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Small Business Digest


Success Leads Handbag Maker to Lead Others Into Manufacturing

The creator and maker of a popular line of handbags is sharing the secrets of her success with others who want to be manufacturers but don't know how.

Marty Stevens-Heebner introduced her award-winning Rebagz™ line of handbags made from recycled juice packs and nylon rice sacks in July 2007. Within only two years, Rebagz has come a long way. Her handbags are now sold in 400 stores in five countries.  They were chosen by InStyle magazine readers as their "favorite eco bag", were featured on QVC on its "Green Living" show, and celebrities have embraced Rebagz, including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Heidi Klum, Kate Walsh, Serena Williams, Christina Aguilera and America Ferrera.  Stevens-Heebner was also honored with the California Small Business Award for the conscious manner in which she conducts business.

Now, this entrepreneur has set up a division to help others take their products from idea to reality with her new division, Manufacturing the Right Way (

Stevens-Heebner argues that too often people, women in particular, find the manufacturing process too intimidating and so they don't create their passion product. She believes that manufacturing or product creation is really just a series of steps that need to be followed.

Stevens-Heebner says there are "Five Key Steps for Product Creation":

* Sourcing - AKA who will make your product and where
* Samples and prototypes - getting that first one made
* Quality control - insuring highest quality for the price
* Legal issues and regulations
* Why taking care of who's making your product is good for marketing

She offers a closer look at each of these areas, as well as pricing issues.

Sourcing: What does "sourcing" mean?  It means finding the company, or source, which will make a product and/or provide the components for that product.  Stevens-Heebner says, "when I started to make my Rebagz handbag line, I "sourced" for people and organizations that could make my designs.  I also had to do some sourcing to collect the colorful recycled materials my bags are made out of."
She adds that if a company is looking to make their product overseas, contacting the trade representatives at embassies and consulates is a very good way to find suppliers and manufacturers to contact in their respective countries.  The market for eco-friendly and fair trade products is growing tremendously.  To find suppliers who conform to these practices, go to the World Fair Trade Organization's site (  Companies can also contact organizations like San Francisco-based Global Exchange ( who have contacts in many countries worldwide.
Samples and Prototypes: Stevens-Heebner believes it’s absolutely vital to plan on the fact that suppliers won’t get it right the first time.  That way companies can build revisions into their budget and time schedule.  She says, "make your sketches, design plans and/or instructions extremely clear.  Also be sure to review them verbally with your supplier and, preferably, with their whole team.  The more specific and redundant you can be the better." 

If the product has moving parts or transforms in any way, consider hiring someone who can put together some computer animation or video.  The less that is left to the supplier’s imagination the better because everyone visualizes things in different ways.

Quality Control: Companies need to make it very clear from the start that the products that are made after the sample is OK'd need to be replicas of the sample.  Make it clear to the supplier (and in the contract with them) that they are not to substitute any materials, because sometimes they try to do that in order to cut expenses.

As in sample making, redundancy and specificity are your absolute best friends.  Make sure your supplier, and the broker if you’re working with one, knows exactly what level of quality is expected.  Stevens-Heebner says, "for my Rebagz, I make sure they inspect the material inside and outside, all zippers, the strap and all the seams.  Create a list to give to whoever’s handling your quality control so they know what you require."

She also believes that it’s important to keep in mind that "you and your supplier have different priorities.  You want to have a perfect product to sell to your customers and make them happy.  Your supplier’s goal is to complete the order you’ve given them so that they’ll get your money into their bank account.   They have workers to pay, their own families to feed and that leaky roof to fix.  Even the most well-intentioned suppliers end up overlooking flaws and mistakes because they’re so preoccupied with getting the product made for you and out the door so that it can be shipped to you on time." 

Legalities and Regulations: Always have any and all contracts reviewed by a lawyer.  If companies are making their products in another country, they should make sure to find a good lawyer there too who can make sure the contracts conform to that nation’s laws.

There are regulations pertaining to every product, so it’s important to know ahead of time which ones will affect what is being created.  Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s website ( and/or the Federal Food and Drug Administration ( to find out all about labeling and other requirements.

If the product is at all successful, it will be knocked off.  Just count on it.  It’s not fun – but unless it’s an obvious trademark violation, it can be tricky to litigate.  (Not to mention very expensive.)  Sometimes it’s best to take all the energy a company would spend going after the imitator and put it toward with coming up with new and innovative designs that will set the company apart and keep them ahead of their competitors. 

Why Being Eco- and Human-Friendly Is Good for Business: With the market for eco-friendly and fair trade goods growing rapidly in spite of the economy, being able to show that companies look after those who make their product is great for marketing.  Reporters love to write stories about these things and customers will appreciate the added value of knowing the product wasn’t made by slave labor.

Stevens-Heebner says, "if you’re able to get approval from organizations like Green America ( or the Fair Trade Federation ( your product can then be considered for purchase by an increasingly large number of retailers who require this sort of vetting process before they’ll even look at your product."

Being able to state that the company follows fair labor practices makes selling so much easier!  There won't be a need to hide anything or to “spin” an answer when someone asks directly about it.

Pricing and Costs: If manufacturing overseas, it’s important to keep track of the currency fluctuations.  Go to and sign up to receive an e-mail each day listing all the major currency rates around the world.  Very handy and convenient!

Create a spreadsheet in Excel or a similar program in which every single cost associated with the product is listed.  How much do the labels cost?  Add it to the cost on the spreadsheet.  Shipping costs too – it’s amazing how much that alone can add to product costs, which should be scrutinized on a regular basis.  What’s great about this virtual spreadsheet is that if, say, the costs of labels go up, the company can simply plug in the adjusted cost and the software computes the rest. 

It’s vital to remember that the price the company is paying the supplier is only part of what the product is actually costing the company.  It’s amazing how many people overlook this important detail, especially when they’re first starting out.

Given that prices fluctuate (and so do currencies, if companies are making the product abroad) it’s a good idea to build a bit of a cushion into prices so the company isn't taken by surprise.  If there’s a cotton shortage – or copper or chocolate – the supplier may suddenly have to raise their prices.  If a cushion has already been built into the company's own pricing, they can pass these increases along to their customers in a gentler way that won’t startle them and won't impact sales as much.  Sometimes, if margins are sufficient, the company can survive a temporary fluctuation without having to raise prices, something that will increase customer’s loyalty to the company.

Additional Resources: In her Manufacturing The Right Way consulting program, Stevens-Heebner guides others through the entire manufacturing process and answers their questions along the way. She also offers a new audio program and e-handbook, "Taking the 'Man' Out of Manufacturing: The Top 10 Things Women Need to Know to Successfully Create Your Product." Visitors to can sign up to receive a free e-zine subscription full of tips and her free audio program and report, "The Five Most Costly Mistakes People Make When Manufacturing Overseas (And How to Avoid Them)."


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