General Question

DrewJ's avatar

I have designs for wallets, shoes and other things. How do I manufacture a few of them?

Asked by DrewJ (375 points ) December 22nd, 2010

Hey There!

So. I have a typical day job but I also really like to design things. Mainly wallets, shoes, t-shirts etc. but my ideas are always just drawings and ideas… I’ve never done anything with them.

I’m thinking about investing some money into starting an online store where I can sell some things I’ve designed and just see if it turns into anything…

I’m actually pretty good with the computer, I could set up my online store just fine. What I don’t know a single thing about is How would I even go about creating what I design? Do I find a manufacturing company? Where do I go to outsource? Pretty much: Where would I even Begin? (with saving money where I can as a side concern)

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8 Answers

Haleth's avatar

The t-shirts are the easiest. I think cafepress and threadless will already do that for you. On the other hand, you can look for classes in leatherworking, silkscreening or fashion design if you really want to get serious about your hobby. Then you’ll have a really good understanding of how your design translates into a finished product, you can learn to make them yourself, or the teachers can help you find a manufacturer.

DrewJ's avatar

Thanks for the response. The problem with your suggestions are that those sites are more in the business of selling t-shirts than supplying t-shirts. You can create your own t-shirt which is cool if you just want a t-shirt- But to design a t-shirt and mass produce them for resale… thats a different story. Besides, I shouldn’t have said t-shirt because I knew that’d be easy.

I’m thinking more like shoes and wallets and bags and maybe phone/computer cases. Things like that. I can’t really make them myself by learning leatherwork… I’m looking more for a company to outsource that work too.

Smashley's avatar

Etsy is a great place to sell assorted handcrafts from, so I’d suggest getting into communication some of the talented folks over there. I don’t know if there are any companies that will simply take a design and make a quality product out of it, unless they’re gobbling up the vast majority of the profit.

Quality is the key here. Anyone can slap a logo on a cheap piece of shit, and they’re a dime a dozen. A good design on a well made item makes all the difference in the world. Find someone who makes quality handcrafts and ask about bulk custom orders. This could make supply issues a bit of a pain, as you’d need to order the products ahead of time, to ensure you’d be able to meet demand. This option might involve significant investment.

Another option would be to offer your ability to make a quality store to skilled craftspeople. Though good with needle and thread, they may be less than skilled at using the internet and selling their product. You offer to provide the online store through which they can sell products they have designed. You charge them nothing for the retail space, except an agreement that they’ll produce certain orders, based on your designs, and you’ll both take a share of those profits. This might not be a perfect business model, I’m sure someone could tweak it a bit, but it would enable you to get quality merchandise made, according to your designs. As a bonus, you’d have a lot more control than those cookie-cutter garbage sites like cafepress.

YARNLADY's avatar

Designs are the easy part, to find a company willing to produce them requires a lot more expertise in the field. You can try to contact the manufacturers directly and ask them how to submit designs.

colingilchrist's avatar

I know of one company that develops ideas into products, however it’s mostly hardware, they’re called: Davison: http://bit.ly/eoDDhD – for T shirts another company worth looking at is Spreadshirt: http://www.spreadshirt.com/

anartist's avatar

If you want to get into something as risky as this you should test the waters first: Like make a handful of shirts for yourself and your friends and see if they attract any attention.

If you want to proceed—but this is very risky—- buy Tshirts in bulk [and remember you have to get different sizes]. Have your Tshirts printed with a design of yours by a vendor [unless you know how to silkscreen] or perhaps try transfer images with a heat press or iron [you would only have to buy the image transfers made from your design and the Tshirts, not the service of applying them]

I don’t think you know what you are getting into, the cost of maintaining inventory and paying service providers may be very high and you may sell nothing. Even shipping and storage will cost you. And are your marketing skills that good?
Even moderately successful vendors have trouble sometimes with designs that don’t sell.

These retro Tshirts were put up on a separate site because they did not sell and the vendor wanted to distance herself from them
http://www.anartist.info/hc/index.html
Actually looking online looks like she’s lost her online shop and sells jewelry through other vendors now. A few years ago she had an east coast and a west coast business and was showing in Japan. This is real money you are risking.
http://www.shopstyle.com/product/highway-child-urban-outfitters-feather-earrings/23870839

Leather goods are even harder. Possibly find a leather worker at a craft fair or even a local cobbler who will build your prototype. This will be very expensive. If it isn’t something that you or craftworkers can and want to create to sell at craft fairs, it’s probably no-go. You could try to sell your designs to a leather goods company. Do you even know enough about design to design your shoe for different shoe sizes?

geeky_mama's avatar

The NYT had a really great article earlier this month on manufacturing companies (mostly in China) out there that’ll do small runs of custom design clothing and shoes/wallets. Check out the story and the links and maybe that will give you a place to start.

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