My name is Steven, and I’m the founder of Capital. For the last 5 years, I’ve been building a brand and a small factory to make eyewear in the USA. The goal has always been to make the highest quality eyewear in the most responsible way possible. We do this by keeping production in-house and maintaining control over the details. It’s not the easiest way to make glasses, but I believe it’s crucial to making a quality product.
Building a brand takes hard work. When you have to simultaneously build a factory, the workload is compounded beyond belief. On more than a few occasions, the end of a long day has left me covered in dirt, dust, grease, and a little blood. As I lock up the studio on night like that, I sometimes ask myself “Why am I going to the trouble of building onshore production when it’s never been easier to outsource?”
Below are a few of my favorite reasons for keeping design and production in the USA, but before I get to it, I want to mention a few things:
A) Our production is highly vertically integrated i.e. we own the factory where all our glasses are made. This is an extreme and in many cases, I wouldn’t recommend it. Working with onshore factories that already exist to keeping production close to design has many (if not more) of the benefits with a little less blood, sweat, and dust than doing everything on your own.
B) I say “Made in USA” many times in this article but these benefits hold true no matter where you live. For Capital that is the USA, but keeping production in the same location as the design process provides these benefits no matter where you live.
1) Deep Knowledge Improves Design
Many jobs today are highly specialized. When designs are made in one place and products are made in a far away land, knowledge of the total process becomes fragmented. Being the best designer possible requires a deep knowledge over the processes used to make that product. You can read about processes all you want, but that will only get you so far. A great way to learn processes is to see them in action. Getting your hands dirty and experimenting is even better. The closer you are to your production, the deeper your knowledge will run and the more ideas you’ll have on how to make your product even better.
When we started making acetate sunglasses, we needed a way to apply text to our glasses for branding, legal markings, etc. There are a few ways this is typically done on eyeglasses, but today, the most likely candidates are pad printing, foil stamping, or a custom made part that’s attached to the frame. Pad printing and foil stamping don’t last for more than a few years and all of these processes require you to commit to a single mark for a significant run. I don’t like that kind of commitment and I wanted the text to last a lifetime so I had to find a new way. It was time to step out of the office and into the studio.
The obvious choice was to engrave the text into the glasses. A hole doesn’t really exist so it can’t wear off but it didn’t look great either. After a few weeks of tests on different paints, pigments and fillers, I found a way to fill the text so that I could change the color or graphic without any significant investment. Not only is this a really cool detail on our glasses (On the clear frames you can see the depth of the text on the inside of the temples which I love) but it’s opened doors to other things we can do in-house. By using the same process on other items like displays or signage, we can make beautiful customized text and images on any material without the hassle and cost of custom dies or parts.
2) Faster Product Development
When I have a new idea for our product or process, I have to walk about 20 steps from my office to the studio where all our glasses are made. There’s no need for emails to different time zones and no complications from language barriers. This allows us to try new things with incredible ease and speeds up the rate at which we can develop new products or improve existing ones.
Modern communication allows us to connect across time zones, but it’s no replacement for a solid face to face relationship with your factory or supplier.
Being in the same time zone as your partners allows multiple communications per day. When dealing with a factory halfway around the world, one exchange per day is pretty normal and extra emails are often necessary to communicate what gets lost in translation. Ultimately, there is no better way to develop and perfect a product than to sit down with the people producing it to make sure every detail is dialed in.
You might be thinking, “Well I can buy a plane ticket and we can work out most of it face to face, then deal with any changes remotely.” Depending on the product that might be true, but I know for a fact that after 5 years of developing processes for making sunglasses—a product that might appear simple on the surface—if that were the road I took, I’d have purchased enough plane tickets for elite status on every airline by now.
Products are never finished. They are developed through an ongoing process. The more you can speed up that process by removing unnecessary complications, the more your product will stand out from your competitors.
A word of warning: Again, our in-house production is an extreme and one that I wouldn’t recommend for most cases. There’s a fine line between simplifying production by doing things in-house and diving into a huge money/time sink. The best case scenario is to find a partner who is willing to sit down with you to help develop and produce your product. If you can make that relationship mutually beneficial, you’ll learn from their knowledge and won’t have to bear the entire burden of production on your own.
3) Show Your Motives (And Have Good Motives to Show)
As a consumer, when you purchase goods such as shoes, food, or a car, how often do you purchase the cheapest possible option? Price is almost always a consideration, but most of us understand that paying a bit more is worth the benefits we’ll receive in style, health, or reliability.
When a company outsources production to the cheapest place possible, it says something about where their heart lies. Choosing the lowest priced option suggests that money trumps all other issues and worker’s rights, quality products, or even unnecessary carbon emission from shipping goods halfway around the world is not a priority.
Every business needs to make money, but as customers becoming increasingly aware of where and how their products are made, they are going to be less and less willing to put up with low quality goods that are made in sweatshop conditions and sold at a high markup. When you choose to produce your goods in the USA, it says to customers that you are interested in making a quality product in a responsible way. We’ve already seen a similar revolution in the way much of our food is produced and what is offered at the grocery store. When it comes to consumer goods, the same movement is just beginning to pick up steam, and it’s only going to get bigger with time.