The Journey Back Home
It’s been a little over a year since the first bundles of Amazing Capes have flown to their new owners around the world. People of all ages and and from 21 countries have released their inner superhero, and also supported 10 nonprofits through purchase proceeds. In an effort to take one more step forward, I'm proud to say that Amazing Capes will soon be having all of our capes manufactured closer to my home in Asheville.
The new factory is located in Asheboro, NC, and is owned by some wonderful folks who bring years of experience to the floor as well as warmth, skill and a cohesive vision. We couldn’t be happier about our new small business partners.
It has been quite a ride getting to this point and I'd like to share my experiences thus far as Amazing Capes prepares to cross a new business frontier.
Throughout college, I heard a lot of discussion about the global shift in manufacturing overseas. However, this was a concept I equated with “corporations, oil, politics and suits.’” Not my cup of tea. After graduating in 2009, I moved to D.C., and eventually flew off to Southeast Asia. When I returned home to North Carolina, my penniless yet ever-motivated self promptly re-discovered an enduring recession. Jobs continued to bite the dust, yet now I had the idea for a tangible product I wanted to manufacture! So, of course, I started looking for people to make it.
In 2011 when I searched for manufacturers in North Carolina and surrounding areas I was blown away by the high quotes I was getting. What I heard in college was true— all of the big guys had left or shut down, taking their cost-effective machines and methods with them. According to a study through Duke University "Although we have seen a drastic decline in the textile industry, the apparel industry has fared much worse, experiencing a 70% decline in jobs and 55% of plants from 1996 to 2006." Tens of thousands of North Carolinians were out of work.
Because their employers had left. And this left me, a novice to the manufacturing field, with three options: 1. I could abandon ship; 2. I could make an incredibly expensive product that no one I knew could afford; or 3. I could follow the manufacturing trail and make Amazing Capes a reality. #3 was the winner.
I browsed online and found a factory in China that had a 500-unit minimum order quantity compared to most of the big guys with a minimum order quantity of 10,000. I reached out and a wonderful man named Aaron became my #1 contact over there; he was efficient and polite, a dream to work with.
I emailed him sketches and photos of rough prototypes, received an estimate, and wired my first payment for prototypes. Ten days later the first cape samples. They were real! The process worked. I began to understand the feasibility of manufacturing a product overseas.
In late summer of 2012, after an extensive step and repeat design process, I scraped together the last dollars I had and wired it to Hangzhou City for the 10 final samples of what would become my first collection of Reversible Satin Amazing Capes.
When the samples arrived, I attached them to fishing line took product shots. Next, I had the photos up on a website built through Shopify. It looked like a real store! All I was missing was inventory. This is where the online fund-raising platform Kickstarter came to play.
I spent a month crafting a video and set a 30-day campaign goal of raising $15,000 to meet manufacturing minimums. Watch that video here. In lieu of any financial safety net, I poured all of my energies into the project, and found the loving support of friends, family, and strangers who got behind me.
With only 3 days left, the campaign was featured in Kickstarter's national e-newsletter and "Release Your Inner Superhero" flew to 300% of its goal. I was humbled. I was ecstatic. The world wanted capes!
Shortly after, in mid-December 2012, Aaron and his team were able to start the production process for Amazing Capes in the Zhejiang Province of China. By this time, Aaron had made some changes in his working life and had gone into business for himself. He was therefore able to set a higher price on the product, one that was both more fair to all involved, yet remained far cheaper than the domestic quotes I had received.
Weeks later, in mid-February of 2013, hundreds of pounds of satin capes arrived. We loaded the boxes into the back of a pick-up and brought them in. The physicality set in, I looked at the 2,200 capes, and was floored by their existence, thinking of the group effort it took to bring them all in front of me.
For the next 2 weeks our kitchen was turned into a crazy cape tag-fold-wrap and ship center. Over 1,000 capes flew from the Post Office in Weaverville, NC, to their new owners around the globe. Another 1,000 capes were left to stock the website.
Amazing Capes was in business!
Since then, it's been a great year, one with a strong learning curve, and I'm more invested in Amazing Capes than ever before. That being said, I decided if Amazing Capes was truly going to be the company I envisioned, then it was time to loose our 8,000 mile handicap, whilst young and pliable, and turn our little wings back home.
After a year of growing success, Amazing Capes is positioned to take the next step in fulfilling our vision. Our priorities are, and always will be, high product quality, business transparency, promotion of social good, and the ability to test out new styles with minimal financial risk and a short lead-time.
Between 2011 and 2014, the whisper of companies who are shifting manufacturing back to the USA has grown more audible. This past fall I restarted my search for a practical price on domestic manufacturing.
I turned to the Internet and serendipitously found a sewing operation in Asheboro, NC— just a few hours from our home in Asheville. Perfect.
After I met with owners Gary and Lilia of Lighthouse, I was even more certain that this was the right move for Amazing Capes in 2014. The two have tons of positive energy. Their experience as seasoned industry rangers will prove invaluable to our company. For the first time, manufacturing Amazing Capes in the USA felt possible.
Here’s where we are now.
Fabric has been ordered. Lilia has prepared new patterns that reflect several design upgrades. New tags have been woven, and custom folding machinery has been installed to fit their machines. Gary has even tracked down a foot-press that will install our flying penguin snaps on the cape collars. (Yes, snaps!)
Choosing to make this transition to the home front was a chance; however, now that I'm working with people whose hands I have shaken, and whom I've hugged, I feel a greater sense of accountability and responsibility for my work, along with an urge to grow.
Amazing Capes has had its training wheels on, and I believe we've finally arrived at a place that feels right—one that will enable us to focus on our higher mission of “Saving the World Through the Power of Imagination.”
What does this mean for you, dear superhero?
New sizes and styles will develop more frequently. Each cape will be crafted by someone I can introduce you to, should you ever desire to meet their maker. In our first year we were able to give over $700 to the nonprofits each of our capes support. Next year we hope to build on these relationships and give even more. If you have a nonprofit you feel we should partner with—contact us!
As for the remaining stock in our current collection, they are truly a limited edition; they are a mark of our time, and they are full of imagination. (Not to mention, my friends, family and I heat-pressed the tags on each one of those babies.)
Thank you for your continued support, and please, stay tuned for the ride (and new designs). We just got our training wheels off!