S'pore second-biggest backer of Kickstarter jacket

A multi-feature travel jacket by Chicago-based start-up Baubax raised $3.2 million in kickstarter funds, with Singaporeans being among its top supporters.
A multi-feature travel jacket by Chicago-based start-up Baubax raised $3.2 million in kickstarter funds, with Singaporeans being among its top supporters.PHOTO: BAUBAX LLC
Baubax chief executive Hiral Sangavi (above).
Baubax chief executive Hiral Sangavi (above).PHOTO: BAUBAX LLC

Singapore residents form the second-largest group of backers for a multi-feature travel jacket project, which is the most-funded clothing project in the history of crowdfunding site Kickstarter. In just three weeks, it raised US$2.7 million (S$3.71 million).

At press time, it has received more than US$3.2 million. With a month still remaining before funding closes on Sept 4, the jacket designed by Chicago-based start-up Baubax looks set to become one of Kickstarter's most-funded campaigns since the global crowdfunding platform launched in 2009.

The project has more than 18,000 backers from a total of 75 countries, and at press time, Singapore is tied with Canada as Baubax's secondlargest source of backers, with 5.8 per cent of funds being pledged by people living here.

First on the list is the United States, at 57.2 per cent.

The jacket has gone viral as "the Swiss Army knife of travel wear".

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It comes with 15 features designed to reduce the frustrations of air travel, including an easy-to- inflate neck pillow, an eye mask, a earphone holder and even an insulated pocket that can store hot and cold drinks - all of which are built into the jacket.

The company's founders say the product was inspired by their experience of long-distance dating each other, which required them to travel frequently.

Baubax chief executive Hiral Sangavi, and chief design officer Yoganshi Shah, both 29, met as students in Mumbai University.

When Mr Sangavi started an MBA programme at the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, two years of frequent flying ensued. They got married in 2013.

He recalls: "I go to San Francisco to see my wife on weekends and try to catch up with my schoolwork during the flight when I work on my laptop.

"Ordering a drink when working is difficult because my laptop covers the entire tray table and leaves me nowhere to place my drink."

And, because of his forgetfulness, he has accumulated many neck pillows - "four in Chicago and five in San Francisco".

His wife came up with the idea of putting everything he needed into a jacket.

"I live in Chicago, where it's winter for seven to eight months a year, and you pretty much carry a jacket whenever you leave the house.

"My wife was like, you will never forget a jacket," he says.

Ms Shah did most of the design but Mr Sangavi, who says he has extensive experience in manufacturing, also contributed to the design "with easy manufacturing in mind".

On July 7, they posted the project on Kickstarter.

For pledges starting at US$89, backers will receive the jacket in one of four styles (sweatshirt, windbreaker, bomber, blazer), which will cost between US$160 and US$200 when the range is eventually launched.

The jackets, which are being made in three Asian countries Mr Sangavi declines to name, are scheduled to be delivered to backers in November.

In telephone interviews with Life from Chicago and San Francisco, he says that the jacket's runaway success had far exceeded their expectations: "We were expecting to close at US$1 million. That was the ambition."

Baubax currently comprises seven employees and will expand to a team of 15 next month.

It opted for the Kickstarter fundraising route because "more conventional routes need a lot of capital - thousands of jackets should already be in your inventory".

Mr Sangavi explains: "I personally don't think there's any risk in launching on Kickstarter.

"Also, distributors are not very confident in a product that is new and hasn't been proven.

"Even if you're confident that your product will resonate with consumers, it's difficult to convince the distributors. But more than that, it's about raising capital and losing equity.

"Crowdfunding is the best platform for entrepreneurs because you don't have to raise venture capital - you remain 100 per cent the owner of your company."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore second-biggest backer of Kickstarter jacket '. Print Edition | Subscribe