This subject of this post may sound mundane, but I promise you that it is incredibly useful: how to get organized during your manufacturing process. I learned this by doing it. Over the past few months, I’ve saved money, saved time, built better relationships with manufacturers, created a better product, and made my life infinitely easier.
I have never thought of myself as an “organized person” – ask my mom who had to remind me every day to pick up the massive piles of clothes and art supplies and American Girl dolls that covered every surface of my room, ask my fiancé who lives with me now and lovingly teaches me that ‘every item has a home!’
In a way, my affinity for clutter influenced my aesthetic and enabled me to start my company – I love nothing more than searching through piles of vintage brooches and pearls at flea markets, and I create pieces that are a mish mash of colors and textures and shapes. My own style is similarly eclectic. I’m a huge proponent of more is more, whether it’s wearing seven rings or adding another antique perfume bottle (and why not this awesome cheetah brooch, too?) to the display on my coffee table.
I worked with my first manufacturer to create my initial samples – dropping off new materials as they arrived and emailing back and forth about directions. This was perfectly fine at the time because I was only managing a handful of materials and wasn’t producing a large quantity of necklaces.
As my collection grew and I learned more about the manufacturing world, I realized that since my intricate necklaces require so many different steps and I could create a more beautiful product by working directly with specialized artisans in each area. I found gold-plating experts and this amazing woman who has done enameling by hand for over 30 years and vintage pearl dealers and all sorts of other great people.
Suddenly, I was managing production of my entire collection across multiple manufacturers while doing everything else as the sole employee of my company. I didn’t know that I needed to implement some sort of streamlined process until a disaster occurred: a manufacturer, a really good one, said no to working with me because he thought the project was much more complicated than it actually was, due to my lack of succinct directions. I left the meeting with that stomach-sinking ‘oh my god, I have no idea what I’m doing’ despair, but then I realized this: you become really great at what you haven’t done before by messing up, and then creating something new. And that’s the best part of building your own company; that you never have to subscribe to ‘that’s just the way things are’, but get to make your own systems, processes and rules.
Three months later, and I get a call from one of my manufacturers to simply thank me for being so organized with my orders because it made her job ‘a million times easier’. Here is what I did:
Fake it until you make it
Get rid of the idea that you’re brand new, you’re small, you don’t know what you’re doing, whatever. Act like you run a multi-million dollar design house until you actually do. Respect yourself and your work – even if you’re the only employee, who cares? Make company letterhead, get business cards, add a professional looking email signature. Details matter and when you take yourself seriously, other people will too. This will also motivate you because your business will begin to feel like a real, tangible thing…because it is.
Build a solid foundation
Always work in a way that you expect your company to scale tomorrow. Yes, you might be working with tiny quantities now, but what will you need when you work with large quantities? Ask yourself this question with everything you do, from sourcing supplies to building your website.
Add item numbers
We all know that when you launch your collection, your pieces will each have an item number, but your products need item numbers even before you start selling them – each one should be numbered so you have an easy way to refer to it when working with manufacturers. Are your products made up of many components? Then each of those gets a number too.
Create a reference library
Once you have your item numbers, you need to photograph everything – materials, components, etc. and create a cheat sheet so you (and your manufacturers) know what is what and have a snapshot of your current inventory. Additionally, you can create a reference sheet for future materials: Do you see some type of fabric or bead that you love? Get a sample, write down how much it is and where it’s from so you can buy it in the future. It’s easy to think ‘oh, I’ll remember’, but 57 awesome discoveries later, and I have no idea what my ‘that vendor from London’ post-it means.
And then create drop off forms
This sounds really basic, but it’s so important – each time you give your manufacturer an order, also give them a form which includes your contact info, a due date, detailed instructions, a photograph etc. Think about what will enable your manufacturers to make you the best possible product – is it a detailed sketch? Some type of chart? Add these. And use your manufacturers’ terminology – if you call one type of plating ‘gunmetal’ but your plater refers to it as ‘black’, call it ‘black’ when working with them. When you’re ordering hundreds of different pieces, this can be a pain but it’s worth it and as with most annoying tasks, it never takes as long as you think it will – I did my first slew of forms while sitting in Washington Square Park under a tree with my laptop, listening to some awful yet wonderful in the moment live band.
P.S. Guess what? Getting organized for your own company is actually really fun because you’re doing it for yourself and your brand, it’s not like cleaning your apartment or alphabetizing documents at your day job, so get excited.