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Reinventing the hair tie? How Invisibobble turned a mass-produced good into a prestige product

Founder, CEO and Inventor of Invisibobble Sophie Trelles-Tvede speaking at OMR19

Invisibobble CEO and founder Sophie Trelles-Tvede in the OMR Podcast

For Sophie Trelles Tvede, founding Invisibobble was a headache. Literally. Invisibobble, you see, is in the business of hair ties—something that always gave Travde splitting headaches. But thanks to a bad taste party and a university in England that really wasn’t challenging her, she came up with the idea for Invisibobble. In this episode of the OMR podcast, Trelles-Tvede—CEO and Founder of Invisibobble—sits down with OMR Editor-in-Chief Roland Eisnebrand to discuss the pros and cons of being an indie brand, how to turn a mass-produced good into a prestige product and how a hangover helped her get rid of headaches.

9 months of learning and fine-tuning

Invisibobble is a prestige brand that specializes in a product that could not be further from prestigious: hair ties. “In it’s simplest form, Invisibobble is a better version of a regular hair tie,” Trelles-Tvede tells Roland Eisenbrand, distilling the product down to its essence. While not entirely inaccurate, it is reductive and overlooks the fascinating journey of arriving at the final product.

“The core Invisibobble concept was finalized in late 2011 and in early 2012 the company launched with a tangible product. “What we were striving for was how to create a hair tie that doesn’t leave a mark in your hair.” Trelles-Tvede says. What followed was a 9-month journey to find the right product. That entailed conducting research into who makes telephone cords, learning the ins and outs of plastics and finding a partner willing to produce their prototypes.

Hairdressers, self-funding and mass retailers

“Eventually we found someone in China willing to take the step with us and to modify some things in production,” she says. With a producer on board, Trelles-Tvede and her co-founder ponied up 4K in their own cash for “a Shopify website, photoshop and the rest was put towards the initial order,” she remembers. They then began cold calling professional hairdressers in England and in Munich to get their opinion and feedback. The input from the professionals was such a boon that it soon morphed into a key element of Invisibobble’s distribution strategy, which is “a specialization in distribution through mass retailers,” says Trelles-Tvede. Counter-intuitive though it may be in today’s online everything age, Invisibobble is available in 85,000 locations around the world and has sold 100 million products in under a decade.

Procrastination, bad taste and headaches

Also unorthodox, is the genesis of Invisibobble. When she started the company in 2011, Sophie Trelles Tvede was enrolled at the University of Warwick in England. It was “one of those universities where if you feel like it you can get away with doing nothing for three-quarters of the year, but then you die the last three months,” says Trelles-Tvede. “And of course I was one of those students.”

Due to her self-induced light load, she felt bored, “unfulfilled and undeserving of the Christmas Break.” So she did what any college student going through the motions would do: she went to a pre-Xmas break party. “It was a bad taste party and was motivated to play the part with a proper bad taste costume,” Trelles-Tvade recalls. The final piece to her costume? Tying up her hair in an old telephone cord. “Hair ties always gave me headaches. But I realized in my hungover state that I didn’t have a headache with the telephone cord in my hair.” The (dimly lit) lightbulb went off to found a company, even though she says she never really actively wanted to found a company.

Listen to the OMR podcast with Invisibobble CEO and founder Sophie Trelles-Tvede to hear how being an indie brand helped in negotiations with mass retailers, about the difficulties of transforming a mass-produced good into a prestige product and how Invisibobble is like a song you have to warm up to before you can fully appreciate it. Thanks for listening and please: if you like what you hear, give us a subscribe!

The OMR Podcast at a glance:

  • What is Invisibobble and what do they do?
  • What factors led to the creation of Invisibobble?
  • How is the company doing today? What are some key figures?
  • What do you do after you found a company? Where does that journey start?
  • Where were the first Invisibobbles produced?
  • How was the initial batch of products financed?
  • How was initial distribution conducted?
  • Why did Invisibobble foucs on cold calling hair dressers?
  • What were the criteria for selecting which hairdressers to call upon?
  • What is the company New Flag and why is Invisibobble affiliated with them?
  • After the hairdressers took on the first batch of Invisibobbles, were they a hit with consumers right away?
  • Why was it important for Invisibobble to be physically available for purchase in hair salons and not exclusively online?
  • What went into the decision to want to be a mass-produced, prestige (mass-tige) brand?
  • How Invisibobble went from being available at specially selected hairdressers to widespread retail outlets?
  • For products to be successful in retail outlets, there are a host of hurdles to clear, with everything from paying for high-traffic end cap placements to commissions for sales. How did Invisibobble manage to pull off the transition given that cash was at a premium?
  • Why Trelles-Tvede feels that indie brands are now in and more prevalent than ever?
  • With today’s more eco-conscientious consumers, how does she rationalize being a company that sells a product made from plastic?
  • When Invisibobble was first sold in retail outlets, how and to what extent did it impact company growth?
  • Some insights into Invisibobble’s business performance:
  • How did the current product range evolve into what it is today?
  • What is Invisibobble doing to improve its eCommerce game?
  • How many people does Invisibobble employ and what do they do?
  • What advice would Trelles-Tvede give young entrepreneurs?
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