How to move up to another level

There’s been some scattered discussion about what professionalism means. Some non-members in the forum have assumed professional involves production of large lots but it has nothing to do with scale. Professionalism means adopting competencies such as the lingo and practices designed to smooth transactions, facilitating communication and understanding regardless of company size or sales. Based on everything I read, professionalism provides “a foundation for effective communications and efficient performance”. Never at any time was company size or output mentioned. In short, professional means better, not bigger. This site illustrated them as such:

Competencies, particularly in light of the CPSIA legislation are what concern us most. None of these crucial elements have anything to do with company size or output. It has everything to do with assuming the responsibility of learning. With regard to the CPSIA legislation, this law will force the smallest of producers to move up to another level if only with respect to their language practices. You don’t have to produce thousands of units to need to use the correct terminology for something (professional means better, not bigger). This law guarantees that you now must even if you’re only making onesies and twosies part time. For example, before it really didn’t matter what you called yourself in the process of conducting your business, but all that’s changing. I mean, someone might giggle if you describe your contractor as the manufacturer and yourself as a “private label” or at least be very very confused about what you were trying to say but with these changes in the law, you’re not going to have the freedom to use the terminology you’re most comfortable with. These words mean very specific things.

For example, I’ve received at least ten emails over the past two months from people who describe themselves as “private label”. At first it threw me because these were owners of really tiny companies but now I think I get it. They rationalize “I’m a private company and I have a label,” but that’s not what private label means. Private label means you manufacture stock products using your patterns and fabrics to spec for other companies and sew their label into it. The other perennially confused term is “manufacturer”. I don’t care if you don’t own a single sewing machine, if you cause a product to exist, you are the manufacturer. Under the law, these two things matter a great deal. For example, a lot of you who are using the unprofessional meaning of private label will read this and think you’re off the hook:

CPSC eliminates product safety certification requirement for foreign manufacturers and private labelers. The CPSC’s final rule eliminates the requirement for foreign manufacturers and private labelers of imported consumer goods to certify that they conform with applicable CPSC product safety standards. Only importers will be required to issue conformity certificates for imported goods.

Again, no one is to be offended I’ve quoted them, this is just what was uppermost in my inbox and was specifically sent to me in response to the above reference:

I’m also a private label. I was terribly confused by all that because I thought I read importers and private labels didn’t have to have the certificate.

In summary, even if you decide that professional means an operation much bigger than you, the law does not agree. While the law would agree you don’t import, it would not agree you’re a private label. Besides the quoted statement from the legal site above is highly misleading. Even if you were not a private label, you’d legally be the manufacturer (even if you’re paying someone to make it for you) and thus subject to the law. Anyone who sells product in the market place is considered to be involved in a commercial activity. As I explained before:

With respect to the tiniest of producers, I think an issue that has not been discussed openly is the conflict born of entitlement, often expressed in blogs and forums across the web as “freedom”. As the system existed, they had the freedom and entitlement to conduct their affairs as they saw fit and it won’t be that way anymore… Even under ideal modifications, this law will force many to either become more professional or get into something else. If this is something you love, it can only rankle being forced to put on a suit that’s too new or big for you. The truth is though, the only difference between many Etsy and eBay sellers and members of our forum is not company size but professionalism (for some reason, visitors and forum guests think we’re all big companies).

It boils down to forcing a commitment where there once was freedom… This law may force the decision among tiny producers to become more serious about it. I don’t know how they can comply with the labeling requirements if they’re not using better management and tracking methods. And it’s not that they must use full-bore practices used by the largest firms (we don’t) but they’ll need to mature and adopt accepted standards that stand the test of time (in my book). For what it’s worth, if I were a tiny producer, I’d resent any of these options. It doesn’t seem quite fair if you’re used to doing things your own way and want or need to be flexible. It doesn’t feel fair to take something away from you that you’ve always had.

As a commercial enterprise -commercial meaning you’re involved in commerce no matter how small- you will have to assume responsibilities you’ve studiously avoided. Yeah, I get it, it takes some of the fun and serendipity out of it. Government can suck the joy out of a lot of things but it serves no purpose to resent people who are trying to help you with a hand up. The truth is, because you’re small, you can’t assume your products are safe. How do you know? As one person said:

I’m not talking about your ability to compete with Target, I’m talking about your ability to compete with another WAHM who has decided to make a professional venture of her handcrafted business and because of her revenue, is required to test.

