Looking for an almost supernatural way to fix whatever bits and bobs you have broken around the home? Are your kids’ shoes falling apart at the seams? Toys arms snapped off like some cheap horror movie? Sugru might just be the answer you’ve been looking for. They call it “mouldable glue,” but from my personal experience it’s easier to imagine blue-tac that, after 24 hours, turns into rubber.
Jane ni Dhulchaointigh came up with the idea back in 2003, since then the brand has grown exponentially and it’s messages of re-use, create and repair are sticking in the minds of their growing fan base the world over. We popped down to their London HQ to meet Jane and find out more about it all.
What is Sugru and what makes it different?
So, Sugru is a new material and we call it mouldable glue. It’s designed to make fixing, making, hacking and tweaking things easy and fun for anyone. The point is that we think that we have a lot of stuff; we don’t necessarily need to buy new things when something goes wrong. Often it’s just a small tweak, or a fix needed, to keep something going. It’s not necessarily about saving money – although people do save money by using Sugru. It’s more about saying, “Yeah, I believe that my printer or my trainers should last longer, and I’m the kind of person who wants to keep my stuff going.” It’s for people who see how to solve their own problems.
There are so many satisfying hacks you can do with Sugru, like adding a piece to a banging door to make it bounce instead of bang; or adding little feet onto your calculator so it doesn’t wobble on your desk anymore. They’re almost invisible little hacks that make your everyday life easier, and nicer.
What’s your background, how did you get into creating Sugru?
I studied sculpture before deciding that I wanted to do something that was a bit more useful in the world. I then went on to study product design, but I kind of realised that product design is often about making people want to buy new stuff, which didn’t feel too great.
I think there are a lot of people out there with totally untapped creativity. It’s almost been dampened by our society and our education and stuff. Sugru is about saying that product design doesn’t just have to be about designers: actually, the users often know what the problems are, where the faults are etc. If the users were more empowered to solve their problems… not only would that be quite an efficient way of generally improving stuff, but it would also allow more personalisation. It’s about understanding that everyone is different and our products can be just as individual.
What are some of the more creative ways you’ve seen people use Sugru for?
There’s the everyday stuff like patching up the dishwasher, the mundane stuff that’s about getting you through the days. On the other end of the spectrum, Top Gear teamed up with an amateur rocket maker last year to send a rocket into space (it went faster than the speed of sound). They used Sugru to attach the cameras onto the rocket directly, and because it’s kind of rubbery, it reduces vibrations so you can get steady footage even if something’s travelling super fast: it works down to -50 degrees celsius.
Another example: we had a guy a few months ago that keeps chickens, and one night a fox caught one of his chickens and it lost its leg. He made a mixture of Sugru, with some their materials, to make a prosthetic leg for his chicken! These niche stories make everyone smile and I think that’s a big part of what we do. Sugru is about an attitude to life, where you say, “Actually, yeah, everything doesn’t have to be perfect and life’s not perfect. Sometimes we’ve got to make-do, patch up, and carry on.”
Sugru can be used by practically everyone… how did you decide who you were going to market to?
I’d love to say that we had a big plan, but we didn’t. The instinct behind it is that there are people like us out there who believe that there is too much waste, there’s more creativity than is being used, and that we can all solve problems more.
Our approach has been to use the Internet, we basically just put Sugru out there and told people what our point of view was, and what our mission is: that we’re trying to make it easy for anyone to fix things. We almost used it to open source our marketing research, the product and its marketing was developed between all of us as a community. We had no idea that Sugru was going to be so popular for fixing gadgets, kitchen appliances and shoes… I mean we didn’t know until the users started doing it.
There are so many people out there now who are into cooking, baking, cycling etc., but they may not be into DIY; they like being hands on and following their interests. What we found was there was a big group of people who love to be independent, make up their own minds about stuff and want to be able to do things for themselves as opposed to hiring somebody to do it, or waiting for your dad to come and put up a shelf or whatever; you’d like to do it yourself. That was amazing for us, because we were then able to develop our content and PR to be a bit less technical and sciencey, and a bit more inclusive of the “Let’s go do it,” kind of mind-set.
We have just launched our new campaign, dedicated to all those who are curious and active, but may think they are not handy enough to take on small and big DIY projects. We all do so many awesome things with our hands everyday, we just need to (re)discover them. Using Sugru can be the easy, natural step to move from “I am no good with my hands” to “I’m handier than I thought!”
What have been your biggest milestones?
Early on, everything was so unknown. Before we’d created the science behind Sugru, or filed patents or anything like that, there was probably a moment where I finished college without any business/ scientific understanding and I decided to make a little multidisciplinary team. I got some great scientists on board and I thought that as a designer, I’d define the specifications of this product and we’d find people to do the science. I realised very quickly that it was going to be absolutely unaffordable to do that, and if it were to get done, then I would have to do it myself.
In the months that followed, I learnt that – with the right advice – you can source the right chemicals, build a little lab… and then it’s just a matter of graft, doing the work and the thinking. That’s very empowering, and it’s something that designers and creatives have in spades. You can apply yourself to anything, now, with the knowledge sharing in terms of talking to people online; it’s almost like you can learn pretty much anything if you want it bad enough.
Another milestone was early on when we were looking to form some kind of partnership with a larger organisation to do the manufacturing, sales, marketing… basically building the brand. All of the companies we went to see were definitely interested in what we were doing, but they weren’t ready to put money on the table. After a couple of years of pursuing funding, there was a moment of truth. I thought to myself, actually, this isn’t going to happen… and in a similar way to the first milestone I mentioned, I said, “What if we did it? We didn’t expect to have to… but what if we did?”
It was like saying, “okay, let’s change our mind-set around it and say yeah some day we want to be big, but first let’s start small and see what we can do.” That decision allowed us to be like “We don’t have to obey any rules. We can make it up!” We don’t really have to fit, so let’s just get ourselves excited,” and the good news is that it worked!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and what advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Definitely “Start small and make it good,” we wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t properly absorbed that into our thinking – I think that’s really important.
What I’d say to anyone going into business is that it’s going to be tougher than it looks; it’s going to take longer than you expect. The fact that, for me, Sugru isn’t just about commercial success, it’s about making a difference to people’s lives. That really helps. There’s a lot of meaning involved in what we do, and it’s really motivating. I think if you only have the commercial drive for business, a pure ambition to succeed, then I’m not sure how long you’ll keep going. Do something meaningful.
Yes, yes, yes. Women, women, women. Thank you. At last. It’s taking a few centuries, but here we are!
I just saw this video via the Moo newsletter and immediately ordered some. I love your philosophy. I love the video. Very fun. Can’t wait to receive my order. I can tell you all have fun at what you do at that is very, very good. I will tell many others about Sugru.
Don't miss out on special offers and discounts that we share with our subscribers!
We know that lots of you are great ambassadors for MOO and so we've been thinking of a way to say thank you. Which is why you can now actually earn money off your next order when you refer friends to MOO.Find out more
If you can do us a favour, we'll do one for you in return. Sign up as an affiliate and you could earn up to £5, $8, or €6 for every new customer you send our way.Sign up now