How I Created A Removable Sleeves Product For Women

Published: June 24th, 2018
Susan Costanza
Founder, Sleeves 2 Go
Sleeves 2 Go
from Florida, USA
started September 2011
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Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hi, My name is Susan Costanza, I am the designer and founder of Sleeves 2 Go Inc.

Sleeves 2 Go is an attachable flutter sleeve designed to snap on easily to a woman’s bra strap offering coverage & style of the upper arm when wearing a sleeveless garment. Sleeves 2 Go are done in lightweight chiffon & lace fabrics that mix & match beautifully with may different types of fabric and colors.. It’s a wonderful wardrobe solution for women of any age or size because Sleeves 2 Go are one size fits most.

Over the years, The Sleeves 2 Go collection has grown into other functional fashion designs such as the slip extender which adds length to a short skirt or dress without having to visit a seamstress. I also created a shrug that is a tubular design done in a stretchy lightweight fabric that can be worn as a shrug or scarf, offering more coverage as a longer sleeve and is a great companion for any sleeveless or strapless garment. I also carry a line of pretty Poncho’s & Chiffon Vests that make for an easy stylish topper for summer outfits.

My Mission is to help women embrace their own personal style ! Whether it is to conceal aging arms, cover a scar, tattoo or maybe a dress code at the office that requires no sleeveless garments. Whatever the reason, we sometimes need a fashion fix-it that provides an easy solution to our everyday wardrobe needs. Creating the look you want is always in style !

I started my company with a very small personal investment and chose not to take on any debt or loans. I wanted to build the company slowly and not overextend myself. My company is small but I am happy to say that Sleeves 2 Go has been profitable.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I have always loved fashion as far back as I can remember. After extensive years in the fashion industry, and 20 years as a fashion show coordinator & commentator, I’ve found the most common wardrobe dilemma women shared with me was "Why is everything sleeveless" or “I don’t like the way my arms look”.

What I learned is that, no matter what you are selling, do it with integrity, believe in your product or what you are doing wholeheartedly, work hard and work smart!

As women age the arms can be a trouble spot, and most of today’s fashion trends lean towards sleeveless dresses & tops, especially here in south Florida. The only solutions available were to cover-up with a sweater, jacket or maybe a wrap, which can make your outfit look dated or matronly. That’s how the idea of an attachable sleeve was born. After months of research and designing to create a prototype, I finally was able to get the attachable sleeve into production.

My career as a fashion show coordinator gave me the perfect platform to present and demonstrate the Sleeves 2 Go on my models. It was a great way to see how the audience would react after the models showed a before and after demonstration on the runway. The response was so positive, they immediately came backstage after the show to purchase a pair. That’s when I realized I had a great product and that this could open a whole new fashion category for many women.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

I have a background in Art & Design, so I can draw and create fashion on paper but I never learned how to sew. After I designed a pattern and created my first prototype, I then took this to a seamstress who helped me make some changes and tweak the design to get it right.

It was very important to me that my product is made here in the United States. This led me to the clothing & textile industry in Miami to find a manufacturer. After months of research and meetings, my samples were coming back poorly made and a lack of quality workmanship.

I expressed this issue to a very good friend who had a connection with a manufacturer in Tennessee. When I received my samples back from them I was thrilled! The sleeves were beautifully made and this manufacturer could also handle large orders for me.

Since my product "the attachable sleeve" is so unique and one of a kind, I decided to file an application for trademark and a patent.

The whole process took about four years to get approved and close to $5,000 in legal fees. A lot of hardwork and determination went into my invention but it paid off and I’m so excited and proud to be the owner of a United States Patent, received on May 31, 2016.

Describe the process of launching the online store/business.