By the way, no matter how imposing “we” may seem, most children’s wear manufacturers are small companies. 68% have fewer than 20 employees. Probably 99% of my children’s wear manufacturers on the forum have fewer than 2 employees so you have a lot more in common with “us” than you realize. Other than having assumed the responsibility of educating ourselves, the only difference is one of attitude. Imagine how your claims for special treatment sound to others who’ve worked hard -just as hard as you have? Many feel belittled by visitors to our forum. As one stay at home -professional- working mother said about criticism from visitors:

I am a mom. I am special. Anyone who is trying to get me to operate with an ounce of legitimacy is destroying my livelihood. My customers appreciate poorly sewn and constructed handmade crap because they are against everything big bad corporate stores and their Chinese child/slave labor products stand for. I should not be required to do anything at all because I work from home, when my kids are napping. Make those big guys pay the fees. Kids don’t get harmed from my products because they are protected by the aura of good intentions and blissful ignorance.

In summary, don’t harbor resentment at being forced to become more professional. Professional means better, not bigger. Equating professionalism with big, bad and nasty is really a cop out; it’s avoiding the responsibility of continually educating yourself. Most of you have no problem educating yourselves about how to construct things better, so why do you belittle the necessity of having to learn better processes? Did you know that 97% of these companies are started by women but 98% of them end up owned by men? I don’t think it’s accidental. Fortunately or unfortunately, this new law will force you to commit or leave the field. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone; there’s over 900 members on our forum who are happy to help.

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19 comments

  1. I think education is a big part of why many in the craft business emphasize the “craft” part more than the “business” part. A lot of people are afraid to do even the most basic profit/loss calculations, and many are simply unable to do them.

    I was amazed when some people on a craft vendor Yahoo group I’m on thought I was amazingly smart for making a spreadsheet that generated a reverse sales tax table (i.e. calculated how much an item must sell for so that when sales tax is added, the result is a round-number price). This involved solving a simple algebra equation that any Algebra I high school student should be able to do, and encoding same in a spreadsheet formula (which anyone who’s taken a basic spreadsheet class should be able to do). To my thinking, it was something anyone with a high school education should be able to do, and yet there were many who felt it beyond their capacity. I don’t want to denigrate them or say they’re stupid, because they’re not; they were amazingly creative and wonderful people. They just did not feel comfortable with any sort of math, no matter how basic.

    Business involves math, period. There’s no way around it. And very few people nowadays feel comfortable with it. Hence the defensive reactions.

    I also want to say that I’m here to help anyone who wants math help in running their business. I loved teaching math, but I quit in part because I hated spending half the semester trying to get through to my students that it was possible for them to get an F even if their seats were toasty warm. Anyone who’s made it this far has already realized that, so I’ll be happy to help them.

  2. Sarah says:

    As a guest at the forum, I know I have taken issue with the assumption many/some others make that us guests are “unprofessional” if we are small and don’t want to grow at the same rate/adhere to the same standards as outlined in The Book. (One poster said, for example, Wholesale is 50% retail, period. And anything not up to that standard meant one was unprofessional. That is just not true – not in my industry, and not in many industries. To be unaware of the standards within my own industry would be unprofessional, in my opinion.)

    It was assumed by this particular poster that those of us who are purposefully remaining small – not buying all our supplies wholesale, for example – are unprofessional, because this particular poster apparently had some issues with smaller suppliers having what he deemed unprofessional products. I am sorry that this person had a bad experience, but that does not mean that all of us who round out our fabric inventory by purchasing things from the local fabric store produce sloppy crap.

    I think it is a mistake to assume that “small” means number of employees. When I say “small,” I mean not only how many employees I have (zero), but the amount of time required to run my business, the amount of supplies required for a year’s worth of sales, the amount of space required to store inventory of both supplies and finished product, etc. I’m “small” because I purposefully do not grow. I could – I have to limit my sales volume – but I do not want to at this time.

    I am purposefully keeping my business very small. And so the things I do as a professional business owner to maintain this smallness – because it is appropriate to my life at this time – have been put down as “unprofessional” by some (not all, and I have no idea if these posters are representative) members. That seems, well, unprofessional to me.

    I do not resent the new law, having to learn new processes. I’m not sure how I feel about the assessment that I need to either “commit” or leave. I am quite committed to my business. I have long-range plans – good plans – that won’t hold up under this new law. At this point in time, balancing my business against the time it takes to raise and homeschool a growing family, I don’t have the resources of time and energy to “commit” to the level that would be required to remain profitable under the CPSIA. I’m not sure that means I’m not committed. I shall have to think on that one.

  3. Sarah says:

    Wacky Hermit – you are very right that many people are afraid of the math needed to run a business. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve helped to set up spreadsheets that give them their COGS. And then the percentage of those people who find out they’re losing money on every item they sell – before overhead. Wow.

