“I’ll Do It Myself” & Other Sentences That Could Lead to Success or Disaster

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There is a basic range of footwear for consumers to choose from and certain images we’ve imagined about the production process. There’s the idea of overseas sweatshops troubled with harsh working conditions. Next, there’s the image of an artisan crafting shoes one by one in a picturesque location at prices we would expect to pay for a small car rather than a pair of shoes. Then finally, there’s the rare American brand producing out of a large factory floor with workers repeating one task, but still making a quality shoe that anyone would be happy to own and wear.

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Photography by Raoul Ortega

Structuring Our Brand & Finding a Factory

Benjamins was created out of a need for brands and a new business model. As consumers, we wanted the exclusivity of a shoe made by a craftsperson, with attention paid to each little detail. We wanted to feel like we were paying the right price for our shoes, not just for a name; and more and more we wanted to know where our products were coming from. The story behind the brand is often just as important as the products it creates.

When the time came for us to decide how we were going to structure our brand and manufacture our shoes, we looked to other companies in our industry. We started out on the same route as every other brand. We found a factory overseas that met our requirements for production quality and labor standards. I made a few samples by hand and sent them to their offices along with our patterns to look at design and shape. We Skyped a few times to go over timelines and questions we had…and then the roadblocks came.

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When going into production with a large-scale factory, expect to work with high minimum orders and pay high up-front costs. We were looking at roughly 75% of the total cost for our first run before seeing a single shoe, and rightfully so for the factory that takes nearly all of its risk up front. For a small brand that wanted to focus on low production runs of unique items with handmade details, we were looking at a lot of money and time before even seeing our first product. This may be manageable for many brands, but we were concerned about dealing with long delays when producing new products. In addition, a large scale factory’s idea of a small run is typically still in the thousands.

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Streamlining Our Manufacturing Process

We decided that it would be better for us to make our shoes by hand ourselves, and when I say “us” and “we” I really mean me. I have two very talented business partners who I’ve known for nearly 20 years and have helped to make our brand a reality. But when it comes to the actual shoemaking, I’m the only one working on the product. We restructured everything so that all design, pattern-making, clicking, and lasting would be done in-house by me. We invested our own money to get the few pieces of equipment we would need.

We now had to streamline our manufacturing process so that we could feasibly reproduce our product with a high level of consistency and maintain an excellent product quality. In order to do this we needed to find the right suppliers and pare down our work to focus on just the shoes. This happened around the time that we found Maker’s Row. Part of our product packaging required a linen shoe bag. From past experiences, we’ve purchased expensive shoes only to have them packaged in a synthetic and poorly made shoe bag, which in no way mirrored the quality of the shoe.

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Photography by Raoul Ortega

We had been making our bags ourselves and were really happy with them; 100% linen, two-layers with a draw cord and wooden bead to help tie off the bag, washable, great for traveling, but very time consuming to create. Through Maker’s Row we were able to find a great factory in Los Angeles that was willing to manufacture our bags in low numbers and with all of the details we wanted. This seemingly small change has allowed us to create an entire brand, launch an ecommerce shop, and open our first brick and mortar space next month, with our shoes all being made by one person start to finish.

In the end, the decision to do it all ourselves (with a little help from Maker’s Row) lead to the creation of a unique brand that we were proud to stand behind. We hope that every designer, maker, and brand is able to do the same, and, in turn, support the return of quality made goods from small manufacturers. Traditional manufacturing is out of date, and Maker’s Row is helping to lead the way to a better method of doing business.

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  • David Siskin

    Your story is one among a growing many who decided to manufacture quality products in the States and that lifts my heart. Good luck, we are in the shoe business, too.

  • Holly Sanders

    I plan to do the same w my jeans