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The Pursuit of ‘Made in the USA’: Meet Sharon of Factory45

This is a guest post from Factory45’er Sharon Eisenhauer, founder of With Meraki, a sustainable leather goods company launching in 2015. This post was originally published here.

photo 1Having sold my company almost 2 years ago, I have had the great fortune to have some time to explore what my next venture will be. Always the serial entrepreneur, I tried on a number of ideas, wrote business plans, did financials, etc.. I even built websites for a couple of ideas. Nothing really seemed like it. Yet.

In April, I saw this story on EcoSalon about an accelerator program called Factory45. Shannon Whitehead, the founder, was launching the inaugural class for this incubator and was reaching out to designers and makers who wanted to start sustainable and profitable businesses and keep everything made in the USA. Something clicked. I applied, and knew that this was something substantial.

I tried to do production for my former company in the US – but that was 10 years ago. A sew shop here in the Bay Area made some disastrous samples for me. Then I went to Texas and launched my collection with bags made in El Paso. Sadly, my cost of goods was 75%. Not a good formula for success!

My mentor, Rob Honeycutt, founder of Timbuk2, pointed me to a factory in China. I went to Shenzhen, walked the factory floor, explored the dormitories where the workers lived and checked out the cafeteria. It was important to me that the people who helped me to make a living and support others were not working in a sweatshop and were living decent lives. Taking the vastly different standards of living into account, I felt okay about doing my production there. Okay, but not great.

With the language barrier and cultural disparity, trying to engage with the workers resulted mostly in nodded heads and lowered eyes. My attempts at Mandarin were laughable, at best. How could I really connect with the people who were so integral to the creation of my products without a discernable means of communication? Sure, the factory owners and managers spoke excellent English, but how does one express a feeling through a middle-man? It just didn’t translate.

Through the years, I made several half-attempts at researching production here in the US. Overland Equipment used to make their bags in Chico, California. I knew the former owner. He said, “no way”. It was just too expensive to keep a factory running here and still be competitively priced. Even Timbuk2, who manufactures the exterior of some of their bags here in San Francisco, makes the more complicated pieces in Asia. I was dissuaded.

photo 3I believe that, regardless of where they live, people deserve to make a decent living. As human beings, we all do. It astounds me that anyone would ever question that. But I also want to be able to connect with those people, to have a relationship – to be able to share that expression of meraki – the soul, love and creativity put into their work.  Combining language and cultural barriers with distance made that pretty darn difficult.

So, when I learned about Factory45, I felt like a long un-answered prayer had been answered. Maybe there was a way. Maybe I could create something with some scale here. Maybe I could even source the components here. Maybe even a little more than maybe…

To keep up with the behind-the-scenes of the making of With Meraki, follow on Facebook and on the blog.

 

7 Ways to be More Productive When You Work for Yourself

The last time I worked in a “real” office was my senior year of college as an intern at Sports Illustrated. The rest of my career has been spent working from home, co-working spaces and coffee shops. It’s not for everyone — I still haven’t completely mastered it — but I have learned a lot about how to optimize productivity.

1.) Move your body first thing in the morning.

This took some getting used to, but the days when I start with a sweat are always better. Wake up, put on your shoes, go for a run, a walk or head to yoga. Just 30-minutes-to-an-hour of body-moving, sweat-inducing activity will change everything about your day.

As an added bonus, find an “accountability partner” who will exercise with you each morning. Plan a meeting time and place, and show up for each other on the days when you’re tempted to text message yourself out of it and hit “snooze.”

2.) Dress up.

One of the most overrated “perks” of working from home is the idea that you can stay in your pajamas all day. Five o’clock rolls around, you haven’t lifted your eyes from the computer screen, and you realize you’re still wearing sweatpants, slippers and a coffee-stained hoodie.

As much as you can tell yourself it doesn’t matter how you look — it does matter how you feel. And unless you’re one of those people who wakes up looking like Miss America, it’s worth putting in some extra effort in the morning to feel like your most-productive self.

Shower. Get dressed. Dab on some lipgloss. Maybe even slide into those black heels that are collecting dust in your closet. Your work, your ego and your psyche will be better for it.

3.) Jazz up your workspace.

Buy flowers for your desk. Hang a poster that inspires you. Clear the clutter. Create lots of light. Turn on your favorite music. Paint the walls. Mount photos on a corkboard. Hang a whiteboard. Stick multicolored post-it notes around your desk. Or, find your ideal workspace on Pinterest and replicate it.

