Getting a product out of development and to market is one thing. Getting it into a top-tier store is like that times 100. Thousands of companies are vying for the same limited shelf-space. "If the designs make the first cut, there's a lot of back-and-forth with clients, manufacturers and retailers as we ensure the designs hit on every cylinder," says RKS's Ravi Sawhney. "Distribution, margins, packaging, channels...everything has to be just right." The marketplace attention garnered by RKS's new headphone line for Vestalife is a testament to its intelligent strategy—laser-focused on a particular audience and manufactured with drop-dead gorgeous looks as a high priority.
A key to Vestalife's success may have also been due to Sawhney's unique development strategy. He tapped four female designers from his team—Soyun Kim, Leah Thomas, Young Bang, and Hojin Choi—and let them explore whatever headphone concepts tickled their fancies.
Their backgrounds each brought something a little different to the project: There was a microbiologist, an accountant with business acumen, a child prodigy and skilled artist, and a competitive snowboarder turned Ford Motor Company designer. Diverse backgrounds (and eight college degrees between them) allowed the women to survey the market using a blend of psychoactive and aesthetic-based standards. They quickly realized the cold hard truth about music and women: No headphone manufacturer was designing specifically for them.
The bigger problem for women actually lies in a larger issue around electronics: No matter how sexy those iPod ads look, headphones and fashion don't go together. If they could just bring the basic hardware a little closer to something you'd actually use to adorn your body, they reasoned, they might be able to reach a whole new audience of trend-conscious music lovers. "With more traditional earbuds, the design stops at the body," explains Thomas. "We chose to bring attention to the cord, treating it, too, like jewelry that was meant to be displayed, not hidden." Soft-touch earbuds with flexible fixtures, and colored, fabric-covered wires makes the headphones look more like necklaces, earrings, and headbands than electronics.
Tapping this new audience of fashion-forward women was key for the products getting fast-tracked to market, as was the choice to pursue a design based on an aesthetic-focused competitive analysis. Vestalife's launch now beautifully fills a gap left somewhere between utilitarian geek and let's-coat-every-product-in-pink. The line will see a debut at CES this week and then, before long, you can see them soon in a store near you.
Pi, the first concept by the team, uses wide fabric-covered "headbands" which can be swapped out to match with outfits.
Bumblebee is the earbud version of the Pi, echoing the headphone design for those who want to match their on-the-go look.
Scarab's sculpted pinch-grip encourages removal by the earbud, not the cord, and the folded leather-look insert forms a natural cord-relief.
Boa uses an elegant, understated design and the natural fabric look of the cord for a more casual feel.