The concept of using the activities of home-sewers who manufacture for charity provides a lot of fuel for thought. The concept is so beautiful and perfectly lean it begs a comparison with what we’re trying to do here -for the purposes of our own improvement- beyond that of our souls.
For example, let’s talk about about bootstrapping and finances. These ladies are getting free stuff (someone else’s waste, now regaining value) which you obviously can’t (unless you have a formidable stash) but it still teaches some lessons. This lesson could be expressed as “buy inexpensive and readily accessible inputs” and “be opportunistic when acquiring inputs” which means manufacture what you can with the goods you can get. As you go along, you’ll be able to afford better stuff. It’s called incremental improvement AKA Kaizen. That is far more profitable than having to have the very best and taking a risky loan out on it. That brings me to the second comparison.
These ladies can teach you a thing or two about cost containment because they have no money. They’re not wasting a nickel. I’ve seen DEs blow money on the most ridiculous things. Also, these ladies are not taking out loans; they’re not growing beyond their means. That’s much healthier growth. You shouldn’t borrow money either. I’m adamantly opposed to start ups borrowing money. Whatever else you do, don’t get a second mortgage on your house. I know people do and have come out unscathed but you shouldn’t do it. If you need that much money, you’re doing something wrong (moving beyond your means) and your spending priorities are out of control so you better call me. Now, if you’re already established and need an occasional short term (30 day) note to buy some goods, fine. But not at the outset.
Another way to summarize these lessons from charity manufacturing can be illustrated with the example that I used in my future product line (see If I were to produce a line). I’d use limited inputs from a staple (and stable) supplier of bamboo. I’d use one fabric, in one color, that’s pretty limiting. Regarding production costs, I’d start small. If I got an order for 10 of them, I could fill it myself. With the profit generated from that first run, I’d plow it into my second order of 20 blouses. Once I got more, I’d plow the profit back in to hire somebody to help me cut and sew even larger orders. You just plow the profit right back in. That way, the thing pays for itself. After awhile of this, you’ll find you can order larger quantities because your profits and orders are bigger. You don’t need to take out a loan. Not an official one anyway. I just don’t think DEs should borrow money to start up.
Another lesson gleaned from yesterday is filling a real need -which you have to figure out- because it’s usually not obvious. Again using my line as an example, my line is what’s known as a “fill-in”. My products (vintage detailed women’s blouses) cannot stand on their own. They’re made to go with something like ladies suits. Now, since suit makers rarely make blouses (a totally different kind of manufacturing set up), blouses are needed to fill in with those suits. Now because fill-ins aren’t dramatic and flashy, designers often overlook manufacturing fill ins. I can tell you that retailers and buyers are usually frustrated at not being able to find good fill-ins. Ask any of them. There’s no shame in manufacturing fill ins and I think the market opportunities are much better than for a stand alone line. I think that fill ins are often more profitable precisely because they are overlooked, it’s not obvious, so there’s less competition.
If you think about it, you can bootstrap a manufacturing business in more ways than you can any other kind of business. For example, retail. You can’t stock a store without stuff and stuff costs money. It’s easier to bootstrap manufacturing because you can literally start from nothing other than your existing resources. Just like these ladies have.