Blog — Updates

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Designed and made in California

It’s been interesting to hear how the reaction to the fact that we make our products in California has changed since 2009. Initially, it wasn’t surprising because we were really small and just selling things at booths in local design street fairs. Folks weren’t expecting these things to be coming in on container ships.

Over the next few years, people got used to the fact that more and more of their products were made abroad. So folks seemed to find it refreshing to hear that we still made SlimFold wallets in USA.

Made in USA Minimalist thin Tyvek MICRO wallet
Recently, with the rise of Amazon, private labeling, and drop-shipping, more and more small companies have been importing their products. And the reaction from other business owners and some new customers to the fact that we don’t has been one of genuine surprise and confusion. The first thing they say is, "Why?”

So I thought I’d reflect on that a bit and explore just a few of the reasons that companies make things locally...

Marketing
For many companies the answer begins and ends with marketing. They want to be able to say they make their products in a particular place and try to make the economics work. For leather handbags to say they’re made in Italy, companies have gone so far as to make their products in China but not connect the handle to the bag. Then this “final assembly step” which technically defines its origin is done in Italy, along with sewing in the “Made in Italy” tag. 

Product Quality
While I am proud that my products are made in the USA, the fact that they’re made here has a bit more to do with the organic nature of how I partner with local shops to bring my products to life. 

Bob's Foam

I tend to solve design problems by applying advanced production techniques and I’m continually amazed by the local companies I discover who have the equipment I’m looking for and the expertise to get amazing results with it. In this way, the product design and quality is usually enhanced by this collaboration with the actual makers.

By integrating these local companies into the late stages of prototyping, and often using the same providers for both prototyping and production, the transition into manufacturing is seamless and quality remains high. 

Contributing to the Local Economy
For whatever reason, most of the companies I end up working with are Father-son teams… or in one case, a daughter who became the CEO. But I don’t see it as doing any favors for these companies. Instead, they’re almost extensions of my team who I depend on at least as much if not more than they depend on me.

Is it important to you?
One of the reasons I’ve begun to think about this more is based on customer feedback. There are some customers who would rather pay a lower price, so interpret the fact that we make our products in California as a needless extra expense for them. I can understand this and also wish more folks would be able to afford and enjoy what we make. 

As it stands now, making these products locally is integral to the design process and location of the labor can’t be substituted 1:1. So the existence of the products is an extension of the design process, which happens to take place in California. More like growing grapes for a wine in a particular place than the formula for coke which can be made anywhere.

That’s not to say it would be impossible to transplant our process and manufacturing somewhere else, but we’re currently focusing our efforts on developing new products instead.

So that’s my current thinking on why we make stuff here. Just like I don’t see myself as doing any favors for our local partners by making our products here, I hope you can also see the value in the products we create regardless of where they’re made.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic in your comments below….
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Quitting my day job- I work for you

Many of you have been SlimFold customers or fans since we started in 2009 while others may have just stumbled across the site recently when looking for a thin wallet. Whether you saw me in San Francisco when I set up my first booth to sell wallets and it rained… or you backed a Kickstarter campaign for the MICRO Tyvek Minimalist Wallet, Soft Shell Minimalist Wallet, or Slim Pack, it’s certainly been a journey. I’m tremendously grateful that so many folks have enjoyed using my products.

SlimFold Booth
SlimFold Booth from 2013

But what you may not know is that up until recently I also maintained a full-time career as a mobile user experience designer. It runs counter to the advice most folks give about “taking the leap” into entrepreneurship, but it was definitely the right path for me. And an experience I’m starting to share with others so they can consider whether it’s right for them too.

As the company grew, I essentially had two full-time jobs but was able to manage things by being efficient with my time and getting help where needed. For example, I hired a local fulfillment company to do all the shipping, implemented systems to automatically synchronize our inventory with theirs, and hired some local stay at home moms to help with customer service. But when my son was born almost 2 years ago, I knew I couldn’t do it all… at least not well. So I committed to focusing on Fatherhood and SlimFold.

At first, this was just a trial to see if working only on SlimFold could work both financially and emotionally.

Like any major transition, it took a little getting used to. I remember listening to TGIM (Thank God it’s Monday) and thinking that the distinction between days had indeed faded… that every day was Monday yet every day was Friday. But I was thankful to be doing what I loved each day. Well, most days. This was also during the time when I was trying to produce the Slim Pack and there were lots of challenges with producing that many bags in a short amount of time… and then some major snags we hit with trying to ship the ones we had made. 

Now that all the Slim Packs are shipped and the holiday rush is behind us, I’ve been looking ahead at the coming year and all the products I want to make… and I’m pleased to let you know that I’ve decided to make my focus on SlimFold permanent.

As a designer for major tech companies, I needed to make the best designs I could while supporting their business model and balancing the desires of many stakeholders. While running my own business has a lot more moving parts in terms of the logistics, in many ways the mission is much more simple. Now you’re really the only stakeholder that matters. So in a very real way, I work for you now.

I’m looking forward to continuing to do my best to listen to your feedback and suggestions about the products you’d like to see me make. And am optimistic that if I continue to create compelling solutions, you'll continue to support us.
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Slim Pack behind the scenes: One More Thing

Is it "One More Thing" worthy? Probably not, but it is in the literal sense of being a single additional item. Based on feedback from early Beta testers, I made the straps on the Slim Pack rather long to accommodate a variety of body types. So even though the volume of the pack is small, it fits a wider array of people. And it’s easier for anyone to get on and off. But with that change came some later feedback from my #1 Beta tester (my wife), which was that the straps dangled a bit too much if cinched tight on a smaller body. This was a bit more pronounced given the straps are made from hefty 1.5” seat belt webbing rather than the traditional thin nylon.

How to address this? Shorten the straps and it won’t fit some people… keep them long and the ends will dangle. It initially seemed like a mutually exclusive decision for how to design it. In those cases, the options are usually either to identify the best possible default or make something that the user can adjust. But the length wasn’t easily modified by end users given that the ends need to be melted so they don’t fray and then sewn so they don’t slip out of the clip.
Slim Pack Strap Keeper Minimal Perfect Backpack

Then I remembered all of the specialized components which are used extensively throughout the Slim Pack. To select them, I had browsed the catalogs of several manufacturers and the array of pieces available was vast. Sure enough, I found several options of pieces that could do the job and ordered samples of 4 different types. Once I received the samples, one stood out as clearly superior. Though it was twice as expensive as the other options (and I’d need 2 per pack), it had a quality feel and excellent design.

Strap Keeper for Slim Pack Minimal Perfect Backpack

Normally used for military applications, this component is created with a 2-part mold from Acetal plastic. According to DuPont™, this material has the “stiffness and strength needed in parts designed to replace metal.” The finished piece has a slotted back and spring loaded clip to efficiently manage the extra material. But if you’d prefer not to use it, you can remove the strap from the front of the clip or remove the Strap Keeper completely.

For the Kickstarter project, this introduced another challenge… several hundred of the packs were already complete and packaged up. So in the days leading up to Christmas, with the help of my wife and (sort of) with the help of my son, we took each pack out, attached the clips, and packaged them back up again. It took the better part of 3 days, but I felt good knowing that each and every backer would be able to enjoy the Slim Pack to its fullest.

Adding Strap Keeper to all inventory already completed

I’m really happy with this finishing touch, as it helps the bag stay looking neat and polished during use no matter the size of the person using it or how they’re adjusted. I hope you enjoy it too!