Reinventing The Hanger – The Gno.1 story
The journey of a persistent dream – as told by Hilary White
At the same time I approached all the International Aid Agencies throughout Malawi to assist me with my vision, however the topic of ‘motivation’ was not a priority in a country with so many other pressing needs.
I found my life-long purpose – to motivate and inspire the youth in Malawi to recognise that in each and every human being there is a seed of greatness, and no matter what their circumstances, or their environment, once they truly understood their worth, they could do, or become anything they ever dreamed of – they could change their world.But I did find an interim solution – the Chief Editor of the Sunday Edition of ‘The Nation’ gave me a half-page spread every Sunday for ten months, which was enough for me to summarise each chapter – I encouraged the youth to cut out each page and make up their own book of my ‘Change Your World’ book to serve as a reference.
I had to press on with what little savings I had. At first I was too self-conscious to hand over my manuscript to a publisher, as I did not think of myself as being a writer, yet I pushed to find a Publisher in South Africa, and eventually self-published. Part of the package was that I would receive 50 books of my very own – any quantities over and above I would have to purchase. I was fired up to build my ‘Foundation of Inspiration’, and live my purpose… but I needed money to do that. A lot of money – my vision of giving my book away had grown into a much larger dream.
One day, alone, on a beautiful tranquil piece of open land I always visited to find inner peace – I had my ‘Eureka’ moment. In that instant I knew what I needed to do. I phoned my sister and told her I knew what I was going to do to make a lot of money and that she should wait for my idea to arrive at her home in South Africa via DHL.
Later that day at home I drew a sketch – the first prototype blueprint. I knew without a doubt, that this was a beginning of an amazing adventure. I designed the world’s first multi-tiered hanger that could fit an entire outfit for men or women, including accessories on one hanger. My heart exploded with utter joy as I researched the World Wide Web, to find anything that resembled the image in my mind as I sat in the Malawian bush. There to my amazement was nothing that could come close in comparison.
What inspired my invention was a conversation I had with my 7-year old niece who had come to visit. She loved dressing up hangers with her outfits. A week after my niece had left Malawi, I decided to do the same. I dressed up hangers for each day of the week, Monday through Friday. As a busy single mom of two and a business woman and with a full time career, mornings were hectic – I literally had to get up and go. There was no time to ponder over my outfit in the mornings – which is why my little niece’s method made so much sense.
All my fashion must-haves hung at the very end of my cupboard rail, or lay packed at the back of my wardrobe or on the bottom of the pile – and like any busy woman will know – an outfit gets assembled by habitually grabbing clothes that are easiest to get to. There was no time for mixing and matching or the thought of looking different and feeling great. All my fashion accessories and bling stayed glamorous – but forgotten.
I decided to pre-plan my wardrobe for a week and dress up five hangers. It was a great success! Each morning, life was simple; my hand went into the cupboard, and out came a perfectly coordinated outfit, including accessories. I looked great, I felt great, and I saved so much time. Best of all, I started to get compliments, which made me feel wonderful and excited to continue planning my wardrobe. I became good at planning ahead and found new ways to maximise my looks.
I took my fully-scaled drawing with all my dimensions and sizes and gave it to Lucas my night-watch guard at the time, to make a prototype from wire – the African way. Anthony, the son of my maid, whom I am dearly fond of, watched Lucas with great interest. My first prototype was made. I ran into my room and began to hang my clothes and accessories on my hanger. I was over the moon. It worked. I was so excited. The next day, Anthony presented me with an exact replica of Lucas’s hanger, however this one was more polished. He had taken such care with how he bent, and curved the wire, and had chosen copper wire to add some zing to the design. I loved it.
It was Anthony’s prototype that I sent via DHL to my sister Ayala – who loved the end-vision. Together with her husband Trevor, who is now a partner in our business, placed it in his cupboard to try it out. It was he who added the top tier. We all knew there was great scope. In November 2011, I had to fly to SA for personal reasons and took this opportunity to link up with Kerry Marshall and brief her on the hanger. Within the same meeting she suggested a product developer who would be innovative enough to take the prototype and evolve the ordinary into the extraordinary. I commissioned the prototype immediately.
From the final drawings I was able to find a manufacturer to quote on producing the mould and provide a unit cost of the hanger. Once the timing of the completion of the prototype came through with the confirmed costings, I made two meetings with two different target markets (Hospitality & Retail) in SA, to get their opinion of the hanger – now branded ‘SmartHanger’.
In February 2011, to my great delight, the product designer presented me with a bright pink prototype of the SmartHanger. I fell in love with my hanger on sight. It was perfect, the design, elegance, the functionality and pure uniqueness was impressive – but it was bright pink.
Armed with my simply impressive SmartHanger, I presented the concept to the trade; both presentations were extremely successful and encouraging, however there were fundamental changes to be made. Back to the drawing board for a redesign, and add an additional vital component for the Hospitality industry. This gave me the confidence that I was on the edge of something great. I felt I was heading in the right direction and that there was most certainly some market appeal. My dream of become a brand was becoming more real. My enthusiasm heightened and my determination became more profound.
I returned to Malawi with a new brief on how to improve the SmartHanger. The product developer had been commissioned to begin another project and could not continue with the design and modifications. I tried many other product developers and manufactures – it was an emotional roller-coaster – I was hammered by exorbitant fee structures and moulding costs as well as nay-sayers who tried to persuade me not to continue due to the international patents. I became engulfed with the reality of financial constraints. I started to realise that my dream, my burning desire of motivating and inspiring the youth of Malawi to become the best that they could be, was slipping away.
