Vendor Spotlight: Working with a home sewer
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the industrial factory complex is handicraft work; individuals who make products with their own two hands, without the aid of a manufacturing system or corporate structure. A quick look on Etsy will show you that many people fall into the handicraft category, making and selling goods from their homes or small studios. What many start-up, product-based entrepreneurs overlook (while focused on larger factories and how to produce goods in higher quantities), is that they can take advantage of the home-based trend. It acts as a short-term solution for making samples and trying new product, and is a long-term resource for low-volume, quick-turn inventory.
Meet Elaine, who runs a sewing business called Cut and Sew from her home in Minnesota. She works on a variety of projects, from bags to pet clothes, to putting buttons on drapes. Her clients are spread across the country, and she positions herself as a ‘jack of all trades,’ working on orders that range from 20 to several hundred pieces.
Like many smaller mom and pop businesses, Elaine’s appeal is that she offers flexibility and small minimum orders to her clients. This is the crux of why home-assembly can be so great –the entrepreneur is relieved of the burden of having to produce their own products, but is not required to make the financial investment that an order with a large factory necessitates. Because a business like Cut and Sew does not have overhead or employees (and many are performing services for supplemental income only), there is not the same pressure on the business to submit regular orders. Entrepreneurs can simply produce when they have the funds to do so, in the exact amount that works with their budget.
In addition to low order minimums, another benefit to partnering with a home-sewer is the willingness to help with the development of new products. Elaine reports that she’ll gladly make samples and experiment with new designs, something that tends to annoy bigger manufacturers unless they are being well compensated. Further, when the entrepreneur is ready to produce this new design, they can conveniently make just a few pieces and test it in the marketplace, upping their order quantities as the product sells.
There are some potential downsides to solo-sewing (or assembly) industry that may seem obvious, but still merit discussion. The first such downside is price. Compared to a highly efficient production operation in a factory, particularly one in a country with cheap labor, a business like Cut and Sew is going to be more expensive. But price is not typically the reason one would choose a home-sewer anyway! The advantages of being able to run small orders, test new products, and limit financial risk can easily make up for the cost-difference. When comparing a home-sewer to a small or medium sized factory in the same region, the costs can be comparable, especially on simply constructed products. Elaine bases her prices on the time it takes her to sew the product, plus a small ‘shop fee’ that covers cutting, storage, and trips to the post office.
The second limitation is in capacity. But again, the ability to produce high-volumes is not why one would make their products with a home-assembly operation in the first place. When shopping around for this type of production support, it’s important to ask about ‘maximums’ and clearly establish what the person assembling your product can handle in a given period of time. Elaine reports that if she has a big project to complete, she’ll sometimes bring in another person to help out.
To find home-sewers, an Internet search for ‘cut and sew’ or ‘contract sewing’ in your area will yield results. For those with non-sewing needs or tasks unique to your product (labeling, tagging, folding etc.), you may not be able to track down an existing partner as easily online, but the model is still the same. Do you know a retired family friend who is looking for extra work? Could an existing home-contractor be taught to perform the task you’re sourcing? People are often eager for extra work, and with some creative digging both on and offline, you may be able to create a situation that works for you and your business.