Manufacturing guy-at-large.

Misplaced Optimism

Added on by Spencer Wright.

The following Q&A is excerpted from Makeway Magazine's interview with Jake Bronstein, of Flint & Tinder.

Through the journey so far, any particularly memorable stories that have helped you continue?

 

The first underwear factory featured in our video is particularly near and dear to my heart. It was in the foothills of PA and had been having a hard time for a VERY long time. We got them spun up making underwear (bought them a couple of pieces of equipment, learned to use it together etc) and in doing so kept nearly 100 people employed for 3 months. It wasn’t enough to keep the bank from foreclosing though. It was really hard watching, but it also crystalized the importance of what it is we’re going.

Here, a weird narrative. A "family owned and operated" factory in middle Pennsylvania is down on its luck. They're "ready for something better," so Bronstein - an entrepreneur and showman - makes them the lead role in his (highly successful) Kickstarter campaign. Here's the video:

I take Bronstein at his word that he worked intimately with his factory, and that if he could have had his way they would have remained open. But the portion of his $290K campaign that went to the factory apparently "wasn't enough to keep the bank from foreclosing," and the factory was shuttered.

The Flint & Tinder FAQ page claims that "for every 1,000 pair of underwear we sell per month, at least one sustainable job is added within our supply chain. " But what does "sustainable" mean, and why wasn't F&T able to keep the original factory open? What does a "sustainable" job look like once the bank forecloses?

I like American people as much as the next guy. But I'm highly skeptical of anyone who claims to be entering a business venture in order to lift American manufacturing out of its presumably sorry state. Poorly run operations will be shuttered, no matter where they're located. And procurement teams should choose suppliers based on whether they are able to fill orders.

I own F&T product, and I think it's totally fine. And I like a narrative as much as the next guy. But my experiences visiting factories in China were as compelling - if not more so - as my experiences visiting US facilities.  As a consumer, I appreciate $.35 worth of human toil that went into making my cheap nail clippers, no matter where they came from. And as a supply chain specialist, I appreciate the vendor that can deliver what I want, when I want it, at a price that my consumers will pay for. That's all. 


UPDATE: I posted this on 2013.11.11. On 2013.11.17, Flint & Tinder sent a sincere reply to me on twitter, saying they were confused by my post. I respect F&T's feelings, and will be writing up a clarification as soon as I'm able.