Just last month I returned from a few weeks in India where my partners and I were meeting with our partner NGO to discuss new product designs in the new year for our boutique brand, Holstee. Holstee is a company built on a basic idea: Living a dream and sharing that passion with others. We create products and shine a light on other designers who, like us, are dedicated to sustainable production through our webstore, Curated x Holstee. In the short time since we've launched the brand we have been fortunate to have found such great production partners, but we have also learned a lot along the way to help make every round of production go smoother than the last.
Original Holstee Tee sketch
In May 2009 my brother Mike and I made the decision to work full-time on a pet project we had been working on, Holstee, a T-shirt with a holster-position pocket made out of 100% recycled material. After six months on a huge learning curve—trying to catch up on design and production basics, we launched our first line of Holstee Recycled Tees with jersey made from 100% recycled plastic bottles, milled, cut and sewn within 150 miles of each other in North Carolina. A few months later, my brother Mike needed a new wallet. We sketched out our dream wallet—a minimalist carry-all with enough storage for all the basics plus a sliding window for IDs or transit cards&emdash;and teamed up with a NGO in India that had perfected a method of using plastic bags collected off the streets of Delhi to create a unique 100% upcycled textile with leather-like qualities. Three weeks after a short video chat with the NGO, we got a prototype in our hands.
Here are four key learnings we picked up on while working with an overseas partner for production. Hopefully our learnings will help other designer/entrepreneurs.
There are no assumptions.
Culture, technology, language, taste, ethics, values—don't take anything for granted and make no assumptions. Set all of your expectations from the beginning and make them clear. How fast do you expect to hear back on emails? Is it important that you are able to call and get through to someone? Did you specify everything down to the kerning on your packaging font? If you are picky and want things to run smoothly don't leave anything to the imagination. Communicate however you can; record videos, draw images, make tech packs, use Skype. For everyone's sake, always confirm everything over email. If you find yourself relaying lots of information over email make sure it's in bullets. It will make it easier to identify your points and respond to them quickly.
If you are producing overseas, it's most ecological, and often even economical, to set aside a few weeks for prototyping on site. Ideally, you would submit your sketches and technical design weeks in advance and arrive when they are ready. Then you'll have 2-3 weeks to make final design changes, discuss quality concerns, and go through any packaging plans. You may also discover better locally sourced raw materials that you may not have known about before. As a designer/entrepreneur I am sure 2-3 weeks sounds like too much time to be away from your business but it can save countless hours of back and forth communication and, more importantly, the costly chances that issues may arise post-production. (Personal tip: don't forget to enjoy and explore the local area—there is no point to doing this if you don't love it and have fun.)
Original Holstee Wallet from Autoshapes Sketch
Get excited but stay focused on quality.
Sometimes the excitement of a new product makes it hard to see quality flaws. With any product, especially handmade products, consistency/quality can be a challenge. Have a checklist of ways you plan to test the quality and endurance of your product with you before you arrive. Start carrying and using the prototype right away. Depending on the product, be sure to wash it, dry it, leave it in the sun, drop it, bury it, soak it—think about any possible scenario the product may find a take it to the next level.
Don't leave empty handed.
Try and leave with the final prototype so you can take product photos as soon as possible. Often times the missing link for pre-orders is a high-quality photo of the actual product, this capital raised from pre-production sales can help fund the production round.
As we continue to design and curate, we hope to become the home for mindful consumers to connect with meaningful products online.