Dekalb & Crescent’s founding principle is making minimal products that are functional, elegant, and beautiful. The idea of making the first product came to me a few years back. I was shopping around for a wallet but I could not find any capable of holding my phone, essential cards, and cash that were both functional and aesthetically pleasing. It was not until recently that I was able to learn a few lessons about making a sample wallet and pursue the idea of producing my own product. I learned a lot of valuable lessons during the process I would like to share my experiences here with you.
For the design, I consulted a childhood friend that studied product design at RISD. She was able to understand the feel, the look, and the overall shape that I wanted my wallet to have. I asked her to develop 10 basic designs of the wallet for me and within a few days I received 10 sketches. I reviewed the sketches in detail and noted on each page the designs I liked, the designs I did not like, and the designs I was on the fence about.
Before my final decision, we discussed the sketches as a group. Though I had my heart set on a few drawings, I was careful not to come into the meeting with a closed mind. In my opinion, it is important to understand the thought process and the overall goals that go into a design before coming to a full decision, as it may change your perception of the drawing. These can even be small, seemingly minute, details such as why this line is straight vs. why this line is curved, a gap here vs. a closed section, and how the product is supposed to feel in your hand vs. how the product is supposed to feel in your pocket.
After deciding on the design, we produced the final sketches and it was then time to move on to making a few working prototypes.
I worked with some basic household items to make my prototypes. To accomplish this, I used cereal box cardboard, printer paper, a box cutter, and a stapler. However, I learned that, if possible, you should take a trip down to your local arts and crafts store and get ahold of any materials and tools you deem necessary to make a working prototype. The prototype doesn’t have to be the Mona Lisa, so no need to break the bank making it.
I also learned that having a design on paper and building a working prototype from it do not always reflect the initial perceived design elements. The prototype was a better visualization of the design and helped bring to light several design flaws not previously noted that, ultimately, led to a change in my design. Now it was time to have the designer do a digital rendition of the prototypes that I wanted to pursue. While the designer was at work, I remained proactive and instead of sitting around and waiting, I began contacting tanneries and leather vendors for some material.
I used Maker’s Row to contact several vendors. As opposed to asking for samples and swatches online, I felt it was important to visit these shops and talk to the folks in the business face-to-face. Similar to the design meetings, I did not come into these discussions with a closed mind.
With the design and prototypes in hand and an idea of what kind of leather I wanted, I approached the vendors and asked for their recommendations on the best suited leather for the wallet. These meetings were useful for acquiring samples and swatches, but they also led to conversations over the origins, the pricing, the lead times, and the minimum order for the material.
Using the information provided by the material vendors and by Maker’s Row, I began my search for good wallet manufacturers.
While meeting with the manufacturers, it was important to find out what they were able to provide. I emailed, called, and visited approximately 10 companies, all of which had different offers and comments regarding the questions I posed:
- Are you able to provide a budgetary price for the sample?
- Are you able to provide the die-cutting?
- Are you able to provide the material?
- Are you able to do a sample without a small production run order?
- Are you able to provide vector drawings with the sample?
- Are you able to give a quick tour of the factory?
- What is the lead time for the sample?
- What are the additional costs for revisions?
- Will you sign an NDA for the sample?
- When can we get started?
After some good and bad answers, I weighed the options out and finally went with a small manufacturer in Seattle. I’m happy to report that the sample is now in its final stages!
Note: The process is hard work, but don’t lose hope. This is just the beginning and at times it will be frustrating that you don’t notice progress – it has happened to me many a time. However, just remember why you got into making or selling something to begin with and believe in your idea. For me, the reason is simply that I want to put myself in a position to learn. To learn about leathers, to learn to speak with vendors and manufacturers, to learn to make a product, and to learn the basics of business. Don’t stop, do something everyday that will help you and the company, and most of all, have fun with it. Enjoy the journey, you’ll be surprised to see how far you have come.
If you are in the NYC area and would like to discuss what I have learned, or perhaps share some mentoring lessons over coffee, give me a shout in the comments. Much success to all of you!