By GREGORY ZELLER //
A 2010 fashion startup is looking to ride a new Kickstarter campaign to infinity – and beyond.
Laura Russo didn’t set out to stake a fashion claim. A hairdresser who liked to work with her hands (she even crafted handmade cages for orphaned rescue animals), she simply wanted to create unique handmade gifts for her young daughters.
But when friends saw her clever, hand-woven creation – a closed-loop “infinite” scarf with a hood – they urged Russo to make more. Now, with an offshore manufacturing deal, a hot new innovation (a hooded towel perfect for trendy workout enthusiasts) and a fresh Kickstarter campaign, the entrepreneur is thinking big.
At first, Russo knitted up the elegant hooded scarves on demand, but “people realized there was nothing like it” and they caught on fast. She soon decided to “get into production,” she told Innovate LI, and in 2010 incorporated L M Web and Design.
With the unique Infinity Scarf gaining popularity, supportive friends and family urged Russo to protect her intellectual property, and in 2011 the hooded loop earned a U.S. design patent.
Trading as Laura Alison Design, the company has since grown the product line to include the hooded scarves, made from a silk-wool blend; fashionable, fingerless Infinity Gloves of the same soft mesh; and now the Hooded Infinity Sport Towel, an infinite-loop terrycloth creation for the workout set.
Until now, Russo’s goals have been modest. In May, she received a 600-unit order of the hooded towels from her Sri Lankan manufacturer, a connection she made through a friend employed by a Swedish fashion supplier.
And she’s still sitting on a small backlog of hooded scarves, which are “cold-weather sellers,” the CEO noted, with little summer appeal.
But now she’s ready for the major leagues, literally, and the Kickstarter campaign kicked off this week, while modest, marks a turning point for Laura Alison Design. Russo is seeking just $7,000, but a successful campaign could catapult the one-woman-show into the big time.
Russo said the $7,000 would cover “attorney fees and marketing and SEO, and if there’s anything left, trade shows.” She’d “also like to pay [her daughters] for their modeling work at some point,” the mom-preneur noted, but it’s that ability to attend more trade shows – including the January 2017 Sports Licensing & Tailgate Show in Las Vegas – that most intrigues her.
Russo’s big fish: exclusive licensing deals with professional sports leagues, national universities and even major corporate partners, a potentially lucrative destiny for her “very logo-friendly” products, particularly the Infinity Sport Towel.
“These make very good promotional products,” Russo said. “I can really see this doing well with the NFL or the NHL or branded with school logos.
“I can also see products for Disney,” she added, “with the Mickey Mouse ears on it.”
While she’s already had preliminary discussions with branding agents and sales representatives, Russo sees the Kickstarter campaign as her big chance to push forward. Among other things, a successful campaign will “definitely” convince her to take residency in LaunchPad Huntington, where the entrepreneur has been considering office space.
It may also prompt the solopreneur to expand her marketing and sales operations – at a minimum, bringing daughters Melissa and Sarah Wandursky into the fold in a more official capacity.
“They’ve already been helping me as far as social networking and sales,” Russo said of Melissa, a Wyoming hairdresser, and Sarah, who works for BMW in Bay Shore.
Russo also credited her daughters with coining the Laura Alison Design slogan: “Where fashion and function collide.”
That can be a tough dichotomy to manage, especially for a startup whose chic side really only sells for half the year. But Russo – already no stranger to trade shows and point-of-sale events, including Huntington’s annual Long Island Fall Festival – believes her patented design crosses nicely between the two audiences.
Just to make sure, she’s working up an open-weave cotton version of the Infinity Scarf, extending its selling season into warmer months, while the Infinity Sport Towel – an idea the innovator conceived while observing people interacting with their towels at the gym – should also bridge some gaps.
“The towel is looped, so it doesn’t fall off when you’re working out,” she noted. “Some people like to wear the hood so they’ll sweat more. And some will like it when they’re done working out and they walk out into the cold. And, it’s a fashion statement.”
Russo has personally invested $50,000 in her startup to cover patent and trademark costs, manufacturing costs, trade show attendance and various attorney fees. With her small Kickstarter campaign off to a fast start – the 30-day pitch raised over $1,000 in less than 48 hours – and the Infinity Towel rolling out, the entrepreneur is getting serious about cashing in that investment.
“I’m very passionate about these products,” Russo said. “My goal is to get them licensed out to as many companies as possible.
“And then, I really should pay the girls.”
Laura Alison Design
What’s It? Fashion-design firm presenting closed-loop scarves and towels and related accessories
Brought To You By: Laura Russo, hairdresser-turned-fashion maven
All In: $90,000, including $50,000 self-invested by Russo and a friends-and-family round, covering a design patent, manufacturing and various startup costs
Status: One meager Kickstarter from greatness