  4. Miracle says:

    (One poster said, for example, Wholesale is 50% retail, period. And anything not up to that standard meant one was unprofessional. That is just not true – not in my industry, and not in many industries. To be unaware of the standards within my own industry would be unprofessional, in my opinion.)

    When I write, I write in reference to my industry. In apparel, wholesale is 50% of retail or less. If your industry is different, then it is different. And if you are going against the standard in your industry, I stand by my statement that it’s not professional. You’d be surprised at the number of people who do not know, nor learn, standard practices in their industry.

    And lastly, I never stated, or assumed, those who are staying small are unprofessional. I think you are combining other statements, and some implications, and attributing them to me, when I’m not the source. I laid out my criteria for what I feel makes a venture unprofessional, and it wasn’t size.

  5. RE professionalism and vocabulary: “industry” is not the same as “product.” Sewn products is an industry. Childrenswear is a sector of that industry. Cloth diapers are a product… though diapering generally might also be a sector. I think. Upon reflection, I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. Correction, please?

    A wholesale standard of 50% of retail for apparel means that’s what it takes to support a retailer.

    I think one issue with cloth diapers and wholesale is that so many are made by WAHMs. Part of it is that they set their prices to sell direct to consumer and have little or no margin to cut when wholesale enquiries are made. And part of it is that many WAHMs do not take themselves seriously as professional businesspeople and don’t like to include a large-and-greedy markup… the sort of markup necessary to generate revenues to reinvest in the business. (Say, to buy an industrial sewing machine; to set aside dedicated, organised, workroom space and furnish it with a large cutting table; to buy high-quality fabric in enough quantity to lower costs.) And the sort of markup that allows a workable margin to a retailer. This means that entrants to the business of cloth diapers have to face a standard of artificially low prices subsidised by women who set a low value on their time and resources. Which is fine as far as it goes, as long as the business model isn’t used as an excuse: “I’m a nice person who doesn’t charge greedy high prices, which means that I can’t afford tools or quality inputs or books, so it’s ok if my product sucks and I don’t meet my deadlines, and anyone who says otherwise is a meanie.” *That* would be lack of professionalism. That’s not size.

    Other discussions of small/micro businesses:
    http://fashion-incubator.com/archive/nurture_people_not_products/ (comments)
    http://fashion-incubator.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=3355

    A discussion of improving professionalism/ moving up to another level in a larger shop:
    http://fashion-incubator.com/archive/project_kaizen_tuesday/

    The larger-shop post is a beautiful illustration of what Kathleen means by the next level and professionalism. Nothing to do with size: most of her lessons could be applied to a micro, one-person shop, and they are important for the larger shop even if it doesn’t grow.

  6. Michael says:

    Hard to move up a level when the FOUNDATION of our economy is crumbling! I can’t wait for the day when everyone wakes up and realizes what a waste of time this whole CPSIA is, when compared to the economy and the new rules in retail. Kathleen, I really think you are asleep on the economic front and its going to sneak up on you…

  7. Anonymous one says:

    You say “unprofessional” like that’s a bad thing ;-)

    Kathleen, you have been very generous to open the forum to guests. I want to thank you for offering an information gathering place for all interested. Perhaps it was not entirely altruistic to open the forum, the thinking being that there is strength in numbers, even crafter numbers. Just goes with the territory, however, that some of those numbers will use “private label” incorrectly and the salad fork with their entrée. The unwashed may bastardize the hybridized language and insult the science with their nescience. But, a little slack? Huh? Attract more flies with honey and all that? Be that it, that crafters belittle professionalism, Kathleen, you hold the key to the forum. Lock the door and be belittled no more.

    If I may, however? There’s the context and then your mention “don’t harbor resentment at being forced to become more professional,” which are the topics of professionalism and the requirements of the CPSIA. Professionalism and the CPSIA are not mutually inclusive, in my opinion. Do you really think a bunch of expensive, redundant and, I’m coming to believe, unnecessary testing and tracking labels will make anybody more “professional”? Really? Does adherence to a litany of vague and broad regulations to very little end have all this great intrinsic learning that will make me a better businessperson? So, this shouldn’t be viewed as red tape at all, but as a government-endorsed executive MBA program? Righteous!

    But I kind of figured a professional would want to weed out redundancy and unnecessary expense and work. But then, I don’t have an MBA and have a lot to learn.

