to bear. He told me that lately his art side of life had picked up. He had joined a site called Society6, and people all over the world were buying his leggings. Say what? Printed leggings. Featuring his paintings, photos, and drawings (go check them out, I think they’re great.)

Leggings by Orcas Island artist Jeff Bossler

This sounded great to me. An artist making wearable art that spreads around the world. Better still the canvas is the human form, the female form even. I’ve never been interested in making wall art. But wearable art. That’s the ticket.

As I spoke to Jeff I knew immediately what I would print on leggings. A curiosity from design history, something I’ve known about since I was a kid nerd—dazzle camouflage (I explain dazzle here.)

Fast forward to the fall. I read The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, a book I had avoided for years because it sounded like bullshit. Work four hours a week? Make $80,000 a month? Definitely bullshit. *I have more to say about Tim Ferriss, probably for another blog post.

So I suspended my disbelief and read the book. I found some of it to be dubious, but I found other parts to be very interesting. One of the things that Ferriss advocates is separating your time from your income. One way to do this is by selling things online.

Brain: What can I sell online?
Brain: How about dazzle camouflage leggings?

So in early October I quit my job(s) and began researching online business and the world of on demand clothing manufacture.

One of the first things I learned is that fashion design is hard and apparel retail is hazardous. So I switched gears for my first product. Tote bags: vaguely boat shaped, humble, necessary. And, it turns out, very expensive to have made in the United States. And furthermore, not that exciting a category. I get lot of “these are neat” but not a lot of “here’s 49 dollars.”

But as a “minimum viable product,” they were perfect. In the process of making the bags I found a printing partner (Printful) and two ecommerce platforms (Etsy, Shopify), I learned some scary things about sales taxes, and I learned how to design patterns for soft goods. In just a few weeks I had prototypes, and then I had three finished designs, and then I found out that marketing is hard.

I figured it would not be easy, but I did not realize that it is really The Main Thing with selling online. There’s no store for people to wander into and stumble upon your product. You have to draw them to the product through sheer force of Instagram. Which turns out to be hard. So really I have gotten myself in the marketing business, something I have historically done my best to avoid.

What’s Next?

So as I mentioned I am currently working on the first pair of leggings. In fact the prototype design went to the printer today.

The big challenge of leggings (versus tote bags) is that a human person will wear them. And human persons have different shapes, and opinions, and preferences. And so I have to adapt naval camouflage to the female form. In such a way that female persons will think—yeah, I would wear that.

That’s the big question—will anyone wear these things? I don’t know. I’ve been working on a business plan and a marketing plan and in all both processes I’m meant to identify the customer. I can’t with certainty say there is one. It’s art, it’s fashion, it’s subjective. I know _I_ would wear them, if I wore leggings (and maybe I will, watch my Instagram for photo evidence.) But will you or someone you know, or several hundred women around the United States (and soon, the EU, whenever I set that up.) I don’t know. Let’s find out!

What’s the worst that could happen? The startup costs for this are small, in the hundreds, not thousands of dollars. The worst thing that could happen is that I—distracted by dreams of leggings dollars—fail to get an ordinary, eg. Paying job, and go bankrupt. Soon. And then I’ll live in my aging Subaru Forester surviving on foraged mushrooms. And in a few more years I’ll be 40, dishwashing on a cruise ship, getting written up for “not being a team player.” So yeah, what have I got to lose?

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