Young exporters' foldable thongs article image
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Young exporters' foldable thongs

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Business partners Ben Lipschitz and Rick Munitz are a lawyer and an industrial designer brought together by a quest to revolutionise women’s footwear. Focusing on comfort and convenience, the 26-year-old entrepreneurs have invented a pair of thongs that triple-fold into a carry-anywhere pouch. "I had this idea, having seen a few girls walking around in sky-high heels, that maybe something small, portable and comfortable that still looked good could be created as a take-anywhere accessory," Lipschitz says. Lipschitz invested his savings in the start-up with his design graduate friend Munitz at the beginning of 2009. The pair spent six months in research and product development. Having never designed shoes before, Munitz spoke to podiatrists and shoe manufacturers, investigating different materials. "It was quite difficult having something that folded up but still had the rigidity for protecting your foot," Munitz explains. Each new design needed a prototype, which took four hours to make, "just so you could walk in it for 10 metres to see how it worked!" Soon they had a prototype that worked and they hit the club scene to gauge reaction to their idea, then sought out manufacturers offshore and refined the design until they knew they had a saleable product. From there, Lipschitz explains, "We needed a branding strategy, a good website and also an awareness campaign." After working with experts in each of those fields Lipschitz and Munitz launched Flipsters in October 2009. A targeted PR campaign generated enough interest to get Flipsters stocked in 120 Australian retailers in their first year. The first article was picked up by Reuters and circulated around the world and, as emails flooded in, the world of export opened up. "We didn’t know if it was too soon. But once people start knocking on your door you have to entertain the idea that you can export," Lipschitz says. The pair entered into cautious negotiations with distributors in several countries. "We made sure that we weren’t putting ourselves at too much risk." Now exporting to Ireland and Canada, the entrepreneurs hope Flipsters will be a hit in many different markets. "We’d like everyone to share in the fruits of what we’ve created," Munitz says proudly. Their strategy is to take it slow and not over-extend their reach. "We’re keeping it reactive because we’re still so young. We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew. America is a country that can make or break you and while it’s definitely our number one goal market we won’t enter until we’re ready, we can afford to financially back any orders. And we’d need excellent production to ensure we can churn out everything that might come from having a good relationship with America," Lipschitz says. Both men confess to having no idea what women want. But this forced them to research everything, and they agree this has resulted in a better product. "It’s versatile, it’s waterproof, you can use it at the beach, for travel, after pedicures," Lipschitz says. These features and the unique design are what they hope will differentiate Flipsters from competitor folding ballet flats. With a price point of just $29.95 a pair, Lipschitz knew that securing high volume distribution would be vital to cashflow and is pleased with how quickly Flipsters landed in stores. And while the last year might sound like a dream, Lipschitz is quick to credit painstaking research to their early success. "When we’re uncertain, the thing that has saved us is a lot of research. That is what has given us the confidence to move forward in a particular direction." For export, Lipshitz says it’s just the beginning. "It’s really cool when you get an email from overseas from someone in a completely different market who is saying, ‘Hi, I want your product here.’ It’s so exciting."

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