The evolution: locally and handmade

a recent reason I fear manufacturing out of the country

I keep referring to “Locally and Hand Made” and I figure that now is as good a time as any to define what I mean by this, why it is important to me and where I plan to take this concept.  Being Hand made and being locally hand made are subjects of extreme importance to me as it defines a great deal of the kind of company I am building…or I mean ahem, Empire that I am building.

Two factors are taken into account right off the bat in this dilemma.

  1. That I have about 650 pieces of jewelry available at any given time, which means I sell usually under 100 of all of these designs per year.  If I had 6 designs and sold 1000 of each per year, that would make for an easy decision and I would never have had this dilemma to begin with and immediately looked into manufacturing.
  2. I do not want to sit on a large inventory of styles that may not sell.  Instead, I have the materials which can be used for another design if need be and there is little overstock to unload.

Then to add to the doubts I already have about manufacturing I have to throw this in…

  • Manufacturing in the US is possible, but rather expensive in relativity to that in other countries
  • I would have to afford to give both time and money to travel another country to set up all this manufacturing…both of which I feel are spent better elsewhere
  • I have been advised that due to political issues, I should avoid manufacturing in China
  • I speak English.  I can read French and speak enough Spanish to fire a second course in a kitchen and order a drink in Cancun…and that’s about it.  It would be difficult to conduct business I know nothing about in a foreign language.
  • As much as I am no longer going to associate with the craft market, I still place a very large importance on artisan made and would like to remain creating designs intended to be hand made.

So what’s a girl to do when her company grows and she has basically ruled out manufacturing as an option?  I decided to hire local help to assist me in a plethora of studio chores such as filing, label making, photographing jewelry for the website and inventory (one in a binder for studio reference and one which I enter in my websites database).

After about a year of working with me one of the two assistants expressed an interest in wanting to help produce the jewelry, yay!   I now have an extra set of hands and she is doing a great deal of the “piece work”.  Piece work is basically assembly line work, loops created around both ends of  brass bead, or lengths of chain cut.  I then assemble the finished pieces and make sure it is up to my standards.  This is saving a great deal of time for me to be able on focus on designing new pieces instead!

The experience of hiring these girls, one who has a daughter and another job and the other who is in high school, has made me make it a mission to always hire locally from the community.  I feel it is of absolute importance to focus on the well being of those I live among rather then creating work in other countries.  Not only that, but as my studio is in my home, it is imperative to have people I trust and enjoy being around work for me and I have completely lucked out with both of my assistants, they are awesome!!

In the next few years, more assistants will have to be hired, so I can keep up with growing amount of jewelry leaving the studio, and eventually I will outgrow the studio as it is now.  I have thought about hiring local artisans to do piece work in their homes, paying them a fixed amount per item that is produced…be it lengths of chain cut and attached to clasps or gem stones wired to be linked together.  They would have to be briefly trained in the studio, given the tools and materials necessary and then off they go!  Depending on upcoming press for the fall, I may implement this plan sooner rather then later actually.

The reality is that my background is in design, not jewelry making…I would much happier if after the initial design and piece is created (and then worn aggressively and reworked if necessary) I don’t want to ever make that piece again.  I have planned from day one to get to the point where other skilled artisans are making the actual jewelry.  This also creates an interesting opportunity for a high end line in which I am making one of a kind items myself, a signature line if you will.  Oh the possibilities!!

The big question then becomes, if I already need this much in the upcoming year or so, what does this mean for the future?  Well in my 10 year plan I am thinking I may be up to selling hundreds of each style of jewelry and that I will have trouble trying to keep up with that kind of demand if I have to be involved in making the finished pieces.  As that time approaches, I am planning on expanding my studio and obtaining a warehouse in Poughkeepsie (the nearby city that would benefit from a new job source) and filling it with my own equipment and space for piece work.   Part of the space would also become the shipping hub where all orders were processed and sent from (as the shop is all online).  I would be in a position to hire locals to both manufacture in this factory and handle the shipping aspect of the business, allowing me to design and run the business.

I’m getting goosebumps sharing all of this…I have voiced all of this to only a few people.  Why…ah that fear is a crazy thing, but I like to just ignore it and power on with my plan…keeping the big goals in my vision.  I do however need to keep those goals a bit more in my line of sight…its time to take it to the next level.  Do any of you have goals you’ve been nervous to share or say out loud?

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