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Let Your Auditors Do the Walking: Outsourcing Craft Production to Certified Responsible Manufacturers January 10, 2010

Filed under: outsourcing — bizmiss @ 4:55 pm
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Many professional crafters have thought about outsourcing their production at one time or another.  But if you’re a “solopreneur”, you probably don’t have the time or money to visit factories or cooperatives overseas.  So how can you tell which manufacturers are responsible companies, and not toxic sweatshops employing underpaid toddlers?  One way to start narrowing down the list is to look at international manufacturing certifications.  These certifications are awarded by independent, international, non-profit auditors, who inspect manufacturers’ operations so you don’t have to.

There are number of different international agencies that provide myriad certifications, but here are a few of the most relevant ones to get you started:

Though the ISO no longer publishes an annual list of certified companies (which blows, by the way–please fix this ISO!), many national and state governments/NGOs publish their own lists, which are easily Googled.  Here are some (not always current) lists for the U.S., Canada and Thailand.

The ICTI does have a database for factories that are CARE-compliant, but the search fields don’t seem to work very well.  I recommend clicking “Submit” without entering or choosing anything, and just browsing the list.

The FSC has a fully functioning, searchable database.  Hallelujah!

 

Patch Together November 4, 2009

Got an idea for the next hot toy?  Put it to the test over at Patch Together.

Here’s how it works: you submit an image of your awesome resin or plush toy design and Patch Together members vote on which designs are worth prototyping.  If your toy gets chosen, it will go up for pre-order in the Patch Together store.  Once it has enough pre-orders (20), your toy will be produced as a limited edition and you share the profits with Patch Together (40% you, 60% PT).

This is a pretty good deal if you consider that average licensing fees max out around 5% for artists and you get to keep the rights to your designs.  If you want to skip the contest part, you can pay PT outright to manufacture your toy.  They’ve also recently started accepting ideas for Flash animations and “products in general.”

“Mason” the vengeful birdhouse by Wickedbird.  Currently available for pre-order.

 

Ponoko Meets Spoonflower September 30, 2009

over at Envelop.  The Belgian-based company digitally prints your designs onto fabric.  They make aprons and pillows (and other things) out of it.  They set up the eCommerce web site and do all the selling.  You upload your designs and reap the profits.  Becoming a member is free, but not all designs make the cut.  For tips, see their submission guidelines.

via SwissMiss

 

Ask Biz Miss: Sustainable Fabrics September 29, 2009

**Note: though this is a very respectfully worded request (note how she doesn’t ask specifically for my sources), it is considered good etiquette to ask advice like this from someone with a related but non-competing business, like someone who’s in fashion, or who makes baby products.  That said, when I had this exact question starting out, I asked the plush toy makers down the block from me.  They were more than gracious and generous in their help, so I’m paying it forward to all of you.  For more on the subject of crafty business etiquette, please see this article I wrote for the Bazaar Bizarre San Francisco blog.

I am currently designing my own line of stuffed animals (not meat products) and would really appreciate your advice.  I would like to make a product that takes the environment into consideration.  I am finding it extremely difficult to find recycled fabrics.  I did find recycled polyfill.  Any advice you can give on finding an environmentally aware manufacturer and materials would be greatly appreciated.

As far as sustainable fabrics go, it is difficult to find them outside of the hemp/wool/cotton/natural fibers area, but there are some polyesters that can be made from recycled plastic, such as fleece and fake furs.  I have never found a place to purchase these in small quantities, so I source my fleece in China, where the minimum for each color is 300 yards.  (I was lucky enough to have a friend whose toy company runs a reputable factory in China.  They were able to point me towards fabric mills there.)  There is a fleece called EcoFleece and a short fur called EcoPile, both available in the U.S., but these lines also require large wholesale orders.  You’ll have to do some calling around and searches through wholesale directories like ThomasNet to find them.  Some manufacturers only make/carry a set of common colors, and others can dye your fabric in any color you choose.

There is also an organization here in San Francisco called People Wear SF that held a small sustainable fabric trade show twice last year. If they do it again, it would likely be in the next month or two.  If not, someone there might have a list of past exhibitors you can contact.

Since you are starting out small, you may have to make some compromises about your fabrics.  For example, you might consider buying fabrics from a creative re-use center or something similar.  I don’t know where you are located, but here in the Bay Area we have S.C.R.A.P. in San Francisco and the East Bay Depot for Creative Re-use in Oakland.  At these places you can buy fabrics otherwise destined for the landfill and you will have lots of choices when it comes to fabric type (but maybe not color/print as much). You can also pilfer clothing and pillows from thrift stores.  Felted sweaters make excellent no-fray fabric for toys and some stores sell by the pound.

You can also just buy off-the-shelf fabrics in the beginning, and try to maintain your commitment to the environment in other ways (which is what I did).  You’ve already found some recycled fiberfill (Carlee sells this in bulk in New Jersey or you can buy corn-based fiberfill from your local fabric store), which is a good start.  You can also ship your toys using only recycled and/or re-used packaging, and you can plant trees or buy credits to make your business carbon neutral.

I hope this helps. There’s unfortunately not a lot of information out there regarding material sourcing, because it’s one way small businesses discourage competition.  If any readers have info they can share, please add it to the comments.  Thanks!

 

Making Making Things Better Better April 5, 2009

I’ve been hearing a lot about crowdsourcing lately.  In general it’s a good idea, tapping the collective brainpower of your fans or customer base to generate ideas you might normally have to rely on hired professionals for.  It’s been around for a long time, (think Betty Crocker recipe contests, American Idol or the 2002 vote for the new M&Ms color), but the Internet has made crowdsourcing infinitely easier and the scale infinitely larger.  The X Prize Foundation did this in 2004 when they offered a $10 million prize for the first reusable privately-built spacecraft.  $10 million may seem like a lot of money, but it’s a fraction of what it would have cost NASA to develop in both time and money.  Why?  Because they only had to pay for success.  They got the trial and error of the other contestants for free.

In a slightly different vein, Apple recently began offering free iPhone App development courses through Stanford University and iTunes.  The cost to Apple is minimal.  They just open up the developers’ software and course materials, all of which already exist.  In return they get a huge influx of iPhone Apps, all developed free.  They post the ones they like to their App Store, and sit back while they collect their share of the profits.  Of course, the developers are getting a great deal, too.  They’re getting everything they need, from the education to the the global distribution platform, to bring a useful and potentially profitable product to market.

And that’s what can be so great about crowdsourcing.  It’s symbiotic, mutually beneficial, win-win.  It’s become so popular that there’s even a crowdsourcing project designed to make crowdsourcing better (everything good goes meta).  It’s called “The Better Project,” and while it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of feedback yet, if I know the Intertubes, it’s only a matter of time.

So how can you use crowdsourcing in your small business?  It can be as simple as sending a survey, holding a contest, or opening up a blog post to comments.  You can also produce idea collections, as books, zines, bundles of fabric or free downloadable art.  You can even build your entire business around crowdsourcing, like Threadless or Prickie.  Either way, as long as your customers are getting something out of it, whether it’s a prize, a commission or just better products, they’ll be happy to share their knowledge.