    At this juncture, let me point out, that it was the practices of “professionals” that got us to the point where we are today. Yep, guys who are not afraid of math, who spend hours on Exel looking at the COGS and ROIs and using “private label” and salad forks correctly saying, well, lead paint is 30% cheaper and lead-based pot metals is much less expensive to mould into jewelry, so, yeah, let’s go with lead!

    The mom crocheting baby hats on Etsy didn’t do that. Or if she did, with one little piece at a time, not to the exponential degree of damage that the professionals did. So I can kinda see where crafters may come across a little upset at having to pay such a high price for the professionals’ misdeeds.

    A few visiting crafters might feel like nerdy Freshmen who’ve sat down at the cool kid’s lunch table. (And to the cool kid who wrote the bit about “I am a mom. I am special…I make poorly sewn crap…” *ahem* Who belittleth whom? So, “imposing”? Maybe? Just a tad? But please, if you want to throw down, I’ll sew your sorry butt into a corner any day). We’ll never be as cool as you, so no worries. But some guests do want to get their heads around the CPSIA and what needs to be done so that they can continue to do their thing. And then we’ll go eat our lunch someplace else.

    While many crafters are chomping at the bit to take The Big Step, many others are happy doing what they do at the kitchen table and are not interested in steps. Is that so bad? (And as steps go, CPSIA is a vertical wall 4 meters high with no hand- nor footholds). The manufacturing will never be BP, JIT, CI or any other slick acronym. Long story, but I, personally, really know how to make a value chain rock. Not in apparel, admittedly. But I get it. I get JIT. And yet, as a hand-crafter, when passion is up against profit, I usually opt for passion. So, yeah, it’s a hobby (I can hear the collective*gasp*). Head for business, but not the heart. Not afraid of math, just bored with it. In doing so, I do not belittle professionalism nor professionals. Not at all. I will belittle the toy manufacturer having 40,000 SKUs over 700’000 sq. ft. ’cause, I mean, you’ve GOT to be afraid of THAT math. Okay, CPSIA Executive MBA Lesson No. “Inventory Management”. And I will call out Mattel and Wal-Mart on the very convenient coincidence of the new mandates very closely resembling their current practices and vendor specs, thus changing the regulatory playing field to leave all others up a creek. I’d belittle the professionalism of the industry player who overlooked that caveat. Okay, CPSIA Executive MBA Lesson No. 2 “Porter’s Five Forces”: CPSIA is an entry barrier.

    Much of handcrafted can be viewed more analogous to “art” No, it’s not Art. Nevertheless, there is a similarity in that the goal is very often more the aesthetic, maybe making a social connection, and less the ROI. Many other crafters are not building a Business-with-a-capital-B, but doing their thing. Yep, there’s commerce involved, so they do need to consider many things, SAFETY especially. But many can still do their thing without a Wharton MBA or an FIT nylon tote (or lead testing?). In fact, maybe many do do a fine thing or two exactly because they “don’t know how”. Ignorance of “how it’s done” can have its advantages in the creative process. Moreover, some rewards are not found on the P&L statement. May we pursue that happiness? No? Not without a tracking label, I suppose. Have crafters really been that much of a threat to the health and welfare of America? Ya think? Is it really go big or go home? Well, we’re already at home, so, maybe crawl in a hole?

    What I would want to stress to the “unprofessionals” at this juncture, however, is, in fact, the need for REAL product safety. Many hand-crafters do sell products, which would meet neither Federally mandated nor common sense safety standards. And not in little ways, but in big, bad ways. Take for example, a hand-crafter who makes a faulty baby sling or even a perfectly safe baby sling, but who did not include the proper usage instructions. Were a tragedy resulting from that handcrafted baby carrier to receive negative press, that hand-crafter, through his ignorance, could bring down a whole segment. You could. You really could. And that’s not very nice. Look at what one little (professionally mass produced) Reebok shoe charm has done.

    I’m kind of surprised when formaldehyde was briefly mentioned once on the open forum, no professional jumped up and said, hey, I am already working to eliminate that! (Maybe y’all say that all the time over on the real forum). Formaldehyde is a known irritant and carcinogen and is ALL over textiles, much more so than lead. What are the professionals doing about formaldehyde on textiles? A little proactive safety would be a nice thing. Professional responsibility and all that jazz.

    And I’d bet that if it were easily feasible, but not mandated, the crafters I know would test of their own volition. They just would. Because they personally know my kids. I know they prewash, so there goes the formaldehyde.

    But crafters, you do need to take some responsibility on learning about safety. And not from something you read on some forum somewhere. So, if crafters (and professionals) put all kinds of Safety First, I think that this fiasco may have some positive outcomes.

    In summary: Make safe. Be a professional? Do the very best at what you do. How’s that instead?

