How I Got My Prototype Ready for Production

One year ago, I shared some lessons I learned while going from design to sample. In this article, I want to take it a step further and discuss my process from sample to final product. Read on to learn more about similar obstacles you might encounter while sourcing the right factory partner to work with and going into final production.

Sample

For my sample wallet, I decided to go with a manufacturer in Seattle I found here on Maker’s Row. On the bright side, the final sample was excellent, and the costs for a small production run were within my budget. Unfortunately, the sample took too long to complete and the manufacturer’s communication was inconsistent. This is why I decided to bring the final production stage to my backyard, NYC, where I could easily drop into the shop and see the wallet being made.

Production Sample

With sample and drawings in hand, I contacted manufacturers on Maker’s Row for a small order run. All the manufacturers I contacted requested to complete a production sample, before completing a small order run. It is also common for manufacturers to ask to see samples, patterns, and drawings, before completing an order run to give them a better idea of the material, labor costs, and timing associated with production. Since my previous sample wallet was made by a different manufacturer, a production sample also allowed the current manufacturer to ensure that they had the appropriate personnel, machinery, and scheduling to complete the production.

Hurdles in the Production Sample Process

After bringing the project back to NYC, I ran into a few issues with the production sample. I visited a local manufacturer who gave me a good price and turnaround time for a production sample, and agreed to base the production run pricing on the cost of the sample. While the manufacturer was able to provide a sample quickly, I wasn’t satisfied with it – so it was time to find another shop.

I found and met with another local manufacturer that offered a good price and fast turnaround time. After speaking with them, I dropped off some leather, the initial sample, and drawings. Unfortunately, within the week, the shop told me that they wouldn’t be able to complete the work. I had to pick up all of the materials and start over again.

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Frustration started to set in at this point. I had gone to a manufacturer out West, and two local manufacturers, and still couldn’t find what I was looking for. The process began to stretch from days to weeks, to months. I kept telling myself not to lose hope. I knew that there was someone out there who could do the work I wanted, I just needed to find them. It was time to set up a meeting with a fourth manufacturer.

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I had met with this manufacturer before to discuss the sample making process but had decided not to go with him because his prices were higher than the other factories. However, since I had the sample with me, and wouldn’t have to start from scratch, I figured I would roll the dice and see if we could negotiate a lower price. Fortunately, after sitting down with him, we were able to work out a price that was within my budget, and we started our work together.

During our discussion, I mentioned to the manufacturer that I was interested in doing an apprenticeship with him. I had no experience whatsoever in the accessories industry. However, I made clear my passion for how things are made, the manner in which things are completed and the reasoning as to why things are done, and my willingness to apply myself and learn. Working with my manufacturer gave me the opportunity to see the technique applied to the craft first-hand, and I was able to get my hands dirty on my own project. Above all else, it reaffirmed my belief that great work can be completed in the USA, and that fine, American craftsmanship is still alive and well.

The production sample process included a lot of experimenting, which added some time to the schedule. However, this experimenting allowed the manufacturer to come up with new patterns, different stitching, and a better feel and look to the production sample. To get ready for a small order run, I needed to get the laser-cutting portion of the work ready.

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Laser Cutting

By eliminating the use of additional molds and dyes, laser cutting allowed me to save money. Laser cutters need drawings in AutoCAD or Adobe Photoshop, and only some will design the drawings from sketches. You can also check out websites like Elance, where contractors can be hired to convert your sketches into .dwg or .ai files. On their website, laser cutters will have the specifications for what they need for settings, thicknesses, cutting, and engraving.

All of the laser cutters that I contacted wanted to run a test cut on the leather before providing a quote. The beauty of keeping work local is that I was able to drop into multiple laser cutters’ shops with sample leather, have them run test cuts, and within a few days I had multiple samples to choose from. After reviewing the test cuts, I chose a laser cutter and proceeded with a small order for the pieces that I needed.

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During the experimentation process of the production sample, including the laser cutting, I had to switch to sturdier leather materials. The laser is not a one-size-fits-all, or a one-material-fits-all; it must be programmed according to the dimensions shown on the drawings.

Production

Before sending patterns to the die cut manufacturer, the first wallets were hand-cut to verify that they had the correct dimensions. Die cuts can’t be modified, new ones have to be made, and that costs money. Therefore, it’s best to double-check what you have early, in order to avoid spending extra money down the line.

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With all of the patterns and processes in place, it was time for a small order run. Remember, the details are always important! I wanted the final product to be clean and well done. The photos below show the production stages: from cardboard box, to a prototype with leather, to another prototype, to a sample, to a pre-production sample, to the final product. The journey has been fun, and at times a bit long, but in the end it was well worth it.

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Lessons Learned

Working within budget and schedule is important. Keep in mind that unexpected costs and occurrences will arise: Shipping costs, traveling costs, samples made elsewhere, changing of manufacturers, lead times for leather, manufacturer schedules, and dies.

Lessons that were passed onto me, and I have found to be true:

It is ‘cheaper’ to spend more money – it may seem easier to pay someone else to do your work, but you will miss out on countless valuable lessons and opportunities to learn more about the craft. Do whatever you can to reduce costs, find alternatives, and do whatever you possibly can to complete any and all tasks. Should you need additional help or come to a crossroads with a project that you won’t be able to complete, search for manufacturers here on Maker’s Row.

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Additionally, creating the Atlantic Wallet has taught me a new lesson:

Don’t fall in love at first sight. Talk to many manufacturers, ask a lot of questions, visit the factory, and talk to workers (if possible) before entering into a working relationship, as it will give you a better idea of who and what you will be working with.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my production journey. Please feel free to take a look around my website.  If you need some help with a sample, let me know in the comments below and I will gladly provide more insight!

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