I chose not to open a brick-and- mortar store and decided to sell my products online with an e-commerce platform. Back in 2011 when I launched my website and started to market my product, I was still working as a fashion show coordinator and did not want to give up that income right away. I was also juggling the responsibilities of being a Wife, a Mother & taking care of a home and 2 dogs. The thought of opening a store was daunting and I was not in any financial position to take that risk. My Husband & I got caught up in the foreclosure wave when the market crashed & we almost lost our home. It took 2 years but eventually the bank did refinance our mortgage and we were very thankful not lose our home. After that experience our credit was shot. So I took a leap of faith and made a small investment of about $5,000 to get my product manufactured and ready to sell. The e-commerce platform made more sense to me at the time and I could work from my home which gave me a lot of flexibility in my schedule.

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I launched my store with Shopify, a user friendly website, since I’m not very tech savvy. Initially, getting traffic to my store was slow. It took a good couple of years before I saw any profits.

I made many mistakes but great lessons were learned. For example, not knowing how much fabric to buy and in which colors. At first I decided to make the sleeves available in basic colors such as black, white, ivory, brown and navy. The navy & brown sleeves were just not selling as fast and I ended up being overstocked with them. So I learned eventually what was a popular pick with my customers and went from there.

They say the road to success is never a smooth one. However, I’m now able to navigate the internet more wisely and use the social media platform for most of my advertising. It offers great exposure for my company without spending thousands of dollars in advertising.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I continued as a fashion show coordinator for a few more years to still have income while trying to grow my business.

My background in fashion show productions was the perfect platform to market my product. I already had the connections and relationships with women’s clubs, charities and fundraising events where luncheon fashion shows took place.

This also gave me the opportunity to take my business and sell on the go as a vendor or a pop-up-shop. One of the tools I use is Go Payment to process my sales and create orders on the go. Taking my company on the road to different locations and events also helps drive traffic to my website because of the exposure I get at many of the larger trade shows.

About 2 years ago, I started working with a sales Rep at the Trendz Shows.Trendz is the largest women’s apparel show in the state of Florida that showcases clothing, accessories & more, for the purpose of wholesale orders and is open to the trade only. This has given me the opportunity to get better exposure for my company and to get my product into retail stores. Since then, I have opened many new accounts that include local boutiques and specialty stores. I’m still trying to get my foot in the door with the larger department stores, hoping to someday be like Sara Blakely the "Spanx founder". Dreams don’t happen overnight so I’m in it for the long haul and enjoying every moment!

I also use MailChimp a wonderful app that allows you to create newsletters and send email blasts to your customers to promote your store. When a customer purchases from the website they are automatically put on my newsletter list. I also build on my customer list from many of the trade shows I attend. I’ll offer a promotion like "win a free pair of Sleeves 2 Go" or if they want to receive our newsletter, they have to fill out their name & email information on a piece of paper that goes into a jar. At the end of the day I pick a winner and have gained new emails. Once a month I send out a newsletter to my customers offering a discount or sale usually around 20% off their purchase. A great way to get repeat business.

How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?

Right now I run the business by myself and hire an assistant when I do events or participate in the larger trade shows a vendor.

I work out of my home & handle shipping & receiving to keep my overhead and costs low. My goal is to eventually bring Sleeves 2 Go Inc. to the next level for mass retail distribution.

I envision a successful and prosperous future, looking forward to the journey ahead!

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

When I decided to switch careers from being a fashion show coordinator to CEO of Sleeves 2 Go, I went from selling a service to selling a product. So, this has been a big learning experience for me.

What I learned is that, no matter what you are selling, do it with integrity, believe in your product or what you are doing wholeheartedly, work hard and work smart!

I really enjoy sharing my resources and fashion advice to help women embrace their own personal style. That’s what inspired me to create a wardrobe solution for women of any age or size. It’s not only about looking good, it’s also about feeling confident!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I really enjoy reading and have found these books to be very inspiring and insightful:

This is just to name a few, they are filled with great advice for finding success, fulfillment, prosperity and developing a positive outlook on life.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

If you have an idea for something or an invention go for it.

Be creative, take risks, make mistakes, it’s all part of the learning process.

Follow your dreams no matter what other people think and always trust your gut & stay true to yourself.

This is one of my favorite quotes by Henry Ford - "Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, only this time more intelligently".

Where can we go to learn more?