It took me a few weeks to establish a new working relationship with a manufacturing company in Cape Town, who not only agreed to help me with the fundamental changes and product development, but were able to provide me with a turn-key solution. He would work with a product designer, who would be linked to his technical department to produce the manufacturing moulds. Once completed, he would manufacture the product. He, was an angel, as all the costs for each of the necessary stages until manufacturing, was achievable. I was elated and with renewed hope and drive. We started working together in April 2012. Weeks grew into months as we worked with different design and material options to achieve the fundamental changes and additions which were critical to the success of SmartHanger being accepted by the trade.
In July 2013 I had to make a personal life-changing decision – to leave Malawi and move to South Africa. Communication became more frequent and the project took on a renewed pace, to my relief. However, due to my relentless persistence that the unique design and ergonomic look and feel of the hanger must at all times be maintained, was causing great concern for the manufacturing process.
In October 2013 we commissioned our second prototype which did not meet our design expectations. I was crushed and despondent, that our manufacture could not continue with the project. We had to end our wonderful relationship and I had to start again.
At the same time my financial investor was no longer able to continue with the project.
A double-whammy setback. But I was not lost without ‘hope and vision’. I knew without a doubt I would pull through and that this idea, would be born successfully. My dream would definitely become a reality.
A stepping stone of finance was needed at this juncture. This is my brother Mark stepped in (I affectionately call him my “Rock”) and offered to support the project further – however he did not have the full amount to get me to manufacturing. But I was able to continue.
Strangely, I had previously met with our current manufacturer in Johannesburg at the outset of the project, but they could not take on the job at the time. So I approached them again and towards the end of October 2013 we had a meeting and everything started falling into place. All programmes were given to him as he could provide everything I wanted and more. Each of the critical processes needed for the design, look and feel could be accomplished with ease; they were able to meet all costs as per our manufacturer in Cape Town. Our relationship continues effortlessly and we have built a great team with one vision and goal.
A double-whammy setback. But I was not lost without ‘hope and vision’. I knew without a doubt I would pull through and that this idea, would be born successfully. My dream would definitely become a reality.My heart was singing again and now all I needed was an investor for the bigger costs to come.
I even contacted one of the Dragons from the TV programme “Dragons Den” via email – but I knew in my soul – this was not where my investor would come from. Then in November 2013, I began communicatiing with the world’s largest manufacturer of hangers and asked them if they would consider integrating SmartHanger into their range.
In January 2014, secure with Patent Protections, I sent them my presentation. After numerous discussions, which came to an end by the end of February, SmartHanger was rejected. There was one area of concern – I needed to have the K Factor (did not have the visual appeal by design).
This comment was true, and was pivotal in evolving the design of the hanger further. I knew it. I stopped the project yet again to carefully consider the design. Over three and a half years of market research, overcoming manufacturing limitations, refining the look, on countless occasions, after numerous prototypes, presentations where I thought we were ready to launch – the Smarthanger was far from ready.
Back to the drawing board
March 2014 – we went back to the drawing board. Our design had to be perfected. Kerry, my business partner whom I had known and worked with for over seventeen years in the Advertising Industry, and by that stage who had become one of my greatest motivators by whole-heartedly sharing my vision and, sketched the `g’ which became the ultimate distinctive trade-mark in the design of the hanger, which in turn invoked the new Corporate Brand Identity – Gno.1. By March our design was complete and our first approved prototype Gno.1 was born.
What does g-no-1, stand for? Pronounced gee-no-1: G = generation/also synonymous with the ‘g’ design in the hanger; and no-1 = the first in the world, multi-tiered hanger that can fit an entire outfit for ladies and gents on one hanger including accessories. Our new name Gno.1 was filed for Trademark.
Normally when people need start-up capital to inject into their new business venture, they sell their homes, and live in their cars until they make it! In March, I had no home to sell, so I sold my beloved Mercedes-Benz and used to joke that I have to live on the pavement! With this money, and the positive feedback on sales and marketing of the Gno.1, our manufacturer commenced with the initial stages of producing the moulds. Every meeting we set up, the response of the Gno.1 brand was met with great enthusiasm, for its uniqueness and marketability. No matter which target market we saw, there was a definite need, and an interest that would turn into profitable contracts.
By June, our investor joined forces again, which enabled us to move ahead swiftly. We spoke to many different industries, and were accepted by all. The process for making and polishing of the mould is a lengthy process which took until November 2014 to be completed.
No matter what challenges face me, no matter what obstacles hinder my way forward, with sheer strength, determination and inner-belief – the right people, are placed before me, to help and guide me to where I need to be.Kerry and I were invited by our manufacturing team to collect our Gno.1 samples. I shall never forget that day. Our hangers over-exceeded my expectations, our colour choices, displayed the Gno.1 brand in all its glory, Red, gold, green, black, champagne, and silver. To me, it felt like Christmas day, as if I was given the greatest gift imaginable. Truthfully, for the next few days before falling asleep, I used to look and hold each of the hangers in pure gratitude and joy, and revelled in the pure wonderment that I was actually holding my beloved Gno.1 in my own two hands.
No matter what challenges face me, no matter what obstacles hinder my way forward, with sheer strength, determination and inner-belief – the right people, are placed before me, to help and guide me to where I need to be. I know without a doubt, “Change Your World” will have a volume 2. And Gno.1 is the result of my belief that within each and every one of us, we can do anything we set our hearts to.
There is more to come, and the Gno.1 story is only now gaining momentum and moving with lightning speed – it has only just begun.