    *Going to eat my salad now. With a cake fork. And await banishment.*
    -Nancy

  8. Kathleen says:

    I can’t wait for the day when everyone wakes up and realizes what a waste of time this whole CPSIA is, when compared to the economy and the new rules in retail. Kathleen, I really think you are asleep on the economic front and its going to sneak up on you…

    Michael, even tho I am an economics major, I am not qualified to address this topic that you repeatedly flog in the forum. I’ve addressed these core issues of your arguments but you have steadfastly refused to review those entries as well have you ignored suggested reading material as to the content of what I propose as being economically salient. Before you decry my positions, why don’t you read what they are? Judging by your comment, you still have not. Don’t criticise me for a lack of intellectual rigor you are unwilling to assume yourself. You are free to start a blog to pillory me for my failures.

    As far as CPSIA is concerned, how can one worry about an impending famine months to come when there’s nothing to eat for dinner tonight? We are besieged on all fronts. One is here now, the other is yet to come (coming surely). By turns beseeching, cajoling and teasing, I can’t compel one to become a lean manufacturer -and you still don’t know what that is yet.

    On a personal level, nothing is “sneaking up on me”. Other than a mortgage at 4% interest, I have no debt. I don’t even have a credit card.

  9. Fledgling,

    I think you have something with the lunch table thing. Except I don’t think it’s the cool kids, I think it’s the nerds. It’s true, if you sit at the nerds’ table and you don’t get the “Kelvin is absolutely OK” jokes you’re going to feel out of it.

    You’re sort of right about the salad forks too. Except there are contexts. When you’re a diner, knowing which implement is the salad fork is only of consequence to your own convenience. Anybody who is snarky to you about selecting cutlery at random is being an a##hole. When you’re working as a caterer and your boss says to pack 24 salad forks for the Fledgling order and you pack 24 steak knives because that’s what you call a salad fork, don’t be surprised when your boss says you need to learn standard terminology if you want to continue working in the industry. It’s a matter of effective communication. (Your boss shouldn’t be snarky to you either. But blunt would be very appropriate.)*

    I don’t think Kathleen has said “go big or go home.” Not once. Ever.

    If you were a forum member, you would be able to participate in the forum thread where the benefits of a crafter business model that generates very little income are discussed.

    Kathleen doesn’t support CPSIA. She’s spent a lot of time and [her own] money trying to understand it to fight it effectively. She’s thought hard about all possible outcomes. One of them is that the small and micro businesses Kathleen nurtures on this site will be forced to close. (See Kathleen’s site http://nationalbankruptcyday.com/.) Another is that there could be an upside to being forced to use all these stringent tracking processes. Kind of like the upside to starting a business in a depression means that if you survive the depression you have a solid foundation to build on once the depression is over. The depression isn’t a good thing; a business model that can survive a depression is a good thing.

    And just as we can’t argue away the current economic downturn, we can’t argue away CPSIA either. We can focus on the business model that will get us through the hard economic times, and we can learn what we need to do to allow us to survive CPSIA. Kathleen can help with both, and wants to. But arguing with Kathleen isn’t going to make either the economic downturn or CPSIA go away.

    *(I attended a workshop for apprentice midwives once. The topic was Rh sensitivity. One of the apprentices referred to antigens as “antibodies,” and when corrected by the midwife said “yes, well, I call them antibodies.” The entire workshop got an impassioned lecture on the importance of caring about words, because in this context not being able to distinguish between an antibody and an antigen could result in death. In this context, vocabulary is not a matter of individual convenience. It matters, and it’s not a question of being in the in-crowd. Even if you feel insulted when someone corrects you, it matters. Now one of the really nice things about clothing design is that it is extremely unlikely to result in death! But knowing the standard vocabulary helps you communicate effectively with your peers, suppliers and customers. It helps you generate an income, and it can even help you generate an income for someone else. It matters.)

  10. Kaaren Hoback says:

    Whoa folks- the posts that are open to forum members and guests are meant to share data, and assist members to find a way to remain in business and be profitable.If you know what is required you May decide to comply with said law and legally sell your product be it a craft items or a large line of clothing.

    Maybe some feel they can fly under the radar and continue to market thru web sites and craft fairs and even word of mouth but anyone can turn your butt in. There are penalties to ignoring the law aside from consumers looking for the certified label and refusing to purchase your product because you do not have one! Ignorance is not a defense.

    If you do not share the vocabulary of the law, pertaining to your industry, you will not know if you comply. Being “more professional” can mean simply knowing/learning the terms and standard practices that apply to your industry, then acting on the new regulations i.e.: arranging standards, product labels, product sku’s, bar coded labels and arrange compliance testing.

