Why I Switched to American Manufacturing, and Never Looked Back

Life as a designer / entrepreneur can be riddled with both moments immense excitement and nail biting frustration. No other aspect of small business had been more exemplary, than my experiences in manufacturing. After a few years designing watches for big name brands, I partnered with my friend James, and together we started “Steel Cake Watch Co”. The only manufacturers I knew of at the time were overseas, so that’s where we decided to start manufacturing.

Quickly, I began to realize that a young two man startup, wouldn’t receive the same red carpet treatment I was used to when designing for larger companies. The time difference made it so that we had to set alarms to wake up in the middle of the night for correspondence.

The unit price of my designed watches was pretty attractive, but all of the overseas factories that I consulted wanted me to purchase a minimum of 1,000 units and it would take several months to receive a package.

We took the risk, however, between the high-production minimums, low-production quality liability, and long product shipping timetables, overseas production ended up being too burdensome for our partnership. Within a few years, the Steel Cake team closed its doors. Steel Cake may not have experienced the fairytale ending I had hoped it would, but I was hooked on the sense of independence and control of being an entrepreneur.

I decided to start fresh with a new company, The Brooklyn Bakery, where I could try manufacturing here in the United States. Finding a manufacturer in the US was a long process, but once I found the right factory, the opportunities seemed endless. I could now make quick visits to the facility and oversee the manufacturing of my product line. I befriended many of the factory owners I dealt with as they were willing to take the time to help me manufacture the best possible products. If they couldn’t produce what I had in mind, they would reach out to their local community to see who could. It was these personal connections that helped me build a dependable network of manufacturers. Domestic manufacturing is now the only way I like to operate. It allows me to move fast with an idea and have the product in hand within a fraction of the time that it used to take me with foreign factories.

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All too often, many companies focus solely on the bottom line, and for over 30 years, foreign labor has been much less expensive than domestic labor in the US. Today we are seeing a much different scenario. Foreign manufacturing costs have multiplied dramatically along with transcontinental shipping rates, and import tariffs, making companies return to domestic manufacturing by the droves. For instance, In 2011, domestic apparel manufacturing grew 11.1% and, for the first time ever, domestic production’s share of the U.S. market grew, as stated in the ApparelStats 2012 report.

Although local manufacturing has worked for me, I’m not discouraging entrepreneurs from weighing their overseas alternatives. As a small company, that was what helped me best to get on my feet. Understanding the culture, language, and practices of my manufacturers became a priceless component of my businesses success.