It all started in October 2014, when Mike Goedde's son, a precocious 2-year-old, said he wanted to be a diesel train for Halloween.
Goedde, who grew up in Mountain View and lives in Menlo Park, was amused, and set out to make his son's wish a reality.
But after an online search, he came up empty-handed. Yes, there was a soft-body "Thomas the Tank Engine" costume, with a picture of the TV train character, but his son wasn't convinced.
"I want a diesel train," he insisted.
So Goedde got to work. He found images of diesel trains, settling on a glossy red and silver Santa Fe train image, and made his own version of the costume.
"It took me, like, 60 hours of work," he said.
But when the costume was complete, it had lights and sounds -- and his son loved it.
When the big night came, they headed for Menlo Park's Halloween hot spot, Sherman Avenue.
The costume was an instant hit. Other parents asked him where he had bought it, and when he explained that he had made it, several suggested that he figure out how to make and sell them.
At first, he thought the idea was crazy -- it had taken him tens of hours of work, plus three trips to Michael's, the craft store.
"Forget it," he recalls thinking.
But after a couple dozen people that night made the same suggestion in one way or another, he began to warm to the idea. "I thought, OK, maybe this isn't so stupid. Maybe there is something to it," he says.
The very next day, he woke up and began doing market research. What he found was promising: "There's ample opportunity to sell these things globally," he says He also found what seemed like thousands of online examples of frazzled parents spending countless hours building homemade cardboard costumes.
"It's tens of hours of work, if not 100 or more, depending on how elaborate these costumes are," he notes. His aim became to create great-looking costumes that parents can assemble in 20 minutes, complete with sound effects and, eventually, lights.
Over the next couple of years, he spent long days working at his tech job, followed by long nights out in his garage developing costume prototypes.
At first, he did everything by hand, drafting with a pencil and paper, protractors and big rulers, but became frustrated with the slow pace. So he taught himself to master computer-aided design, or CAD, software, using design files to print and cut out cardboard pieces on an automated cutting table.
Coming from the high-tech world he worked at Juniper Technologies in Sunnyvale for about 15 years he approached others in tech about the possibility of helping to fund his enterprise, but the interest wasn't high, he says.
But that didn't deter him. Acknowledging that startup capital was unlikely, he says, his new attitude was: "If I build it, they will come." Today, he adds, "I built them, and now people are getting interested."
About a year ago, Goedde quit his tech work to pursue the costume business full time. The company formally launched in September, selling only through its website.
Throughout this work, though, Goedde hasn't been alone he's had a secret weapon, his identical twin brother, Dave. While Mike does the kit design, Dave does the graphic design work. "We're like one brain split into two people. He picks up on the things I want to do," Mike says.
High-profile customers and next steps
In mid-February, the brothers took their product on the road to the American International Toy Fair, held in New York City. It's a giant trade show and one of the largest in the toy industry, Goedde says.
The following week, the toy was featured on "Live with Kelly and Ryan" -- a Feb. 20 segment highlighting toys from the fair. During the show, Kelly Ripa appeared on-screen wearing a modified version of Goedde's airplane costume (it had been cut in half and rejoined), after which orders continued to tick up, Goedde says.
Following the TV appearance of the costume, Goedde says, a major celebrity requested an overnight custom costume order. (The celebrity is so popular Goedde was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, he notes.)
While the costumes for sale are currently for kids ages 2 to 7, Goedde plans to expand the business into adult costumes, "pop-up" birthday party and pinata kits, and costumes tailored for children in wheelchairs. He also plans to continue to expand the collection of officially licensed costumes to appeal to Star Wars and Disney fans.
Mastering the art of the 3D cardboard kit, he says, might also open the door to create another brand that would sell cardboard furniture kits and stage set kits for frequently staged school theater productions.
Suitables recently started being carried at the Mountain View Diddams. Goedde said he grew up just two blocks away from owner Steve Diddams and his wife Alex in Mountain View, and that he still works on Suitables prototypes at his childhood home.
More information is online at suitables.com.