Where did they come from?
Like all great ideas, Etre Touchy Gloves began life as a sketch on the back of a napkin…
On a cold December's morning in 2007, Simon and Paul—co-founders and directors of London-based design agency Etre—were busy taking calls on their new iPhones.
Simon was complaining about how he had to remove his gloves every time he needed to answer a call—as the iPhone's capacitive touchscreen only responds to the touch of bare fingertips—when he remembered a blog post he'd read a few months earlier.
The post in question mentioned that fingerless gloves were undergoing something of a fashion revival thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices that people had begun carrying around with them. Normal pairs of gloves make it impossible to operate the tiny keypad of a mobile phone, iPod, BlackBerry, PDA or similar device without frustrating fat-fignrenig prboelms. Fingerless gloves, however, provide the freedom necessary to manipulate these gadgets quickly and without error. "Maybe you should get a pair then," Paul suggested.
Simon wasn't too keen, however, since although fingerless gloves afford some additional dexterity, this dexterity comes at a price: Fingerless gloves keep your palms warm and dry, but your exposed fingers get cold and wet.
It was then that the duo arrived at their Eureka moment: The pair realised that most people don't use all of their fingers when operating mobile devices; they only use their index fingers and thumbs. As such, a completely fingerless pair of gloves is overkill. A pair of normal gloves with missing index finger- and thumb-tips, however—well, that would be just perfect. They would provide both the necessary level of dexterity and the required level of warmth!
Fuelled by a heady mix of excitement and espresso, Paul and Simon feverishly knocked together a blueprint-cum-knitting-pattern on the back of a napkin.
Back at the office, they ran a quick search on touchscreen-related accessories to see if anyone had beaten them to the punch. Luckily enough, no one had. The only similar items that they could find were iPhone-ready styli—but these were far too big and bulky, and ultimately just another thing to carry around and inevitably lose. So they decided to make a quick prototype. Paul rummaged around the office and found an old pair of magic gloves—the kind that look baby-sized when you take them out of your pocket but miraculously stretch to accommodate adult hands when you pull them on. Magic gloves weren't quite what they wanted, but they were all that were to hand. So armed with a pair of scissors, Paul sheared off the gloves' index fingers and thumbs above the last knuckle, et voila, a proof of concept was born!
With proof of concept in hand, the duo solicited advice from the rest of the Etre team and their friends in the UK fashion industry—whose expertise helped turn what was, at this point, a half-baked idea into a concrete blueprint.
"Great!" the pair thought, "Let's ring up a couple of glove manufacturers and get them into production. With any luck, they'll be ready in a couple of weeks and we'll be able to start selling!"
How naïve they were!
Getting the gloves into production proved a nightmare. The alarm bells started ringing when they found that not a single member of the British Glove Association could (or would) facilitate their design. They sent BGA members photos and sketches and even their magic glove prototype, but not a single manufacturer was prepared to take the job on…so they were forced to look elsewhere…
Simon's parents—Karen and Dave—went on a driving tour of the East Midlands and unearthed a number of other manufacturing, knitwear and promotions companies. Sadly, none of these businesses could turn the design into reality either, and one company from Leicestershire—who shall remain nameless—sent the team on a wild goose chase by agreeing to manufacture the gloves—taking payment for their order upfront—only to renege on the deal a week before delivery of the first 2,000 pairs was due. (The money was eventually returned, thankfully!)
By this time it was March 2008 and the two directors felt like giving up. "What's the point now that winter's over?" they collectively sighed. But after remembering that there's a winter every year these days—and that the next one was only six or seven months away—they quickly cheered up and redoubled their efforts to push the project to fruition.
So with Britain proving barren ground, Paul and Simon's next stop was China. However, while the prices there were competitive, it seemed very difficult to get anyone to commit to a timeline—especially with the Beijing Olympics looming and the Chinese government deciding to shut down most of the factories in the region in celebration.
Anglo-Chinese communication also proved difficult. The two directors thought that their design specification was crystal clear—as it included photos, diagrams, sizes and colour swatches. The prototypes they received in return, however, made it plain that this wasn't the case. After experiencing several long delays between communications, they eventually lost confidence and were forced to look elsewhere.
At this point, the duo was ready to throw in the towel. Thankfully, however, a friend of Paul's threw the boys a lifeline. She owned a product sourcing and manufacturing company in China that didn't make gloves itself, but knew companies that could.
Paul's friend reviewed the glove specification with her team in Qingdao and then set about contacting suppliers in their manufacturing network. She returned with the answer that the boys had been waiting for: "We can do it". And with that, Etre Touchy Gloves finally went into production.
As a result of the Olympics, and the backlog of manufacturing work that built up around the Games, however, the two directors weren't able to take delivery of the gloves until November (and had to commit to a much larger order than they really would have liked, as an incentive for the manufacturers to push the job through). This meant that the first batch weren't ready for sale until the end of that month. With winter in full flow, Paul and Simon worried that they had missed their window of opportunity and that, by the time word got around about their new product, the cold weather—and more importantly, Christmas—would be over.
They needn't have been concerned.
Thanks to the Herculean PR efforts of the Etre team, headed by Dan, word spread like wildfire—the gloves gracing the pages of hundreds of newspapers and magazines (including, The Financial Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe and Grazia) and appearing on several radio and TV stations too (including the BBC, CBS and CNN). The launch was so successful, in fact, that the worryingly large amount of stock they had ordered sold out within a few weeks. Against all the odds, Etre Touchy Gloves had become a success.
It wasn't just iPhone owners that had fallen in love with the product—photographers and movie makers (who found that they could use them to operate their camera while working on-location); visually-impaired folks (who found that they could use them to read Braille in wintry conditions); makeup artists (who found that they could use them to apply makeup outdoors); and even crime scene investigators (who found that they could use them to dust for prints in cold climes) had fallen in love with the gloves too.
Having never been ones to rest on their laurels, the Etre team spent the months that followed improving the product—producing a further 50 prototypes in the process. In line with customer feedback, they ditched acrylic in favour of a 100 percent pure new wool design; and stopped sourcing from China after finally unearthing a manufacturer in the United Kingdom.
Fast-forward to today and the Etre Touchy family has expanded considerably. There are now multiple different styles (in wool, cashmere and leather!), which, in addition to being stocked in Etre's own purpose-built online store, also grace the shelves of world famous fashion retailers like Selfridges and leading independents like YMC and Park & Bond.
The journey has been a long and arduous one—but it's been well worth making!