4.) Use Asana to manage your projects and keep track of your tasks.

If you’re not already using a task management system to organize your “to-do” list, this one has completely changed the way I structure my day. It’s free, compatible with web and mobile, and ideal if you work with clients or in teams.

Before I discovered Asana, I was using a combination of Google docs, Evernote, Google calendar and a notebook. Everything was scattered in different places, and it was hard to keep track of the tasks I had completed without forgetting the tasks I hadn’t finished. Asana enables you to create multiple “Projects,” invite other Asana users into the Project, and lays everything out in an easy checklist format.

Write down the task, set a due date, and check it off once it’s complete. If it’s not on the list, then it probably won’t get done.

5.) Leave your laptop plugged in and don’t move it.

With today’s online mobility (read: digital obsession), it is 100 percent vital to take moments throughout the day to “unplug.” For peak productivity, it’s recommended to make all breaks laptop-free.

Attempt to go through one day in which your computer doesn’t move. It doesn’t accompany you to the couch for a five minute “break.” It doesn’t help you make a sandwich for lunch. It doesn’t go outside with you for a breath of fresh air. Create a space for your computer and leave it there for 24 hours. Come and go as you please. If it feels good, try it again the next day.

And if you’re really up to the challenge, don’t move your phone either…

6.) Put your phone in a “phone basket” away from where you’re working.

Turn the ringer up if you’re prone to phone-withdrawal anxiety attacks. Otherwise, store your cell away from your workspace and save texts and Instagram for when you’re not working.

7.) The Pomodoro Technique (with a twist).

The Pomodoro Technique is a well-known time management method that uses a timer to break down periods of work into 25-minute intervals, separated by short breaks. The frequent breaks are supposed to boost mental agility.

Going a step further, make it a goal to complete one big task before 11am. Go outside as soon as you complete the task. And then repeat with your second highest priority of the day. One task may take longer than 25 minutes, so find a good stopping place as close to 25 minutes as possible. Take a five-minute break outside. And then repeat again.

Most important of all, remember that if you’ve just started working from home, habits and behavioral change doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a while to get into a routine, so be patient with yourself and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Do you have other tips to add to the list? Tweet me at @factory45co and share what’s worked for you.


 

 

Meet the Inaugural Class of Factory45: Part II

perrellis-thumbnail jpegJON & ALEXANDER PERRELLI | DINOSAURUS

Brooklyn, NY

Jon and Alexander are two brothers who have been building a brand that makes science fun for kids. Through a dinosaur-inspired storyline and products that transform kids’ imaginations, the Perrelli’s are committed to zero plastics and made in the USA production. We’ll be working together to streamline their prototypes, set up an efficient supply chain, and explore marketing strategies through wholesale and e-commerce.

 

Heidi-thumbnail jpegHEIDI MCKENZIE | ALTER UR EGO

Mt. Sterling, KY

When Heidi was 21 years old she was in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. In the past few years, she has been a driving force for other young women with disabilities and has realized there is a way to make life easier (and more fashionable) for herself and her peers. She will be creating prototypes, setting up a supply chain, and building an online store that will be  the first of its kind.

 

lara-thumbnailLARA NEECE | FOREST & FIN

Savannah, GA

Lara has a successful brand on Etsy that she has grown slowly and steadily based on consumer demand. Her business model clearly aligns with the values behind Factory45, and we’ll be working together to scale her production and expand her line into other pieces, namely a wrap skirt. Lara is an adventurer at heart, smart entrepreneur and artistic creative.

 

 

sharon-thumbnailSHARON EISENHAUER | WITH MERAKI

Berkeley, CA

Sharon is the most experienced entrepreneur in the group, having previously launched and sold a successful handbag company. This time around, she is reiterating with sustainability in mind by creating a line of leather bags from repurposed and recycled materials. Sharon’s experience in the industry will be an asset as she continues to navigate a new entrepreneurial path.

 

Jenn Lak thumbnail jpegJENNIFER LAK | BLU VERDE

Clearwater, FL

Jenn is an executive in the spa industry who has found a hole in the market that she wants to fill. She has been holding onto a vision for her company for years and now feels ready to make it happen. With a strong business background and experience working and leading groups, she’ll be a valuable asset to the Factory45 dynamic. In the next six months, Jenn will finalize her prototypes, design her brand, and create a strategy for going to market through wholesale and direct-to-consumer.

