When you’re thinking about ways to spend your summer break, being struck in your school’s home economics classroom isn’t likely to top your list. But that’s exactly how five students from Shau Kei Wan East Government Secondary School spent their summer last year.
The students had a very good reason; 18-year-olds Louisa Chan, Mandy Fong, Abby Ma, and Inez Tang, and Audrey Chau, 16, were creating their very own multi-purpose family backpack. Their design went on to win the grand prize at the 2017 Mills Summer Programme, a competition run by textile company Mills Fabrica.
But their victory didn’t end there. The students wanted to be able to sell their product to people, too. So, after adding a few improvements to the design, the teens launched their rucksack on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in May, with the support of Mills Fabrica. They reached their initial goal in just 20 days, raising a total of HK$98,522, and their backpack can now be purchased online!
So what’s so special about the product? The five-in-one design features a rucksack for Dad, a tote bag for Mum, and a smaller rucksack for a child, as well as a picnic mat and a USB charging port. It is also water resistant and acts as a mosquito repellent – handy for Hong Kong.
“When we were brainstorming what to create for the competition, the first thing that came to our mind was our families, and how to spend quality time with them,” said Inez. In particular, the team wanted to focus on quality family time spent in the great outdoors.
The idea was partly inspired by Abby, who is a member of the girl scouts and enjoys going camping. “She suggested that we make a bag that isn’t limited to everyday use, but also suitable for family outings,” said Audrey.
“With little knowledge of and experience in making bags, there was a lot of trial and error,” explained Mandy.
“For instance, we had to sew the tote bag by hand after when we realised it couldn’t be done with a machine.”
“I remember all my fingers were swollen,” recalled Inez, who worked through the night to sew the tote. “It was painful, and I almost cried. But it was all worth it, because our efforts paid off.”
To make sure their design met the needs of each family member, the team did a lot of research and collected feedback on the look, colour, and uses of the backpack before putting it on the market. The biggest change they made was the colour of the product, explained Audrey.
“We changed it from blue to grey because it’s a colour both boys and girls will use more, and a safer option. We also chose not to use the pink and orange zips.”
But finding the right colour was easy compared to choosing the right material for the backpack.
“Because of the different components to serve each function, the prototype of our backpack was very heavy,” Mandy explained.
The team originally chose to make their bag out of space cotton, which made it thick and round in shape. “After considering the [bag’s] appearance and weight, we decided to use a lighter fabric instead,” said Louisa, with the team finally settling on polyester.
“We were given the impression that starting a business is easy because all we heard were success stories from top entrepreneurs,” said Mandy of the experience. “It’s actually not.”
“You have to try lots of different approaches, find your angle, and even expect potential financial losses due to not having enough capital and investors, or when your products don’t sell well,” she added.
The students have more innovations they would like to add to their product, but in the meantime, you can get their backpack at their page on Indiegogo.com.