This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by LIM students with winners of the Accessories Council's 2020 Design Excellence Awards (DEA). Students are enrolled in Fashion Merchandising Professor Andrea Kennedy's Honors Introduction to the Fashion Business class.
PopSocket creator David Barnett originally came up with the product concept because his wired headphones kept getting tangled. He started selling PopSockets out of his garage, and now the product is being sold at many different stores.
PopSocket and Burt’s Bees collaborated and created an award-winning product. Burt’s Bees is famously known for their natural and earth-friendly lip balms. The collaboration was released on June 1st, 2020. The Accessories Council awarded their product with a Design Excellence Award. The product looks like a typical PopSocket used to grip your phone, but what is hidden inside makes it unique. When you open the lid, they are filled with Burt’s Bees classic beeswax lip balm.
After a quick and warm welcome, we got started with our interview:
To start, what does being the Vice President of Design, Merchandising and Brand Partnership entail at PopSocket?
Siegel said she oversees three departments. She manages the graphic design team which includes colors, materials and finishes. Siegel also heads the merchandising and in-line PD teams—they manage assortments for different retailers. The PD team makes sure that what Target carries is very different than what Urban Outfitters carries. Lastly, Siegel manages the brand partnerships such as one with Burt’s Bees.
We read that you have a Bachelor of Science degree in Fashion Design, can you tell us about the process of transition from the design side of the fashion industry to the business side?
Siegel still works with the designs but thinks about them from a business perspective. Instead of needing to know about a person's body and style trends, she had to learn about the industrial side of things. She explained, “We think about the phone and how to make that look good. And what's trending, and what will the consumer want out of this item that they carry every day?”
What’s your favorite part of working at the company?
Siegel explained that she loves seeing the products she creates come to life and seeing people use them. She told us that the other day at the dentist, the secretary had one of PopSocket’s grips that she designed. It feels special to see people using the products she works so hard to produce.
What is the process of designing a PopSocket?
Siegel describes that the research through WGSN, social media, their own tastes, closets, and friends are the first steps in the process of designing a PopSocket. They create mood boards and trend directions based off what they're seeing through all those different portals. Once the teams agree on the trends and the colors, they think about what these trends mean for PopSocket: “Drafting up different ideas and designs is the last step, and we make anywhere between one and twenty prototypes,” Siegel joked.
How do you bring entirely new tech products and accessories into a market that is always changing?
Siegel responded, “We want to stay fresh. PopSocket thinks about ways that they can help their customer’s everyday lives.” Siegel explained how the company had to consider something that was not just pretty, but new. Lip balm is an important essential product that people use in their everyday lives. Colorado, where PopSockets' based, tends to get very dry. For this reason, the Burt’s Bees collaboration has been doing very well for them there. They want the customer to be offered a product they never thought they needed.
What are some innovative ways the team at PopSocket brings a new idea from concept to product?
Siegel and the team start with customer research. They try to take something in our everyday lives and transform it into something new and fresh. The brand likes to think of their products as “little life changers.”
What made the company decide to collaborate with Burt's Bees on the PopLips Burt’s Bees Lip Balm Phone Stand?
Siegel explained how having the support from another brand helps leverage your product. When coming up with the lip balm category, they started to research the top players in lip balms. Burt’s Bees was very excited to hear their idea when they reached out, as this was very different for them.
We are excited about PopSockets as it is a brand that we all know well. How does one get hired? And do you hire interns?
Siegel told us that we should always check out their career page to see if there are any new positions opening. The brand likes using online platforms for hiring because it's much easier to read through resumes and profiles. Siegel also offered to read through our resumes, when we are ready to send them out, which we really appreciate.
What do you think are the most important skills for an entrepreneur?
Siegel advised that flexibility is important; you're going to get a ton of feedback from people when starting something new. Be flexible to react to what the consumer wants, knowing that what you are making and what you are doing is for the customer. The most important thing is that they like it and want to buy it. “Trust your gut.”
Do you have any advice for students who want to work in the fashion technology accessory arena?
The best advice would be to try new things. Try to diversify your internship experiences to be able to decide what really interests you. Siegel closed with, “Go and try and be adventurous and see if this is for you.”
All three of us were teens when PopSocket first came onto the market, it is incredible to speak to a leader at a company we all know and have grown up with. We are grateful we had the opportunity get the inside scoop on PopSocket. We are inspired by what Emily Siegel shared and so happy to have these little life changers at our fingertips.