 

If you missed Part I of the Factory45 introductions you can meet everyone else here.

 

Meet the Inaugural Class of Factory45: Part I

tina-thumbnailTINA HOFER MEDICO | THE SPARK BOARD

Atlanta, GA

Tina and I were connected through a mutual friend (hey, Amber Rae!) and she was the first person to sign on to Factory45 before I had even launched. Tina is an interior designer who wants to create products for artists, designers and entrepreneurs that ignite a creative spark. We’ll be working together to source sustainable materials for her first product, The Spark Board, as well as building a Kickstarter campaign for her to go to market.

 

jesse-thumbnailJESSE SYSWERDA | EENVOUD

Brooklyn, NY

Jesse will be our resident fashion expert, having studied at Parsons The New School for Design. Jesse and I realized we date back to my {r}evolution apparel days, having had a few email exchanges in 2012, as well as a mutual friend. Jesse is passionate about aesthetics, sustainability and inspiring others. She also works as a “fit model” in NYC, so she will be a great resource during the samplemaking and prototyping stage of Factory45. We will be working together to source sustainable fabrics while moving her brand forward into production.

 

angela-thumbnailANGELA TSAI | TOO COOL FOR DROOL

Nationwide

Angela is a mother of two who travels the country with her husband as a performer in the Lion King tour. Knowing firsthand the challenges of having children, Angela has designed an innovative piece of apparel that helps women transition into motherhood while still feeling confident and fashionable. Through Factory45, Angela will build her brand and online presence while creating a company that supports women in their new roles as mothers.

 

mikaela-thumbnailMIKAELA CLIFFORD | RUTH & RAGNAR

Encinitas, CA

Mikaela was introduced to Factory45 by Johanna Bjork, editor of Goodlifer and a mutual connection. Mikaela almost fell through the cracks when her application didn’t submit due to a technical glitch. Luckily, she followed up with me on the last day of F45 interviews and I was able to Skype with her in Singapore. Mikaela is creating sustainable childrenswear, with organic and recycled materials, inspired by Swedish design. We’ll be working together to explore sourcing options, grow Ruth & Ragnar’s brand identity, and create a go-to-market strategy.

 

emily-rose-thumbnailEMILY ROSE GUTMAN | INTERWOVEN MOSAIC PRODUCTIONS

New York, NY

Emily is a bond trader on Wall Street who ultimately wants to work for herself and create products with a greater social good. Her goal is to create cause-driven, limited-run apparel with a full lifecycle from beginning to end. Emily will spend the next six months “as a test to really see if businesses can be beautiful while also creating/changing consciousness.”

 

You’ll be introduced to the second half of the group next week!

 

Gearing up for Factory45’s inaugural class

By now, some of you may be wondering who was chosen for the inaugural group of Factory45. It’s the faces and stories behind the accelerator program that will make the next six months the most interesting to watch.

In the last week of April, I interviewed over 30 applicants to finally narrow the pool down to 10. The final applicants were ultimately chosen based on how far along their projects were, how I saw them fitting together as a group, and most importantly — how much I felt I could help them.

I learned a lot in the last week of open applications and even more through the process of conducting so many interviews by myself. Most notably I realized:

  • Just because someone has taken the time to apply, doesn’t mean they’ve taken the time to read the information on the website : )
  • It’s easy to spot sincere enthusiasm.
  • It isn’t necessarily about the potential of the product idea as much as it is about the attitude of the person.

Before the program kicks off on June 2nd, I’m starting to get to know my group of 10, how they work, what skills they bring to the table, what weaknesses will need to be supported, and how excited I am to start building these relationships.

Next week, you’ll start to learn more about all of them, too. You’ll be introduced to:

  • The two brothers in Brooklyn who are trying to make science fun and cool for kids
  • The interior designer who has created an innovative piece of wall decor
  • A visionary designer planning the first fashionable clothing line for young women in wheelchairs
  • An already successful handbag entrepreneur who wants to show that leathergoods can be sustainable by repurposing, recycling and reusing existing leather
  • And six others who are pushing the limits on what’s possible.

These 10 participants have already found holes in the market. Now they’ll have the next six months of support, guidance and collaboration to execute and fill the need.

It’s going to be a hell of a journey — I hope you’ll stick around to cheer us on.