6 Things I Learned While Small-Scale Manufacturing by Olivia White of @41Winks

Olivia in Factory

by Olivia White | Featured Contributor

No matter your business, the process of bringing a product into fruition is a major feat—even on a small scale.

I run a start-up bedding label 41 Winks, which is geared to the fashionable tastes of young women. Being that design is our business, it was critical that I found partners who could help realize our full vision in both style and quality. In doing so, I looked no further than New York City’s own historic garment district.

It will always be a learning experience. While the process comes with many ups and downs, the relationships continue to grow and we keep coming back for more. Here are a few pieces of knowledge I’m taking to heart for our next production cycle.

1. Not everything will go exactly as planned.

A number of things can and will likely go wrong. Be prepared for products to evolve along the way. A lot might change from concept, to prototype, to the final product—especially if you’re a first-timer.

I originally wanted to produce ten bedding collections for my inaugural 41 Winks Fall 2015 line. Halfway through the experience, I had to knock it down to five. I was disappointed at first, but producing fewer, better collections, was the right move. The process forced me to edit and I only kept the best, most saleable product. As they say, sometimes you have to kill your darlings.

We were a small team of three ladies who pushed through the process together. It helped to talk through these decisions rather than go it alone. Having a support system in place is critical to this initial start up phase. We reminded each other: have patience, stay flexible, and don’t get discouraged.

2. You’ll make mistakes and that’s OK.

When we originally came up with 41 Winks’ signature modern patchwork motif, I was so consumed with the design aesthetically that I failed to consider how difficult and costly the intricate design would be to produce.

Producing the geometric patchwork effect required significantly more labor than a more typical bedding design. Our manufacturer struggled with piecing the fabrics together the way I envisioned. It took time and we ended up with a lot of excess fabric scraps.

What you design isn’t necessarily the smartest thing for your business. Looking back, I’m so proud of what we created—truly unique product with a special handmade touch. I wouldn’t change that. I am, however, designing our next collection with a different mindset.

Natalie and Olivia

3. It’s expensive to manufacture!

Throughout the process, you’ll need to weigh quality vs. cost, and it can often be frustrating to see the difference in quality between a more and less expensive option. Many times, the pricier option is well worth the splurge. But, be prepared for some give-and-take.

Develop a pricing structure from the start and tally expenses as you go. Account for the cost of raw materials, time, labor, production fees, and don’t forget about markup. You don’t want to price yourself out of the market.

4. Ask questions.

Even in New York, where people are often tough around the edges, you’d be surprised how many are willing to help. Get over the fear of calling someone at random or thinking you’ll sound dumb. Once I learned the kinds of questions to ask (i.e.: What are your minimums? How much per yard? What’s your turnaround time?), I was able to get the answers I needed.

Working with supportive people makes all the difference. I networked to find the right mentors and team members to see me through the process. Picking solid partners—from manufacturers to branding experts and even interns—can make or break your vision. Every step of the way, I spoke to multiple vendors, received multiple quotes and weighed my options.

Fabrics

5. Smaller isn’t always easier, but it can be better.

As a fashion-bedding brand, 41 Winks requires a nimble manufacturing process to turnaround new collections every six months. Headquartered in NYC, it made a lot of sense to look locally for a cut-and-sew manufacturer that could produce small batches of inventory with a very short lead-time.

I wasn’t ready nor did I want to start mass-producing. Having the opportunity to test small batches with our market before committing to scale worked to our advantage. I love that our products are manufactured in small quantities because it keeps them exclusive and unique—

Who wants the same bedding as everyone else?

That said, it is still tricky. Producing smaller runs costs more per item than bulk orders. You often sacrifice cost for quality. Ideally you want to source something that costs less without losing quality, but it’s easier said than done.

It can be hard to source and manufacture in small quantities. I even found myself sourcing some items at retail from local craft stores because it was the only option that didn’t require a huge minimum order.

6. Think long term.

This is possibly the most valuable lesson I learned. When I started the production process, I didn’t have a system in place. It was very easy to agree to something and make a decision without thinking long term.

Make a long-term plan and think towards scaling up. If you want to reorder, can you? Make sure your suppliers and manufacturer can make more of a product later down the road.

You need to plan ahead. From formulating the designs to sourcing materials, producing a collection takes time. Right now, I’m already working on our next collection!

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Olivia WhiteOlivia White is the CEO and Creative Director of 41 Winks, a fashion bedding company for women who think outside the white duvet. 😉

Her vision is to design expressive, statement decor for students and young professionals. As a 2013 University of Southern California grad, Olivia clearly recalls the experiences of shopping for both a college dorm and her first apartment, and understands the brand’s target demographic. Since moving to New York where she leads 41 Winks, Olivia and her team have developed new collections, including the Fall 2015 Line, which is inspired by and manufactured in NYC.

Olivia is a proud Texan turned Brooklynite. She loves her beagle George, Spanish music, and anything that could be considered a “New York Moment.” Most days she can be found in her SoHo office, surrounded by mini disco balls, and getting down right creative with her 41 Winks team.

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