Monday, June 29, 2009

Finding a Manufacturer

I started sewing the Wet Happened? bag two years ago. Bag after bag, I sewed on my trusty Husqvarna. And by sew, I mean thread strewn about, remnants all over the floor, zippers up to my eyeballs for 70 hours a week. I was just so happy they were selling, I did not mind the piles of fabric.

I thought I might eventually like to sleep again, so I started thinking about manufacturing. A scary prospect, indeed. I was going to send my hard earned money to someone else, based on ONE sample they provided me as a basis of their work?

Manufacturer Number One, Stealer from San Jose
I searched for someone that would make the minimum amount of bags-around 300- and lugged my box of goods to UPS. 10 bolts of fabric and $100 later, the raw goods were on the way. With any luck, in two weeks they would return as wet bags.

I anxiously listened for the UPS guy on day 17, when they were supposed to arrive. I watched that unmistakable brown truck fire up the diesel as he headed down the street.

He circled around and passed right by my house.

“I am right here!”, I thought, and figured he must be turning around.

Back down the street, he exited without dropping off any packages.

Day after day, this was my norm. Rushing to the window, watching him drive by, longing for him to stop, disappointed. My three year old even bought a small UPS truck off ebay. I talked about it so much.

I called and called the seamstress, only to hear “They are on the way”. If they were on the way, really, where were they?

Finally on day 37 they arrived.

By now, a few customers had been waiting 20 days. I pride myself on quick shipping, great customer service, and this shifting timeline did not represent what I stand for.

With sweaty palms, I slipped my scissors in between the flaps and gingerly opened the box to behold my treasure. 300 bags, beautifully sewn, ready for sale. I took a few out, unzipped the top, and noticed something strange. Long strings that had not been clipped peeked out from inside the bag. As I sifted through them, not one was in condition for sale. I sat up for hours with my scissors cleaning them up, packaged them, and called the manufacturer the next day to discuss.

“Oh, yes. That is just the way we sew them. We clip strings as best as possible.” Hmph.

Business was good, the bags sold out almost immediately. I sent more fabric, but this time was ready for the situation. I told my customers 30 days, and waited.

6 weeks later the bags arrived.

Strings hanging everywhere, longer than before. Although that should have raised flags, I was so new to manufacturing, I figured that was just the way it worked. I looked at my yields (how many were projected per yard) and was short 60 bags.

“This is just the way we cut it. We cut differently than you do at home. We waste nothing,” was her reply.

Looking back, I see how stupid I was. I just did not want to admit it since it has been so hard to find someone.

The Final Straw: I needed more bags. I was pregnant and sewing again since demand exceeded supply. My son was due, and I needed more bags.
It took ten weeks, when she gave me a lead of two weeks.

I have told my customers for 5 weeks that they are coming anyday. Strings are worse than before, seams are ripping apart on 10% of the bags, and I could not even open zippers. I am spending more time fixing the bags than it would take to just make them myself. And now, the stealing is rampant. 3 yards from one particular print, 15 yards from another. By the way, when I say 15 yards, what happened is she stole 15 of 30 yards. Half the fabric was missing. I fired her and had to work with the BBB to get my money back for the missing bolts of fabric.

Enter: New manufacturer, Inexperienced from TX

After sending out and receiving back 20+ samples from various places, I have learned my lesson. I am a smarter manufacturer.

With great joy, I find one sample that looks perfect. Not one to trust initially anymore, I ask for a test run.

100 bags come back perfect, then 200. Absolutely perfect, I would describe these manufacturing runs. I sent $10,000 worth of raw goods.

The first 400 bags arrive with a fundamental change in the design. One of the biggest things about a wet bag is that that it should hold the wetness in. Seems pretty simple.

I placed a wet swimsuit in the bag to test it out, only to have it leak all over the kitchen counter. Back to the manufacturer they went. Little did I realize that the seamstress that did my initial run was told she needed to fix them for free, which is when she officially quit.

None of this was mentioned to me; I was told that they were in the process of being made and that the 400 bags would be fixed.

5 weeks later, and I was still waiting on the reconstructed bags. It is now harder and harder to get in contact with this person I trusted and sent thousands of dollars of fabrics to.

At around the 7 week mark, I become frantic. I started googling where they live, her husband's business. I am a woman on a mission: find out where my goods are. Visions of them burning my goods run through my mind, my entire business ruined.

I finally get ahold of them, and she tells me that the finished wet bags will arrive to my house on Monday.

Monday comes, and nothing arrives. The week passes, with no box in sight. I did get a peculiar phone call, though.

"Hello, my name is Jennifer and I found your phone number on your website. I hope it is okay that I am calling you."

Jennifer sews for "Inexperienced in TX". She tells me that they are paying her pennies to sew each bag. That she thought she could do it, but since she had never sewn before, they are harder than she initially thought.

Huh? Never sewn before? I could not believe it.

I called up Inexperienced in TX, and she desperately tries to keep me as a customer. Tells me the whole story of the first seamstress quitting, and how she had spent eight weeks trying to find someone else.

My heart sinks, as she has ZERO bags made. I make the decision to cut ties, as I could no longer trust her.

Three days of going back and forth with her commense, calling lawyers and trying to book a ticket to TX to pick up my goods, and she finally says she will release the materials.

UPS picked them up, at a cost of over $1000, and shipped them to manufacturer #3, who I will call my God Send.

She is timely, listens, does beautiful work, and is a HUGE asset in this industry.

So, when I am asked for my manufacturer's name, you can see why I am not so quick to give it out. Carrie Clothing gives it to Marsha bags, and I have just given my competitor one of my largest advantages.

Continued in next post.


Brigitte - The Resourcer said...

This is amazing Jamie. I can only imagine the stress. As I work to get the word out there on the value of a well written resume I can see how my struggle is just like yours only in a different way. Find the avenue and then make it work. We all have to struggle there is not easy road. Thanks for this blog to keep me encouraged.

Jamie said...

Thanks for sharing this great info! I can't believe how much you had to go through to get it right!