When an ad agency turns product designer: lessons learned from 72andSunny Amsterdam

This month, 72andSunny Amsterdam has launched a new product: the Raynsie, a line of weatherproof onesies for use by cyclists and other rainy weather dwellers. We talked to the team behind it about the challenges of creating the range, and the lessons learned along the way.

Product design is increasingly infiltrating the world of advertising. It might be in the form of a side project such as creating the agency’s first craft ale, say, or in a more ambitious piece of marketing for a brand. Creating a new product line for real requires a range of skills that may not currently exist within the average ad agency, however, as 72andSunny Amsterdam discovered when they decided to try and bring their first fashion and leisure garment – the Raynsie – to market. We talked to them about what they’ve learned from the process.

The Raynsie aims to be a reinvention of rain gear. Instead of the rather drab options currently on the market, it is a brightly-coloured all-in-one number, available in six colourways and manufactured by KTC, a premium apparel workshop that is part of the Fair Labor Association. Its premium quality and sustainable approach is also reflected in the price, with the Raynsie retailing at 299 to 350 euros; however, as the team behind it points out, its quality is such that it should last for at least ten years.

The original idea for the Raynsie was prompted, as these kinds of projects so often are, by a brief to stretch the creative muscles of those at the agency, back in 2013. “There were about 24 of us I think, and we didn’t have a lot to do,” admits Nic Owen, managing director at 72andSunny Amsterdam. “We had about one-and-a-half clients and people were playing Fifa and enjoying themselves … we had time on our hands basically.

“We thought we should use our time more productively and actually invent our own product,” he continues. “That was married with the fact that a lot of people can come to Amsterdam and be very transient … we felt that we wanted to have a different relationship with the city, which was more symbiotic. So we felt ‘why don’t we look at something that can actually enhance or aid the city, not just for us, but also for our fellow Amsterdammers’.”

The brief was put out to the agency, and ideas flooded back, with the Raynsie making it to the last two, alongside a food app idea, though, says Owen, the feeling was that ad agencies making apps “had been done before a little bit”. Instead the Raynsie seemed to tick all the required boxes: “It definitively reflects the city in that Amsterdammers do cycle everywhere, regardless of the weather,” says Owen. “That embodied the spirit of the city, which is super positive, super ‘fuck-it-let’s-just-get-on-with-it’, and that felt like a very 72 spirit as well.”


Serious investment

The agency aimed to take the project seriously from the off. “I’ve done this sort of stuff at agencies before, and it’s a hobby, it’s a side project and you run into issues of focus and investment,” says Owen. “That’s the biggest thing – you can’t do these things in half measures. So you really have to invest time and money to make them come to life.”

Owen is aware the ad industry can have a reputation for doing these kinds of projects for self-promotion or to even win awards at Cannes. “When you do something for real, you can’t pretend, you have to go for it,” he continues. “I think there can be a little bit of agency smugness in terms of thinking that we’re the most creative human beings that ever walked the earth, and there’s also a little bit of cynicism maybe, in terms of ‘we can fudge this and pretend to do it’. Hopefully we came into it more humbly, and we knew we had to go for it basically. But at first we were still definitely playing in the margins a little bit.”


New skillsets

The tipping point that made the agency take the Raynsie project more seriously was the realisation that expertise from outside was required to truly bring it to life.

“I had a little drawing of what we wanted it to look like,” says designer Wendy Richardson, “but getting it to look like that on a body…. It’s hard when you’ve never done that before.”

“So we had to bring in an expert to do that,” continues Owen. “Design skills are definitely transferable but moving from graphic design to functional design was where it was a stretch too far. I think commercially as well … we know how to run an agency relatively well, we’ve got a successful agency that makes a good amount of money every year, we know how to manage clients, but we haven’t a clue really of how to get a product to market.”

The learning curves were positive throughout though, according to both Owen and Richardson. “Maybe we can spend a lot of money making a massive ad campaign, but when it comes to making a product, it’s a different set of skills,” says Richardson. “That can only make you better as designers and creatives.”

To solve the commercial problem, 72andSunny brought in Valentina Mandozzi, who had previous experience of launching new apparel projects, as brand director. It was at this point, which was two years ago, that the Raynsie went from a side project to a real business idea.

“We looked at the whole business model from a 360 point of view – from product development, marketing, possible distribution and what kind of markets we can approach,” says Mandozzi. “Also the cycling community across the globe is growing in most of the cities, so that helped us understand it was actually a viable idea for a business.”


Design restrictions

As the design developed and became more real, the team quickly realised that they might have to compromise their ideas in order to create a viable product. For example, changing the Raynsie’s designs in order to make them work on waterproof materials. Again, this was a learning experience compared to making ads.

“The advertising community can think ideas are everything and if you have an idea, then it will be made,” says Owen. “Invariably in film, we are in a world where production companies make the impossible possible, because you can do it all in post, what you see on screen is often a cheat. There’s that mentality of ‘impossible is nothing’. But actually when we were looking at printing material – and this thing is made sustainably, so the way we did things had to be to a certain level – it either carries the print and remains waterproof or it doesn’t. There’s no ‘we can make it work in post’.”

“Another lesson that we had was on timing,” says Mandozzi. “In advertising, we’re so used to working at a fast pace, and delivering to clients at a short notice. With manufacturing, and attempting to produce a product with an external manufacturer, you have to deal with longer timings…. Even a minimum change, to have a new sample could take up to three or four months to see the actual result, if you’re dealing with an external manufacturer. Even though we’ve found I think the perfect manufacturer as a partner, it’s been a very important learning curve, also from a creative point of view – you have to know what you’re getting into when you want to improve or to change something on a creative level.”


An increased respect for clients

Alongside the many practical lessons that the team has learned from the creation of the Raynsie, they have also realised a deeper respect and invaluable understanding for what their clients have achieved in bringing their own products to market.

“The business of getting into hi-tech retail involves a lot of sub costs,” says Owen. “Raynsie is trademarked around the world … so before you’ve even done anything, you’ve sunk loads of money making sure you’ve protected the name, let alone the product itself. Then you have to make calls on whether you protect the pattern, this sort of stuff. There’s layers and layers before you even get into finding the right manufacturing partner.

“I think that only reinforces our belief that our clients have an exceptionally difficult job actually, and getting anything to market is exceptionally difficult,” he concludes. “That’s not to say that making great marketing isn’t difficult, but understanding each other through going through this process has been useful for all of us.”


Raynsie is available online at raynsie.com; It will receive its official Amsterdam launch on December 1 at Hutspot, which will also host a pop up store of the product until December 4.

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