    The testing and associated costs may be in excess of what you had hoped to earn. If there’s no money left after testing even if you faced no penalties your passion has little purpose- there are loads of passionate out of business owners. The consumer does not care one wit about your passion- they want a good safe product. The bank wants to know their loan to you is secure.

    The law as currently written applies to all manufacturers. Kathleen’s point has been if you cause ‘IT’ to be made and sold- you are a manufacturer and need to comply.

    Rather than get all miffed and feel personally challenged by what has been posted– read, learn, do some research on your own and make your decision if you want to go forward or close down. Placing blame may feel good but does not do anything to resolving the issues facing us. Get over it. The choices are to amend the law or comply with it or cease doing business. What you do is your decision.
    Kaaren Hoback

  11. Kathleen Fasanella says:

    Just goes with the territory, however, that some of those numbers will use “private label” incorrectly and the salad fork with their entrée. The unwashed may bastardize the hybridized language.

    I’m not in charge, it makes no difference to me. The issue is, the law won’t provide slack. That’s my point.

    Professionalism and the CPSIA are not mutually inclusive, in my opinion.

    I disagree. Professionalism as it is defined, is related to continual self education and improvement. One will not have the means to comply with the complex tracking requirements without improving the sophistication of their internal processes.

    At this juncture, let me point out, that it was the practices of “professionals” that got us to the point where we are today.

    That’s argumentative. If you persist in choosing to draw the battle lines between professional vs unprofessional, there’s plenty of unprofessional people producing unsafe products. The Etsy seller who glued lead crystals to baby pacifiers? Even if the lead were not bound, it’s still a choking hazard. Infighting won’t resolve this mess. Divide and conquer, the powers that be win. Why can’t you see that?

    And then we’ll go eat our lunch someplace else.

    And you are welcome to. Why do you presume I gain if you’re sitting at our lunch table? It’s a lot more work for me to monitor the forum weeding out spam (just as guests can now post, as can spammers) and resorting mis-posted material into the appropriate threads. I’m dense (really) so perhaps you could explain what I’m getting out of it because I don’t see it. If I stand to gain, then yes, you could be justified in feeling entitled that I owe you something.

    While many crafters are chomping at the bit to take The Big Step, many others are happy doing what they do at the kitchen table and are not interested in steps. Is that so bad?

    Not at all. I’m a tiny one person company myself. The vast majority of our forum members are also one person companies. But again -flogging a dead horse- professionalism is not related to size.

    So, yeah, it’s a hobby (I can hear the collective*gasp*). Head for business, but not the heart. Not afraid of math, just bored with it.

    There are innumerable examples of business and heart not being mutually exclusive. Many large companies have a lot of heart. I also know plenty of small guys who have none. Like professionalism, heart is not related to size either. Math bores me too, thank goodness DH loves it because it has to get done.

    CPSIA is an entry barrier.

    Finally, something we can agree on. That should be the focus here, not targeting us with your resentment. I mean, I could see blasting us for the blame of this whole affair if it helped matters or even if we caused it or even if we were your preferred target (large companies) but none of your criticisms apply. I understand change is hard and it’s resented. That change is necessary is something you need to wrestle with and the point of this entry. You don’t want to change? Don’t. I do not gain or lose regardless of what you do.

    But many can still do their thing without a Wharton MBA or an FIT nylon tote (or lead testing?). In fact, maybe many do do a fine thing or two exactly because they “don’t know how”. Ignorance of “how it’s done” can have its advantages in the creative process. Moreover, some rewards are not found on the P&L statement. May we pursue that happiness? No? Not without a tracking label, I suppose. Have crafters really been that much of a threat to the health and welfare of America?

    Again, your resentment is misplaced, I did not engender this turn of affairs. You act as tho you are the only one impacted, that we aren’t. You and crafters you purport to speak for are not the only ones. We are also affected but I’m dealing with it the only way I know how; maturely and appropriately with activism and education. What kind of leadership would I provide if I beat my chest and gnashed my teeth or found someone to blame? How would that help anyone?

    I’m kind of surprised when formaldehyde was briefly mentioned once on the open forum, no professional jumped up and said, hey, I am already working to eliminate that!

    Other than that your goal seems to be to flog us with your resentments, the argument could be made that if we had started talking about it, you’d then criticize we were talking about something in the future or that hardly affected anyone when there were more pressing issues at hand. The public area is but a tiny portion of our forum so you can’t know the extent of the discussion. It affects our bra manufacturers who don’t care to be assailed and criticized by the “guests” we are hosting.

