Manufacturing

How Your Life Can Change in a Week: An Interview with Marina Carulo

One of the murals we painted in Kenya

I met Marina in Kenya while volunteering with Cross Cultural Thresholds. We added some much needed colorful imagery to a school in Kibera. I was taken with her positive attitude and joie de vivre. She was about to start a completely new job as a jewelry designer, and I was impressed because she didn’t have any experiece with jewelry (except a keen eye for fashion!) But I was even more impressed when I caught up with her last week and found out about her new career adventure!

Here’s how a life can change in a week:

Monday:  She had an interview for a position as a full time foot model. The salary was $85k + benefits (who knew foot models make that much) and travel was required. Unfortunately Marina was not a true size 6 – one foot was a 1/3 inch too big. However she hit it off with the interviewer and she shared some sketches.

Tuesday: The interviewer called to ask if Marina would apply for a position as a shoe designer. She didn’t know anything about shoe design so she spent the entire night on the internet reading everything she could about the industry.

Wednesday: She nterviewed with Marc Fisher (designer for Guess and Tommy Hilfiger, and son of the founder of Nine West). He grew up in the shoe business and was pleasantly surprised with Marina’s knowledge and creativity. She was offered a position as a mens shoe designer (with a much higher salary than a foot model!)

Thursday: She started the job and has loved it ever since!

Next week: She was off to China for 21 days to learn about the manufacturing end of shoe design. She said, “as the plane took off for China, I realized how lucky I am, and life seemed so full of possibilities!”

How did she get to this point?

Marina grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her mother scrimped and saved to put her through private school, where Marina remembers being in awe of her classmates beautiful clothes. That’s when her love of textile and design began.

With just $500 to her name she moved to New York when she was 23. She didn’t know a word of English, so she enrolled in an intensive ESL program at Westchester Community College. After 2 years, her favorite teacher introduced her to the Chairman of the Textiles department at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). He helped her get a scholarship, and two years later she graduated with a degree in textile development and marketing with a 4.0 GPA.

Over the years she has had several jobs in the fashion industry, but none have been as challenging and rewarding as her job with Marc Fisher.

What does it take to be a shoe designer?

At the beginning of the year, Marina and her team receive a trend directory from Tommy Hilfiger and Guess. They begin sketching their designs and picking out the initial materials. They narrow it down to 100 and send those designs to their factory in China. After a few weeks, they fly to China to review the proto-samples and narrow them down to 80.

Then they begin the technical specifications for each sample (what kind of stitching, what colors to use, where the logo will go, what materials will the uppers, cushion, and soul be made from, types of gromets and laces and so on). It’s crucial that every detail be mapped out down to the glue. Production will stop if the manufacturers don’t know if the eye holes for the laces should be nickle or silver.

Three weeks later they get the “salesman lot,” also known as the “pre-production sample.” They send these to buyers (like Macys, Nordstroms, etc) and then they have an idea of how many to order. A few months later the shoes start appearing in fashion shows like FFANY.

The entire time, from design to selling in the store takes 1.5 years!

Next week Marina is headed for Milan, Paris and London. Three times a year, the design team goes to Europe to get inspiration and buy samples of materials, shoes, and patterns that they want to incorporate into future shoe lines.

Marina warns, “This may seem glamorous, but it’s hard work. You really need to love fashion and design. It’s hours and hours of comparing colors, patterns and texture, and I know that’s not for everyone.”

What I love about this story:

Marina's great smile!

So many people pigeonhole themselves. Marina could have easily said, “I know nothing about designing men’s shoes!” But she knew she had the most important skills: creativity, a desire to learn, and an open-mind, and you can accomplish most jobs with those skills. In my book, passion and enthusiasm always trumps experience.

When I asked her how she avoids making excuses she said, “I think of the path I want to go down and I imagine it lined with open doors. I have no idea how long it will take to get through each door, but all I need to focus on is the one right in front of me. I never think of the obstacles, because what is the point? Obstacles won’t help me get through the door.”

She feels truly blessed by God, and wants to start giving back. She asks herself, “What purpose do I want to serve the World?” In my opinion, she’s already served the world with her motivating story!

The Realization

Sorry for not posting more frequently, I’ve been very busy at my part time job teaching ESL this week. But I did want to share a big decision I’ve made this week.

Since I came up with the BeddyBye idea I’ve read a lot about entrepreneurship. All the advice suggests that you ask yourself how involved do you want to be. Do you see yourself running the day to day operations of the business, or would you rather develop the concept and then sell it?

For a long time I was certain that I would want to run the day to day operations – work with manufacturers, run the website, organize the shipping and inventory, and improve marketing. However, when I think about how much is involved with manufacturing it is overwhelming. There is a reason why so few people enter the manufacturing business, or sell their ideas to an established business- the start up costs are so high for an individual entrepreneur. I realized that I don’t want that to be my full time job.

I have decided to take a month long break from BeddyBye and then I will focus on selling the idea. I think the best option is to get a provisional patent and then sell the idea with the website domain and the LLC. I want to see my dream realized, but when I’m honest with myself, I recognize that I don’t have the energy, drive, or money to handle the manufacturing hurdle. In other words, I would like someone with the experience and resources to take over.

