Updating in Progress: I have written this post longtime back. Since then I had learned a lot. You might find some disconnect here and there because I am updating this post as of (August,10,2020). Should be done soon! Ask your questions so I could address some of them in the post.
You have a rough idea or a sketch about how you want your product to look like. Next comes making that product a reality. It seems like the most daunting task. In fact it is the most daunting task. You want someone who can make your dream a reality. Above all you want someone you can trust and someone who can deliver. There are two steps that you need happen to make the product possible.
- Sample Making
Sample Making: Involves taking your product from paper to a tangible form. You will learn/have two things from this process.
- Is your design making any sense? or Do you have to make any further changes?
- A tangible product to show someone or your manufacturer.
Always all the time - 99.9% of the time the samples will not even look anything like the design you visualized. But this stage is super important as you would know if your design is making any sense at all and if you have to make any tweaks. Also, Know that finding a sample maker is much easier than finding a manufacturer.
Tip: Don't wait for your paper design to be perfect. Idea is to make a physical product as quickly as possible.
Finding a manufacturer is easy. Surprised by that statement? Yes it is easy. But trusting someone to make your product is not. It is by far the hardest. Because not everyone is trustworthy. Also, if you find a right manufacturer they can most certainly make samples. But the process of product design would be much simpler if you already have a physical sample for the manufacturer. Because they are professionals 85% of the time they will nail your design and you will have less iterations to go through. But know that each sample will cost you.
To reduce the cost having a some sample or any sample comes super handy. Know that you don't have to have a sample to reach out to manufacturer. But it most certainly simplifies the process.
Below I shared some of the ways to find the manufacturers, sample makes and . my experience on how I made my dream a reality.
Reach out to your inner circle:
Reaching out to your friends and family is always your first step. Most of the time, let's say 90% of the time you might not get any leads but thats where you start. You just need a single contact and that contact could be in that 10%. You will be surprised by the amazing reach your inner circle might have.
How I did it:The way I approached was I kept telling my friends that I am thinking about designing a diaper bag and asked them to connect me to any one who is doing business or who has the slightest of knowledge related to manufacturing. I kept talking to anyone who my friends referred.
Local Shops and Boutiques:
Is your product a bag? Reach out to shops where they teach sewing classes or sell sewing machines. Ask them if they could refer you to any tailor or sewing professional who could make your prototype product. If there are small boutiques who sell/make apparel ask them if they could make your product a reality. Take some classes to acquaint yourself with how something is done.
How I did it: I started talking to small sewing shops and apparel makers in the mall. I got a lot of leads but none could work on my prototype. What I did not realize then and realize now was that I was asking them to make the prototype using a specific material. Some of them did not have the equipment or sewing machine which could do the job.You don't need a high quality material or a material that is difficult to make your sample. You just need a sample which you could to show it to your manufactures who actually make your final product.
I started taking sewing classes. I did have some very minimal sewing skills as a kid. But since the bag involves sewing I started taking sewing classes now and then. The main idea is to get an understanding of how all this works. What efforts go in. I started at the grass-root level because my idea was not to become an expert. My idea was to understand the terminology and the process. The design just does not end with the design, one should also put an effort to see what it takes to make the design a reality.
So then, my next step was to figure out how to make the sample making the bag. I wanted to know how to make a prototype of a handbag. Since I don't have the expertise, I know I had to find one. Yet there are a couple of ways we can make the prototype ourselves.
To make the prototype of a handbag yourself, You could do the below.
1) Make the prototype with a cardboard or a thick paper. All you would need is scissors, a cello tape, and a measuring tape. This might be intimidating at the beginning but if you take baby steps you can actually get this done.
2) Buy a handbag which is as close as to your design and which is less expensive. For this, you need to have a big heart. Because you are going to cut open the bag. Imagine yourself like a doctor!
Then there is the third option! find someone to make a prototype for you! If you are in America, trust me this is going to be very expensive. If you are tight on budget, tell yourself that you cannot afford it and keep looking for ways to get it done. Eventually, you will find one. Once you tell yourself that you don't have many options and you know your limitations you will find a way to get it done. Just keep looking.
The way I did it is I started with sewing stores. I went to a nearby sewing store and asked them for contacts. Usually, sewing stores will have contacts. Many folks will leave their business cards with the stores. You can either go to the stores or you could call the stores. You can also reach out to local community colleges and schools. Students in the last semester will take up projects and they usually charge you less. You could also check the LinkedIn Groups (Like Fashion & Accessory Start-up, Handbag & Accessories and other fashion groups)
Next step I started sending them emails. But many of the folks said they will not be able to take up or do the project. There would be days where I would feel I had found one to do my prototype and then I would end up returning empty hand. Later, I realized all this is part of the process.
My other resource was Yelp. I could not travel long distances as I was pregnant. I wanted to find someone local. I was 100% sure we will find someone local. We just have to look up. Then I found one contact 50 miles from my place. We went back and forth with emails and one day my husband, son and I drove down to meet her. It was a good discussion. I spoke to her about the measurements that I wanted(I took these based on my previous diaper bag) and found out how many yards of material I would need and also what other materials I would need.
I went back and picked up materials like zippers, rings, elastic bands, and vinyl from Joann's. I did not have a clue where to start. So I went to a known stores. But there will be many other stores. So make sure you search online for any local stores. Don't compromise and do find what you need. Google is your guide all the way long! So keep searching.
I shipped all the material. My bag was done in few weeks. I received the bag with mixed emotions. The bag had all the features I wanted, but it was nowhere close to a functional bag!. Also, some of the designs worked and some design totally failed!. I was disappointed. But I moved on.
I kept going. Now that I have a physical model. I wanted to make a better prototype. I searched on Alibaba. But I had no clue what to look for?!. I looked up some Indian Manufacturers and I was finally able to find one resource online. I was going on a vacation and I had to find one closer to the city I was going.
I met with the manufacturer. They said they understood what they have to do and in some time, I got the second sample bag and it looked more functional and on top it more like a handbag!. But wait! It was missing a major feature I requested. I called them up and they said it's not possible. I had to head back to home to the United States and it was July, the year 2015.
Meanwhile, I tried to look up for manufacturers more referral based. I could not find one(at that time. But, Later on, I found few resources). After a year June 2016, I went back to the same manufacturer. He changed his price this time. He figured out, that I only have one source and that's him. Not a nice place to be in! I made one change and placed an order for the minimum number of bags.
October 2016! I got my bags!!! I was ecstatic!. But I had a lot of steps I had to do before I could launch the business.
More on, Steps to Start a Small Business in my next post!