How to Bring Manufacturing Back to the USA in Small-Batch Format
Over the last few years, numerous tools and templates have come along to help individuals create websites, produce indie publications, start ecommerce brands and build social networks. The digital realm can be very amateur-friendly. But it’s much harder to just decide one day to start producing physical objects. Design is specialized, and manufacturing is technical, not to mention inaccessible—at least seemingly so—to the average person. Factories exist in a separate sphere from our daily lives, and increasingly, over oceans. While the notion of supporting American-made goods is certainly not a new one, there’s a new faction getting behind it: independent makers who want to produce small runs of their designs in a domestic facility.
Earlier this year, I visited one such shop, known as ODLCO, based in Chicago. Founded by a pair of young design students who have since graduated, ODLCO makes practical objects—a cooking pot, a butter dish—using materials and manufacturers located as close to home as possible. Their Wabi Nabe cast iron pot, for example, was forged in Wisconsin by a company that primarily turns out boat anchors.
The ODLCO partners had to search high and low to find a foundry that would meet their unusual demand, but this seemingly odd pairing of boutique design studio with specialized manufacturer is becoming less unusual by the week. In fact, enough small-batch makers are in search of this kind of service that a new startup was born around the matchmaking. It’s called Maker’s Row, and it’s all about showcasing American factories online, in a format that enables those often web-fluent makers to find just what they’re looking for, from laser cutting to denim washing to leather binding. Founded by Matthew Burnett, Tanya Menendez and Scott Weiner, Maker’s Row was one of five startups accepted into Brooklyn Beta Summer Camp 2012, where they received seed funding and support to get their idea off the ground.