But don’t feel bad for me. I don’t look at this as a failure or as settling. When I set out on the HeSo project my goal was to take my dreams and ambitions more seriously. My goal was not to focus all my attention on one idea. So if I am able to downsize the BeddyBye project, teach ESL (which I love), and work on my exciting next project (which I will write about in the next month or so) I will be true to my HeSo.

Discouraging News

So I talked to a manufacturing consultant who specializes in baby products and he told me it would be crazy to move forward unless I have $100,000 to spare. I feel pretty sh*tty. If I manufacture in America the prices are two to three times higher than manufacturing abroad. If I manufacture abroad it only makes sense to order in bulk (minimum of 5,000) and at that quantity the cost of cargo shipping is insane. It seems like there’s no way to just try it out and see if it works. It’s either all or nothing.

I asked him how normal people get into manufacturing. For instance, in the last week when reading about how successful entreprenuers started their business I’ve come across these two lines:

“I didn’t intend to make a big business it just sorta happened.” (insert cute shrug)

“My husband said stop talking about it and just make it.”

The consultant said, when someone says “it just sorta happened,” that translates to they inherited a ton of money and they got lucky. And that “husband,” was probably the owner of a Fortune 500 company.

At this point I would like to offer a positive spin, but I’m not really feeling positive. I just don’t see how to move forward. This has been keeping me up for the last week. Last night I couldn’t fall asleep until 5am.

😦

A Failing Course of Action?

While I was getting swept up in the excitement of my LLC approval, and having a successful focus group, I forgot about the lingering manufacturing costs.

My current design for the BeddyBye has a plastic infrastructure, a urethane foam covering, as well as a custom fitted sheet. The plastic and foam both need to be made with a mold. Molds are great if you have tens of thousands of dollars lying around and you know that you’ll be selling huge quantities, but the upfront costs make it almost prohibitive for anyone who’s starting out.

So far the cheapest quote for making the mold for the plastic component (JUST the mold – not even the finished product) was around $8,000. Yesterday I got the upsetting news that the molds for the foam (who knew foam needed a mold?) would be $3,000. The kicker is that on top of the mold cost, the cost per unit (if I’m ordering 100 at a time) is $45 each! And that’s just for the foam. There’s no telling how much the plastic units and the fitted sheets will cost. The upfront manufacturing costs will most likely be around $14,000. Even if I forget about the upfront costs, it will  cost about $120 for each baby bed to be made once I have the molds. A hefty number especially when market research indicates that I need to keep the price under $100. With these numbers it’s impossible to ever turn a profit.

This is when I think: Why couldn’t I come up with an easier product? or better yet, Why couldn’t I just be happy with a regular job?

So far I’ve invested $3,500 in this project. That’s nothing compared to my emotional and time investment. At this point I fear “escalation of commitment to a failing course of action.” In other words, am I holding on to an impossible dream just because I made an initial investment? Should I get out before I risk even more?

NOOOOO! That’s the whole point of this blog. I wanted to make the struggle public to hold myself accountable. Otherwise, I would have given up the second I first thought of BeddyBye. When I started the HeSo project I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I was leaving a secure, easy job for the horrifying thrill of following my intuition, believing in myself, and taking risks. Just as a difficult workout makes the heart grow stronger, I believe making difficult decisions will make my HeSo stronger!

Stay tuned for some of the solutions I have brewing!

Success is almost totally dependent upon drive and persistence. The extra energy required to make another effort or try another approach is the secret of winning.

Denis Waitley

Just Another Step in a Long Journey

Yesterday I met with Creative Engineering to see if my designs for the baby bed are viable and marketable, as well as get a better sense of the production costs. It was bittersweet. Paul Dowd met with me for 2 hours and explained:

  • Patent research
  • The difference between injection molding, blow molding, and vacuum molding (phew)
  • Certain design refinements
  • 3-d imaging software (Rhino and Solid Works)
  • Manufacturing in the US vs China

As if you didn’t know this already, but I learned that google provides a free version of pretty much everything. You can make 3-d models using Google Sketch Up. You can research patents using Google.com/patents.

The meeting cost $45o – a price which seemed astronomical to me at first. Now I’m realizing any amount you pay to avoid wasting thousands in the long run is totally worth it. I was really nervous before the meeting. I was afraid he would tell me I’m wasting my time. My fears weren’t based on him criticizing the idea, it was facing the reality that I might not make it as an entrepreneur. The meeting was bittersweet.

The Sweet:

He thinks the design is good and worth pursuing.

The Bitter:

Just to make the molds for the prototype can cost $10,000 -$20,000. I can work around this by making a prototype out of foam without breaking the bank. I won’t be able to test it out with babies, but at least it will  be able to give potential investors a better sense of my concept. But even so, eventually I will need to get the molds and they’re going to cost big bucks. The thing is, plastic molding is really expensive to make small batches, but in large volume it gets cheaper. But if I spend $20,000 on the molds, then $5,000 on website development and marketing, and $5,000 in miscellaneous costs, will I ever be able to order a large batch??? Will I ever break even??? Am I going crazy???

OK I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. I still believe in the concept and in my ability to follow through. And I know there is always a cheaper way to make something happen, and I just need to do my due diligence.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I need to stick with my goal, and not get bogged down with future challenges. Things will come together. One step at a time. A thousands points of light. And all those other great cliches.