As a small business with an artisan-based production system, we are aware that Alabama Chanin is unique in the way that we create our products. We would not exist without the skill and hard work of our artisans. Our cottage industry-style method of production is a subject of interest at many trunk shows, workshops, and forums. We are proud of what we have accomplished as a company and proud that we have been able to keep our manufacturing local. We are also excited to see a trend emerging among other small companies: DIY Manufacturing.
We recently learned about the work of Amor Muñoz in a New York Times article. Muñoz creates a specialized form of electronic textile and seeks her workforce by pedaling down the streets of Mexico City shouting through a megaphone. She has created a “maquiladora,” or factory that pays workers roughly the same as American minimum wage – well over the average rate of pay in Mexico. “It’s about community,” Ms. Muñoz said. “I’m interested in sharing the experience of art.” She wants to create art, but she wants to improve the rate of compensation for workers. This strategy runs counteractive to government agents’ strategy of keeping wages low to make Mexico competitive with China when manufacturing contracts are being signed.
Ms. Muñoz takes this strategy personally, sees it as an insult to her fellow man. Each time that she opens up shop, a crowd forms – more than she can hire, most days. She hires mostly women of all ages for whom it is difficult to get a job in Mexico City. At the end of each work day, Muñoz takes a photo of each worker, to be posted online with the artwork they have created. She wants to celebrate her workers and make them more visible. She could work somewhere else, but she doesn’t want to. She feels compelled to work locally and work small (though she would like to open additional factories). Other than creating art, her goal seems to be to make connections between older Mexico and new technology. She is optimistic: “With technology, everything can be democratized,” she said. “It’s fabulous.”
Chris Anderson, author of Makers: The New Industrial Revolution and The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, talks about how today’s technology has created a DIY micro-manufacturing movement, or “the web generation meets the real world.” He believes that part of the success of this DIY Manufacturing movement is the notion of community and open sourcing. Sharing and collaborating with others – whether you’ve ever met them or not – is a method of innovation that traditional manufacturing just doesn’t have. In other words, by sharing, we’re helping each other to innovate in our own specific ways.
These DIY manufacturers are growing in leaps and bounds. “The Plant,” in Chicago, is home to several DIY Manufacturing efforts. According to their website, they want to “show what truly sustainable food production and economic development looks like by farming in an old meatpacking facility.” There are several craft food enterprises, beer and kombucha breweries inside and they use only renewable energy created inside. Portland area entrepreneur Jed Lazar has a simple, yet genius, business model: SoupCycle. His employees make soup out of local and organic produce, then deliver it to scheduled spots at agreed-upon times. He and his partner began the business as part of an MBA project. Lazar started creating recipes by trying them out on his friends and originally delivered all of the soups himself. He now has a growing staff to take over deliveries – and you can check out their website for information on how many soups they’ve delivered, how many car miles have been saved by using bicycle delivery, and how many dollars have been funneled to local farmers.
And the number of these DIY manufacturers is growing exponentially. There’s even a DIY Business Association. Their blog highlights successful DIY-ers in all fields and gives advice for those wanting to create and manufacture on their own. Alabama Chanin is proud to manufacture our own products, rather than outsource. We are excited to see more open sourcing and the growth of DIY manufacturing. It looks like Chris Anderson may be right: the web generation has met the real world and perhaps the new manufacturing revolution has begun.
P.S.: If you are interested in sourcing products in America, check out Makers Row.