Helping American designers make it in America (video)

In an age when most apparel is made overseas, a new Web site aims to help independent designers manufacture their goods on American soil. CNET's Kara Tsuboi reports.

As a graduate of the Pratt Institute with experience working for big names in the apparel and accessory industries, Matthew Bennett was ready to work independently to create his own watch label. While he might have had great ideas and a fabulous sense of design, he just couldn't seem to tackle the logistics of running such an operation. He found a manufacturer in Hong Kong that could produce his designs, but it wasn't always seamless. After OKing one production sample, Bennett later received a shipment of 1,000 pieces of defective goods -- goods he couldn't sell or return to the factory. "Manufacturing overseas is such a gamble," says Bennett. "I figured getting a sample would be something that would give me some sort of security to sleep well at night, but I had no way of holding anyone responsible for that as a small business."

After that experience, Bennett knew he had to try to manufacture his watches stateside. But finding an American factory proved to be much more difficult than performing a simple Google search. And if he was having this problem for his watch business, surely designers around the country were struggling with similar issues? "As of right now, it's much easier to find manufacturers on the other side of the globe than it is to find them in your own backyard," he says.

Soon after, Bennett teamed up with Tanya Menendez, and the two started flushing out the idea for Maker's Row, a Web site that would serve as an online portal or directory to connect American designers with American factories. "You don't want to divorce the creatives from the creators. The designers -- they want to see this whole manufacturing process, because that's where the innovation comes from. For us to be the catalyst for that is an amazing opportunity," Bennett says.

Two years after the original idea was hatched and eight months after going live, the site has already partnered with more than 1,400 American factories and made tens of thousands of connections between them and designers. Right now it's free for both parties to use the site, but the Maker's Row team has plans to make money from its service in the near future.

Setting Maker's Row apart from an ordinary directory is the education and guidance the site provides entrepreneurial designers. It breaks down the steps to get into production and can steer someone toward the right type of facilities to help with different stages of the manufacturing process. As someone who recently tried to navigate all the twists and turns of a supply chain, Bennett wants to be as transparent as possible to the designers who come after him: "We're concerned about the next generation of small businesses. So reaching out to the designers who are in design school is paramount to us. We want them to become accustomed to our site, using our site as a resource, and we're telling them exactly how to create their own goods."

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About the author

Kara Tsuboi has covered technology news for CNET and CBS Interactive for nearly seven years. From cutting edge robotics at NASA to the hottest TVs at CES to Apple events in San Francisco, Kara has reported on it all. In addition to daily news, twice every week her "Tech Minutes" are broadcast to CBS TV stations across the country.

 

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