Repatriating U.S. manufacturing jobs isn’t just about bolstering the economy. There are practical business problems associated with outsourcing production abroad. It’s not uncommon for shipments of products made in countries like China to arrive with defects, which can be hard to rectify from the other side of the world. In a report on WNYC’s New Tech City, Matthew Burnett, a small business owner in Brooklyn, says quality control wasn’t the only issue he ran into when he used foreign companies to manufacture parts for his designer watch company—language barriers and time-zone differences hampered routine communications.
When Burnett started his next company, a clothing line, he decided he only wanted to make his products in the U.S. That way he could order smaller batches and call up the factory directly if there were any problems. But finding domestic manufacturers was surprisingly difficult. In fact, Burnett discovered that it was actually easier to find manufacturers in China. So he and his partners created a website called Maker’s Row, which helps designers locate domestic apparel manufacturers. The site is already serving as a matchmaker for small businesses. Erica Murphy, who runs the children’s clothing company Nula, used the site to find an elastics manufacturer in South Carolina. And Maker’s Row has funneled so much business to Manhattan handbag maker Nicole Levy that she had to hire a secretary to field all the new inquiries. “If it keeps going the way it’s going,” Levy told WNYC, “it could revolutionize the industry domestically, because it could create a lot of labor for domestic factories and keep them around.”
Not every user is so enamored of the service. Terry Schwartz, a manufacturer of costumes and accessories for movies and Broadway shows, told WNYC that he wastes a lot of time fielding calls from inexperienced designers who find him through Maker’s Row. “I can’t handle the ones who are making a product who want to know why I can’t make it the same price as the Dominican Republic,” says Schwartz. But he acknowledges that he’s seen some amazing creativity in projects that have come his way via Maker’s Row. With room for improvement, the site may become one of the early shoots in a flourishing ecosystem that includes marketplaces like Etsy, production tools like 3D printing, and peer-to-peer discovery sites that encourage innovators and makers to keep things local.