    Going to eat my salad now. With a cake fork. And await banishment.

    While snark is a rarity around here, we don’t ban people for it. The worst that will happen is your comment is deleted.

  12. Sarah says:

    Alison, I am happy to report that, while I strive to keep my products affordable, the revenues from my business have provided me with a great income (enough to pay the mortgage) and enough money to invest in a professional sewing machine, a dedicated and organized workroom space with a large cutting table, and high quality fabric – some purchased in quantity and some purchased retail. Affordable products and some fabrics purchased at retail does not automatically mean one is producing a shoddy product.

    The problem in the cloth diaper industry – or whatever – is that, yes, prices are rather lower than they would need to be to enable everyone to add up their costs and double them twice for a retail price. Because nobody will pay that much for a diaper. Makes one question the point of getting into a business with small margins, and I’ve pondered that decision often. But I’m proud of what I do, and of keeping MY products affordable for one-income families.

  13. “Affordable products and some fabrics purchased at retail does not automatically mean one is producing a shoddy product.”

    No, and nobody has said it does. What we are saying is that it is not an excuse for producing a shoddy product. Professionalism has nothing to do with size. You can be professional and a micro-business. Absolutely.

  14. Anonymous one says:

    I harbor no resentments and apologize for any misinterpretations. I do not wish to give the impression that I am the only one impacted. This is not personal. Please do not take my remarks personally. I will restrain anything that could be construed as a snide remark. I stand corrected: I do not know the stand of anyone on the FI forum concerning formaldehyde. It was an extrapolation, an assumption of mine from one thread and that is my error. I apologize for the accusatory tone. Please delete as you deem appropriate.

    I had hoped to bring up the point that safety is everyone’s responsibility. Both the manufacturer who makes crystal-encrusted pacifiers and the Etsy seller, who copied the manufacturer, are equally responsible for what they do. This is an opportunity to proactively to address environmental toxins. I also wanted to give some credence to hand-crafted. I can be defensive in that regard and, again, apologize if offense was taken. It was not my intention.

    With sincerity and with “Best laid schemes of Mice and Men”,
    Nancy

  15. Eric H says:

    Too many ways to speak past one another.

    There are points along a continuum:
    unprofessional .. learning .. professional
    necessity .. hobby .. small biz .. growing concern .. large biz .. multinational
    art .. craft .. industry

    There are some ways of mapping one continuum onto another, but they are imprecise. So, sometimes small and unprofessional may be synonymous, but not always. Sometimes art and multinational aren’t mutually exclusive, though the nexus is rare. The map is not the territory, and this particular territory is bumpy.

    When I first started going to shows with Kathleen (everything from craft fairs to professional shows), I had heard her description of some of these things, but had not experienced them for myself. After a while, even I can spot some of them. There’s the person with interesting ideas which upon closer inspection look uncrisp; they’re ripe for being knocked off, and in any case their stitchers are not going to enjoy long term employment. There’s the paranoid person who clearly knocked someone else off. There’s the socially conscious person who is exploiting some “resource” of their own while “protecting” them. There’s the moral crusader: “I embrace X values, therefore you should buy my stuff”; it’s not uncommon to find someone selling cheap, synthetic plush toys (hecho in China) while spouting the “buy local – buy organic – promote Gaia” mantra. Occasionally you come across a very small concern with exquisite work. And then there are the quilters who seem to do consistently exquisite work, but almost always as a hobby (because nobody could afford what those things would cost if you really did it for profit).

    A common type is the person who doesn’t want to “sell out”. Businesses are bad, artists are good. They are frequently the one with the uncrisp finish, or the t-shirt with words and/or graphics. Any attempt to help them is perceived as an attempt to kill their creativity, crush their soul. Interestingly, they frequently perceive hand-made as high quality even though their particular good looks, well, cheap (flimsy, uneven, unfinished, likely to fade or fall apart, etc.).

    I think this is a result of the attempt in the last 200 years to associate manufacturing with the industrial revolution, coal-blackened skies, and child labor. But “manufacture” literally means “make by hand”. The association is one made by intellectuals trying to shore up support for the working classes, but in their elitist way they were placing their stamp of disapproval on an honorable and enjoyable way of life. As a result, they relegated it to something dishonorable, something you would only want to do if you were desperate or you could make a boatload of money off of the same people they sought to lift up without actually – gasp – becoming one of them (as long as you drive a Prius and give an unspecified percentage of your profits to save the whales, this is okay).

