Idea to Market in Five Months

The founders of Studio Neat are sharing the story of how their product, the “Glif,” went from being a napkin sketch to a product bought by thousands of people. It’s a fascinating case study of how drastically the manufacturing landscape has changed due to new ideas like 3-D printing and microfinancing. Dan and Tom share each step of the process in this detailed post, including the names and URLs of every product and service they used. Thanks, guys!

 

On-Demand Digital Fabric Printing

I’ve been meaning to put together a post of on-demand manufacturers for some time now, but it seems that True Up already took care of the fabric section.  She’s got a terrific chart comparing four of the most popular digital fabric printers on the web: Spoonflower, Karma Kraft, Fabric on Demand and Eye Candey.  The only problem is that this chart was created over a year ago.  Surely things have changed since then?  Anyone know of any new printers?  I wish it came in an updated annual version….

Let Your Auditors Do the Walking: Outsourcing Craft Production to Certified Responsible Manufacturers

Many professional crafters have thought about outsourcing their production at one time or another.  But if you’re a “solopreneur”, you probably don’t have the time or money to visit factories or cooperatives overseas.  So how can you tell which manufacturers are responsible companies, and not toxic sweatshops employing underpaid toddlers?  One way to start narrowing down the list is to look at international manufacturing certifications.  These certifications are awarded by independent, international, non-profit auditors, who inspect manufacturers’ operations so you don’t have to.

There are number of different international agencies that provide myriad certifications, but here are a few of the most relevant ones to get you started:

Though the ISO no longer publishes an annual list of certified companies (which blows, by the way — please fix this ISO!), many national and state governments/NGOs publish their own lists, which are easily Googled.  Here are some (not always current) lists for the U.S., Canada and Thailand.

The ICTI does have a database for factories that are CARE-compliant, but the search fields don’t seem to work very well.  I recommend clicking “Submit” without entering or choosing anything, and just browsing the list.

The FSC has a fully functioning, searchable database.  Hallelujah!

Worth Its Weight: Ponoko

Apparently I’ve been pretty out of the loop lately, because I hadn’t heard of Ponoko until this week.  An article in ReadyMade piqued my interest, but it wasn’t written very clearly so I read through the Ponoko web site in order to understand how it all works.

Ponoko is similar to Etsy in a lot of ways.  Members have their own little Ponoko shops, where they can list items for sale, buy things from other members, request custom items, and contact each other.  Where Ponoko differs from Etsy is that you can only sell things that are made (at least in part) in Ponoko’s laser-cutting shop.  This is how they make their money.  They don’t charge listing fees or take a percentage of your sales, but they do charge you for the materials and laser time it takes to make your item (or item components).

Most of what gets sold on Ponoko right now is jewelry.  This is because the easiest and least expensive thing to make with their laser is a small, two-dimensional cut-out.  People mostly design silhouettes or etchings that get cut and/or carved into thin sheets of wood or plastic, and then turn them into pendants, earrings, jigsaw puzzles, coasters, and other flat design-y objects.  3-D objects like tables and lamps sometimes appear in people’s shops, too.  These are mostly put together using layering (to acheive a topographical map sort of effect) or a slot-and-tab configuration.  Unfortunately, this causes a lot of people’s products to look very similar to one another.  Additionally, some people also sell or give away products plans in their shops, so that customers can build items themselves, or have the Ponoko factory folks build it for them.

Because of the limits of just one process (laser-cutting) and a few, flat materials (basically wood and acrylic), Ponoko has a ways to go before it can become the small-manufacturer-to-the-masses it would like to be.  I would love, for example, to see them expand to vacuum-formed plastic or fabric-based manufacturing.  If there were a place in the U.S. where I could get on-demand plush toy manufacturing, it would solve a LOT of the problems inherent with my current business.  Luckily for me, however, another product line I’m working on can be made perfectly with Ponoko’s lasers and plywood.  I’ve already researched a lot of industrial cutting facilities for this project, but having one right here in San Francisco that can make them on demand is infinitely preferrable to having to buy and then store some huge inventory again.  I had all but written off this new line for that very reason, but I’m excited to think the possibility exists to move forward with it again.

Ponoko’s ultimate vision is to have dozens of little factories all over the world, so that no matter where you live, whatever you buy can be made nearby.  Making things only to order cuts down on waste, and having lots of scattered factories cuts down on the costs and emissions associated with global transport.  This is an example of one of those forward-thinking green businesses profiled in books like Cradle-to-Cradle, in which it is more profitable to be eco-friendly, not less.  They still have a lot of growing to do, but I really think Ponoko is onto something big.  If I were a venture capitalist, or if they offered stock, I would definitely be investing in these guys.