DWBIS: Foreign or Domestic?
As the idea for Duckworthy continued to unfold, we decided on a few non-negotiable values. We wanted to manufacture high-quality, thoughtfully designed products. And, as such, a large part of our strategy centered around creating a brand and business we could be proud of in all aspects. Cutting corners and slapping our logo on mediocre items from Alibaba just didn’t appeal to us (i.e. drop-shipping). Our goal was to innovate and bring style and function to every product we designed. As we began looking for manufacturers, our logical preference was for our products to be manufactured in the U.S. We expected higher production costs, but we also knew that domestic manufacturing would make many other aspects of the design, manufacturing, and supply-chain processes much easier. Elimination of language barriers, tariff uncertainties, and coordination of overseas shipments seemed like logical reasons to keep our manufacturing in the United States. Not to mention, good old-fashioned pride in American craftsmanship was also in the forefront of our minds.
The search for manufacturers began in earnest pretty early in the founding of the business. Cody played an instrumental role in compiling lists of potential manufacturers and then reaching out to see if they might be the right fit. The manufacturer solicitation process isn't very glamorous, and consists of in depth searches on ThomasNet and other similar manufacturer/supplier specific search engines, shortlisting those that might qualify, and painstakingly reaching out to each manufacturer time and time again until you get a response. Most responded fairly quickly and requested our product technical information for further review - we thought we were on the right track! But surprisingly, after they received our technical data we received several fairly universal answers from those US manufacturers we had solicited: “No, it can’t be done.” or “We sold our equipment for that type of work overseas decades ago.” or "You should seek overseas manufacturers for this work - we don't have the equipment necessary." These answers, multiplied over two-dozen or more domestic manufacturers, quickly became discouraging. We learned the hard way that to have an idea in your head is one thing, but for that idea to become a reality is another hurdle altogether.
So what now? The reality was that our original domestic manufacturing game-plan would not work. We needed to search overseas. With this realization came a flood of concerns: “Where do we go? “Who do we call?” “How do we start?” All of these thoughts swirled in our brains and one major concern began to bubble to the surface. Remember, one of our major requirements was that we must be proud of the products we make and also how they are made. If you’re anything like me, the thought of foreign manufacturing conjures up thoughts of sweatshops and shoddy workmanship that doesn't last a lifetime. Those things are in no way compatible with taking pride in your work.
So where were we to start? At the beginning...again. We scoured the internet and again, Cody was invaluable. We decided against searching in China for many reasons, but pending tariff concerns, poor workmanship, and poor ethics all tipped that scale - China was a no go for certain. A few domestic manufacturers we had solicited, (who were unable to manufacture the bags themselves) pointed us to search in India. We certainly had apprehension (and I think any such undertaking needs a healthy dose of apprehension) but I’m pleased that it didn’t paralyze us. Ultimately, we used a platform called Bambify to find our manufacturer in India. We made adjustments, did all the research we could, and, honestly, we couldn’t be happier. It could also be worth noting here that sometimes we just have to chalk things up to God’s providence. This is not exactly a step by step recipe, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Another big encouragement came through a conversation with a Navy SEAL veteran, and extremely successful small business owner. His insight and support of our need to manufacture overseas was tremendously helpful and re-assuring. His straightforward advice still guides many of our decisions today: “crawl, walk, run” in every new endeavor you set out on.
From our first interactions with our manufacturer, to prototyping and shipping, things fell perfectly into place. We found the material quality and craftsmanship to be of the highest standards, and the more we learned about the company, the more proud we became to work with them to make our designs a reality. Honestly, our contact’s English is better than ours, and her experience with high quality leather work stretched over nearly a decade in Tuscany, Italy. What’s more, it’s a small, family-owned company employing a skilled production team with over 20 years of experience, incredible infrastructure, and highly ethical working conditions. Beyond even all of these incredible attributes, their patience, guidance, and willingness to help a start-up like us work through the manufacturing process has been invaluable. We could not be happier, and we feel we've found a manufacturer we can work with for years to come!
In reality, this was the best possible outcome. Sometimes, adjustments must be made. It’s also important to remember that there is a large difference between adjustments and concessions. Never concede when it comes to quality. Shortcuts should never be on the table. With that said, just because you have a plan of how you think things should go, doesn’t mean that all other options are bad. Be open to where your disappointments and frustrations might take you. You may find yourself in a better spot than you could imagine.