the wool, the yarn, and the felt - and manufacturing

Washing and carding alpaca and mohair.

Yesterday I washed raw wool for the first time. I thought it would be a piece of cake thanks to youtube.  And of course, nothing is every as easy as it looks. I didn't want to use the washing machine like some sites recommended because we don't own the one in our apartment-  I didn't want to be in the position of "whoops sorry broke the washing machine while washing wool" (It's an old washer - with a new one I wouldn't have been as worried).

So - I used the bathtub.  The two fleeces I bought, one mohair (white) and one alpaca (black/grey) were dirtier than I thought possible so it took several rinsings to reach a water color that wasn't dark brown. It's now drying in a sheet hammock outside and on our living room floor.  Classy.  Some of it felted because I didn't know what I was doing, but most of it is salvageable and I've begun carding some of it.  After all that work it's nice to see the fluffy end product.

Apparently I was talking in the middle of the night recently and sat up and said "the wool, the yarn, and the felt".  Clearly I have a one track mind, even while sleeping.

Wallet sample from the factory take 2, much better this time around.
And now today I'm spending the day figuring out what I'm doing with my business.  I'm at a bit of a breaking point and don't  know what to do.  It's even getting to the point where, yes, after four and half years, I'm writing a detailed business plan.  Above is the second sample made of the Milo Wallet.  It's a little different and better than the one I make: it has turned edges and a magnetic closure and I'm happy with it.

It seems like I'm not going to be able to put all my line into production at once like I anticipated and I'm sad about that. Having things made in an American factory is expensive.  I am constantly questioning whether it's worth it, and whether my customers are going to be willing to pay that additional cost.  The sampling and dies will cost around $4000. If I order 25 wallets, each wallet will be $66 which includes materials.  So, a preliminary run costs $1,650. I currently sell this wallet for $160 on my shop. Let's say I just do a 2X mark up - making $132 wholesale and then, let's say my shop (or a retailer) does a 2X mark up - that makes it $264.  Which is a lot more than $160 and probably more than most would pay for a wallet. So you can see the pickle that I'm in.

A different factory I spoke with said if I want to keep similar prices to what I already have it's a better option for me to have things made in China.  That's so discouraging.


Amanda said...

Julia, does it make more sense to employ one or two other people that does leather sewing to work for you rather than moving manufacturing to a company? You can also maybe put your plan on Kickstarter?

julia said...

Thanks for the suggestion Amanda. I have thought of doing that - the only thing with is to get the kind of finishing details I'm hoping for I would need to buy a lot more equipment & tooling machines than I currently have. Also, in doing this I was hoping to correct some pattern issues I run into with certain items.

Kickstarter is definitely a possibility!

shara said...

Julia -- I have been there too! It seems almost impossible sometimes to find a local or even US factory to produce things at a price that doesn't make it impossible (or just really hard) to turn around and sell them to retailers and customers. I don't have any helpful advice at the moment, just commiserating. I know you will be able to find a solution though!

erica said...

oh man, that's a tough situation to be in. i wish i had helpful advice. thanks for sharing those numbers, they're really eye-opening. i hope you aren't offended that my initial response is: i don't need more things in my life! it's just depressing to think about the cost of both cheap/fast and quality stuff. either way, someone is paying the price.

i do love the new version of the milo wallet. i'm such a fan of the magnetic closure.

WSAKE said...

such an interesting post!
i realized wholesale makes it impossible to sell my products, too
they become so very expensive and i just can´t produce them any cheaper

probably selling them via an own shop is the best solution

i hope you find a good way for you
all the best


jaclyn said...

It really is such a conundrum. Have you considered possibly producing outside of the States (not China) through a co-op program...possibly in Mexico or South America? They have lots of leather working talent.

Labor is cheaper AND you'd be helping to support communities by giving them employment.

Just a thought.

Rebecca Horwitz said...

The wholesale/retail equation is just such a tough one. I've recently been trying to wrap my head around prices that work for me, the maker, but also won't scare customers off. It's such a huge internal conflict. All I can pass along is what people have shared with me and that is that there are many people willing to spend good money on good product. As someone who doesn't necessarily have the money, all I can go off of is the knowledge what I if I could afford it I would be buying goods like these. Good luck and try not to get discouraged! Your work is beautiful and lovely!

Belinda said...

ooh these are the same worries I'm having right now Julia! am only just trying to get my own little crafty business off the ground and it is so tricky to decide on a price that is good for me + the buyer.
:( i don't really have any advice, just support, and solidarity, sister!
and I guess, at the end of the day, it's reassuring to know that there is a growing community of people out there that are supporting these smaller businesses, like yours.
good luck! x

Mimi Tsang said...

I definitely think that taking the leap to manufacturing is a tough one, and I think that it forces you to take your business to the next level since it does require you to scale up quite a bit. I don't think that $264 is outrageous - a quick look around shows me that you're in the ballpark (a Clare Vivier wallet runs about $220), but it is hard to let go and make that mental leap when you've been used to pricing your items differently.

Maybe only being able to put some of your collection can be a positive thing, so that you can see if this works out financially for your business? (And separately, I wonder if it would even be possible to find a factory in China to make the small quantities that you're looking at?)

jill said...

Hi Julia, Maybe adding "Made in USA" under your RENNES stamp would help the customer get over the cost? Or even on the tag? I know when I shop I am always willing to spend more on items made in the states. said...

Is this version of the Milo wallet still available in your shop? I couldn't find it.

Unknown said...

i think that what makes your brand special and unique IS the handmade aspect.

while your products are lovely, it is their origin that differentiates them.

you could employ a few cut + sew folks to scale moderately but i wouldn't opt for the overseas route.

we are such a small- and intrinsically critical!- group of domestic makers. scale through the traditional model doens't feel aligned with your brand or product promise.

good luck and lots of cheer for your work from california!