How do you develop a totally new product and bring it into a marketplace as crowded as vacuum cleaners? If you're Paul and Rachel Bagwell, the married creators of the Halo Capsule, you start with what's annoying you today.
If you're looking for a green, homegrown alternative to a Dyson, the Halo Capsule cordless vacuum cleaner could be for you. It's a powerful, environmentally friendly vacuum cleaner with an innovative design and materials: the sort of rip-up-the-rules product that many engineers and inventors aspire to create.
We named the Halo Capsule our Appliance of the Year for 2020, and it still ranks at number two in our best vacuum cleaner chart - ahead of even the latest Dyson. It also snagged the No.2 spot in the Which? list of its top 50 products of the year.
Capsule was created, manufactured and marketed by the husband and wife team of Paul and Rachel Bagwell. Paul has a background in industrial design and like many of his contemporaries, got a job with Dyson. He went on to amass 20 years of floor care engineering experience.
Rachel is a marketing professional, whose focus was always on ensuring that the Capsule answered what was important to the customer; that it solves the kind of problems that people face every day.
Fittingly, the idea for the Capsule was sparked in their home, during an ongoing argument over their cordless cleaner's tiny dustbin.
The inspiration for Capsule
Paul says: “There’s always the standoff over who’s going to empty the vacuum cleaner. You know, if it’s annoying us, we’re pretty sure it’s going to be annoying other people.”
“Especially because we’ve got two young children," Rachel adds. "We’ve got a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old."
“And a very hairy dog," Paul interjects.
“And a hairy dog,” Rachel continues. “At the time we were considering developing this, we had a baby and I never wanted to empty the vacuum cleaner because I never wanted to get all that dust on me and then pick up the baby.
"So it came from those little insights, like – hang on. There must be a better way of doing this.”
Bags of difference
One of the ways Capsule differs from Dyson and the legion of Dyson clones on the market is that Capsule uses bags, while most other cleaners have gone bagless. Why is that?
“Everyone has been so overwhelmed by marketing messages over the last 20 years," Paul says. "I think it’s very important for customers to have options. If there is a big giant telling that’s there’s only one way to do something, you either emulate them or try to do something unique and better. And I think that’s the road we choose to go down.
“There are manifold benefits to using bags: weight, the cleanliness, the bigger capacity. I always revert back to this man who told me that he had a bagless vac at home and he kept it in the cupboard alongside a kebab stick and a paintbrush to make sure he got all the dust out."
It's true: since bagless cleaners have come to dominate the market, having to jam your fingers into a a filter to remove a handful of fluff is a universal, and universally loathed, experience.
Paul continues: "If you were to arrive from space you'd say, well, what I want from a vacuum cleaner is something that’ll pick up a lot of dirt. Bagless machines tend to have a lot of plumbing and that causes problems. They have narrow apertures and those apertures will always block. It also takes up weight. That’s the great opportunity.”
But there was another problem to solve. Dust bags are traditionally made from plastic, which is the opposite of environmentally friendly. Instead, Paul came up with an inexpensive, fully compostable dust pouch.
“The dust pouch was a big breakthrough for us because we saw the capacity benefit of bags but there’s also reasons why people are very negative about bags: they’re an ongoing running cost.
They’re also not very nice for the environment as they’re basically made from versions of polypropylene that sit in landfill for centuries. They leave a permanent mark on the planet.”
The Capsule’s dust pouches are large, holding 1.6 litres of dust and dirt. They mean the Capsule has no need for any interior plumbing at all, which means there's less to go wrong and it's lighter.
Next was was the innovative use of carbon fibre for the vacuum cleaner’s shell, which allowed Paul to get the vacuum cleaner’s weight down to 2.6kg.
He says, “Carbon fibre was at the top of our list because it’s amazing. Not only is it a really cool material, it’s incredibly strong and incredibly light.
“We had to wrestle with ways of doing that cost-effectively, because it’s a fiendishly expensive material. We had to manufacture it in a more streamlined way to get it to a place where we could use it at our price point. And then we could focus on the performance and the batteries.”
Capsule's eco credentials
The design isn't the only innovative thing about Capsule. There’s also the way it’s intended to be bought and used, to minimise its environmental impact.
“If you have a 10-year vacuum, rather than a two-year vacuum, suddenly you have a fifth of the environmental effect you had before which is why, for us, the longevity of these products is really, really important. The impact is massive," Paul explains.
Still, there's a limit to how long you can use a cordless vacuum cleaner, and that limit is battery lifespan. At the moment, lithium-ion battery technology is at a point where batteries will lose their charge over a period of several years. Some companies, including Dyson, Shark and Samsung, have started making cordless cleaners with removable batteries.
But Capsule doesn’t have a swappable battery. “If you sell people replacement batteries, there’s a chance they’ll landfill them,” says Paul.
Repair, refresh, re-use
Instead, for around the same price as a second battery, you can get a Capsule Refresh.
“Everything in this product should last for 20 years," Paul argues. "If we can look at it every 6 or 7 years, we can make sure the customer has a great cleaning experience. We have carbon fibre, which lasts for 20+ years, we have a 20-year motor in there. Batteries, as we all know, have an end of life.
"What we could do is to sell people a replacement battery, but what we choose to do is offer the Capsule Refresh, which is a return to base for about the same price that other people charge for a battery. We’ll not just change the battery, we’ll make sure everything else is in tip-top condition. We’ll change your lifetime filters and update you to our latest software.
"For the price of a replacement battery, you’ll get a whole new Capsule. You’ll get the whole thing re-lifed.”
Buy it for life
Rachel says, “When we developed Capsule, we wanted it to be timeless. Something that wasn’t a fad. It’s ongoing.”
“It’s also about the rate of development,” Paul continues. “The cordless you may have bought three years ago will be very inferior to the cordless you can buy today. We wanted to go in at the top. We want people to buy this and to use it for 10, 15 years. It might need a new battery in this time but it’ll still have that 5 star cleaning power. It’s not about being superseded by something that’s slightly better in 2 years.”
Capsule's price point
The other thing that’s attractive about Capsule is its price point, which is about half that of the latest Dyson.
Paul says: “I don’t think that quality and intelligent design needs to be expensive. You can be different from everybody else without excluding anyone.
The biggest challenger for designers and engineers and marketeers is to make great design and great technology attainable. Because that’s when you really make a difference. That’s going to impact more people in a more positive way.”
Right now, you can buy the Halo Capsule for £249.99 from Capsule Clean. It comes with a wall dock and 52 dust pouches, which will give you two years of cleaning time. We think it's a great appliance at a great price.
To find out more about what the Halo Capsule is like to use, you can read our Halo Capsule review.