Scough, a Brooklyn made germ and pollution filtering scarf, is looking to fight airborne infection one covered sneeze at a time. Co-founders Alexa Nigro, Ari Klaristenfeld, and Andrew Kessler, first realized the potential behind their virus absorbing scarves after receiving rave reviews and witnessing actual results from eager family and friends. We sat down with the Scough to breakdown the process of taking a product from an idea to a business.
How did you start out designing and envisioning Scough in the market?
It became apparent that this was a product that other people were going to like when we started getting attention from everyone after wearing them. Curiosity from friends and family led to people asking to try the product out. During wintertime, friends who would typically complain about getting sick while commuting on the subway and going to the office, suddenly stopped complained. They realized that, unlike their coworkers, they weren’t getting sick. That was the moment that we knew that our product was benefitting others and delivering results. It was time to bring it to market.
What are some of the challenges you faced with launching such a unique product?
One of the big challenges that we faced with a new innovative product is that people don’t actually know they need a product like this. How do we explain our product to people? How do we market our product so that people realize that it would benefit their lives? In the beginning we were very fortunate to receive a lot of great press, exposure from blogs, and word-of-mouth buzz. People really started to understand our product’s benefits after hearing testimonials from customers preaching about our product.
We took an incredibly lean approach. We make ‘em and test ‘em. Rinse repeat. We had a very tough challenge around creating a new consumer behavior. We did a lot of initial research into people not wanting to wear masks. There wasn’t a real fashionable solution.
When the product hit the market, we didn’t really know what would do well and what wouldn’t. We didn’t have the business acumen to understand if our idea would work. So we just kept making new ones and giving them to people to try out. Then, we listened to feedback, and, more importantly, observed. We asked ourselves, “What’s the thing people aren’t saying they love?”
Where did you manufacture before? Was it hard to source your materials and manufacturer?
Finding factories was just a nightmare. We spent 3-4 months looking for a local factory to help us produce our products. No one would share their sources, they were very protective. We met with a handful of factories but they were too expensive. We weren’t getting anywhere before Maker’s Row. A lot of factories just won’t talk to you. And if they do, they’re not really keen on working with you to make something beyond a standard garment. It’s hard and expensive to innovate in this space.
As Scough started to take off, it became a little overwhelming for us. We wanted to keep production in New York where we could have control over the process and see that the quality was up to par. Alexa’s family has been in manufacturing in the United States for generations so it was especially important for us to produce here.
The first step was finding a local manufacturer that we could collaborate with. Through professional connections we were able to find Maker’s Row which was a life saver. We actually read a Maker’s Row Blog post written by another maker about her experience with a specific factory that helped her make scarves – which ended up being the factory we used, partially based on her recommendation. Within a few hours of searching on the Maker’s Row database, we found a handful of factories to contact. Within a matter of days, we narrowed down the selection to a few great factories in Brooklyn. Within a week of our initial search, we selected MCM Enterprise, the Brooklyn-based factory that now produces our line. MCM Enterprise collaborated with us and were very accommodating for all of our production needs. Since Scough is a new and innovative product, we needed to create and design the template, just like with any breakthrough product. We needed a factory that could build that template with us and adapt our patterns to respond to our customer’s feedback. MCM Enterprise was able to produce our product so that we could offer it to different markets, retailers and distributors around the world.
What was unique about your fabric? How did your material differentiate you from the industry or competitors?
We did a lot of materials research. We wanted our product to be more effective but still cozy, wearable and stylish. We have a proprietary filter that uses an incredibly powerful activated carbon filter. We didn’t want to get any old active carbon because there are big differences in effectiveness and quality. So we sought out the best manufacturer and with the best lab results. We’re trying to protect people from nasty stuff and we didn’t want to take any chances.
We found inspiration underground in the NYC subway where commuters notoriously forget to cover their mouths when coughing. Andrew wanted to take a polite practice he noticed abroad in China, where people wear a mask when they’re sick to avoid infecting others, and bring it to New York. Realizing how uncomfortable New Yorkers might feel about wearing masks, we created a “masked mask”–a wearable scarf to cover up the actual mask. The team looked looked at incorporating interesting materials used in gas masks that would make their scarves more effective than a surgical mask. We decided to use active carbon, a substance that functions similarly to a water filter. Infusing the active carbon with filter allowed it to kill viruses.
Sourcing materials and manufacturers for a new product is capital intensive. In the process, you create partnerships and make new friends. Maker’s Row feels like one of them.
It was a big year for us. We went from nothing to hand-sewing to production and global distribution in 12 months. No rest for the weary. Now we’re setting our sights on retail distribution and looking to expand beyond just direct sales and brand partnerships.