    Today, even in this comment section, we see manufacturing associated with MBAs. Yet this isn’t the view of this blog, or of the lean/JIT community. You aren’t going to find anyone here defending the decisions of Mattel to outsource to unsupervised contractors because they were the low-bidders. Our MIA friend Bill Waddell was getting quite famous making fun of people who thought, after 4 years of Biz school and 16 months of MBA school which involved no factory experience, that they actually knew something about manufacturing. And no wonder — the MBA curriculum consists of teaching the GM approach to manufacturing in which inventory is an asset and people are variable costs. That logic necessarily leads you down the outsource path. You can check that luggage at the door before entering this area.

    Manufacturing is honorable and can be very enjoyable when done right. The desire for precision and the elimination of waste of all kinds from the production process requires much *more* creativity than coming up with new t-shirt slogans. I don’t know how the rest of the world does it, but Kathleen’s approach is holistic, eliminating waste at all levels – wasted material in the marker design, wasted time for the stitchers, wasted effort and resources in the marketplace when people buy material that is never going to be sold. The goals are many: interesting and durable clothing, productive and well-paid employment, and self-expression and self-actualization for the designer-entrepreneurs themselves.

    So do not be fooled into thinking that you can map “professional” onto “corporate drone” or “industrial soul-thief” any easier than you can map “unprofessional” onto “small”.

  16. Miracle says:

    No, and nobody has said it does. What we are saying is that it is not an excuse for producing a shoddy product. Professionalism has nothing to do with size. You can be professional and a micro-business. Absolutely.

    I’ll take the heat since it seems I am one of the main starters of this debacle. I sew. I’ve sewn for years. I don’t sew for a living. But because I know how stuff is made, I know, for one, that it’s a cop out to have irregulars in your product and say that they are a trait of a handmade item.

    I have handmade clothes (not by me) that would make a lot of people marvel at the level of work. If your items are badly sewn (jagged rounded corners, we’ve looked at on one product, poorly mitered corners, etc) or inconsistently cut (which I often think is a result of the shaving of pattern pieces Kathleen talks about), it’s unprofessional to spread the misinformation that this is because one person sewed the product from start to finish (which is what handmade is), rather than acknowledge that there are things in your production process that could withstand improvement.

    This is at the crux of the issue. It is the unwillingness to improve the process to a standard of quality, instead copping out under the terminology of “small”, “one of a kind” or “handmade.” I don’t think consumers value that “quirkiness” as much as people think and I think that brings down the perception of handmade items and actually negatively affects all who make them, though in unmeasurable ways. But that’s my opinion.

    Add to that when some people are question, a lot of them respond with “but I am a stay at home mom.” You’d be surprised at the number of people doing the same, running businesses with infants/toddlers on their laps, but they don’t use it as an excuse for not having their operation or product up to par. And you’d be surprised at the number of solo operations present here who do not feel they deserve special treatment under a safety law.

    Because nobody will pay that much for a diaper.

    Well, I’ll say that I think this is a good example of my point. When you have an industry where a lot of producers shop retail (higher prices for materials) and have that “handmade quirkiness” (inconsistencies in production) then the perceived value of what you make is devalued. So, in that regard, it kinda proves my point. Having children how much am I going to pay for something when it comes with the warning that it might have some differences as a result of being handmade (which the REST of the sewn products industries considers irregulars)? It becomes easier to stick behind companies that stick behind their workmanship and when you get a crooked seam, they will take it back as an irregular rather than tell you that’s a characteristic of a handmade product (and this is a real example taken from previous discussion on the forum).

    Interestingly, they frequently perceive hand-made as high quality even though their particular good looks, well, cheap (flimsy, uneven, unfinished, likely to fade or fall apart, etc.).

    Yep.

    So coming back full circle, there is value in moving up a level, but that doesn’t equate to becoming a “big corporation” either. When everybody raises their standard and steps their game up, the niche, as a whole, improves drastically. Until then, people who make those products will be pigeonholed into scraping by because they can’t raise the perceived value of their product.

    Consumers show, time and time again, that they pay for the dimensions of quality that matter to them.

  17. Kathleen says:

    Seth has something to say on the matter of getting better, not bigger in Infinity–they keep making more of it:

    If you had a little business in a little town, there was a natural limit to your growth. You hit a limit on strangers (no people left to pitch), some became friends, some became customers and you then went delivered as much as you could to this core audience.

    There’s no limit now. No limit to how many clicks, readers, followers and friends you can acquire.

    I don’t think this new mindset is better. It shortchanges the customers you have now …and worse, it means you’re never done. Instead of getting better, you focus obsessively on getting bigger.

    You’re never going to be the biggest, so it seems like being better is a reasonable alternative.

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