One of my favorite things about USA Love List is getting to know the entrepreneurs on the front lines of rebuilding American manufacturing. For growing businesses, making their products in the U.S. is a choice, a commitment, and it is a challenge. Remember Neat-Os?
We featured Neat-Os reusable snack bags last spring, and I knew that recently they had been struggling to find a new manufacturer. I was so pleased this week to get a note from Neat-Os founder Rachel Ostroy reporting that she had found a new source for her product, close to home in Los Angeles.
I had read Rachel's blog post on the Neat-os site explaining why it was so important to be American-made – it's a great read. But I wanted to hear more about Rachel's recent experiences. She responded so eloquently that I have shared her story here, in her own words:
I have to say the path started out steep. My first hurdle was finding materials made in the USA. Downtown LA was a bit of a ghost town. Business after business in the garment district was closed, ones that had been there for years. The fabric stores we did go to were perplexed by our request for fabrics made in the USA. Some stores had none and others had trouble finding the few they did have. The best zippers in the world are made in the USA, that wasn't hard, some are actually made in Southern California.
After finally sourcing all my materials in the US, I set out to find someone to make my bags. The first person I hired did it as a side job. He really didn't have time and didn't seem interested either because he raised the price to one that wasn't feasible. The next manufacturer who I have been working with since, has been inconsistent at best and he is unable to grow with me. I have been looking for a new factory for over a year. I either get a cost much too high or people aren't interested in making it. For such a simple product it is very complicated to make.
I'm not sure what happened, but I finally got a breakthrough. I like to think the tide is changing and there are more manufacturing plants now than when I started out. So I have found someone in downtown LA, about 20 minutes from my house. He works with many factories in downtown LA and is working with the city to bring back Los Angeles as the leading garment district in the US. The mayor has just introduced a Made in Los Angeles logo and appears to be working hard to revitalize the garment district in LA. I will be paying more, but will have someone who can scale up with me, deliver more consistent quality and is generally more professional and reliable.
Neat-Os has been nominated among a very deep field of reusable snack bags in Red Tricycle's 2012 Totally Awesome Awards. Please join me… take a moment to thank Rachel for sharing her story, and for working so hard for American jobs, by voting for Neat-Os. We welcome your comments as well.