Why don’t I make my gloves in the US? I would love to, but, read on…
For 2+ years while I refined the design of the gloves I researched US based glove manufacturers. It was surprisingly difficult to find out who they were. Once I had the list I called them all to try and get one of them to make the prototypes for me. Every single company turned me down for one reason or another.
In the meantime I found a company in Montreal named Veeka. They sell old school crochet back gloves. I called them and asked if they would be interested in partnering to make an all-leather version. They agreed and we moved forward. Veeka had excellent insight into multiple aspects of glove design and production. They were very generous with sharing information and collaboration. We approached their current vendor in Pakistan about producing samples and they were unable to produce at the quality I desired, so Veeka started the process of finding a new vendor. After a bunch of conversations, we selected a vendor and we started the process of making the samples.
Pre-production sampling and testing
The new vendor supplied me with a few sample pairs of gloves and I made markups on things that needed to change. They produced new samples and I made more markups. After a few iterations, I was happy with the samples and ordered a few dozen pairs. I sent them out to people I had signed up to test them for me.
The testers are all over the US and Canada, who rode them and gave me excellent feedback. With this feedback, we continued to refine the design and construction and finally arrived at a design I was happy to move to production with. This test process took much longer than I expected, but it was invaluable to making improvements to construction, durability and fit. My testers are great and they have not held back with comments, both good and bad. Exactly what I wanted and needed. Field testing is now a standard part of the process.
The entire pre-production and sampling process took over a year and we went through 7 design iterations to arrive at a production model.
First production batch
So I ordered the first production batch from the vendor. I ordered the minimum quantity of gloves and paid his asking price. No haggling or qualms about anything. I paid for the full order of gloves up front, including expedited shipping, as requested.
It took about a month for them to produce the gloves and for them arrive in Texas. When the gloves arrived I posted a lot of pics on Twitter and Facebook of boxes of gloves and turned on the e-commerce function on the website. I also booked a vendor table at a bike show and was going to launch the gloves there. I had a couple of shops ready to do pop-up shops and things like that. I was very excited.
I started sorting and inspecting the gloves. Something was off, but I thought I was being overly critical. I had a dark Belgian beer, slept on it and called a few people over to give me their opinions. These people knew nothing about the gloves so they were fresh eyes for the process. I began pointing out what I felt were flaws and we inspected every pair, noting the problems on a spreadsheet. It was worse than I initially thought. It looked to me like they farmed out the work to another shop. Not good.
After we worked through about 35% of the gloves, it became obvious that there was something was wrong with them all. I contacted Veeka and they contacted the vendor with the issues. The vendor pushed back on a refund and said they all passed their QA inspection. So I provided them 100’s of pictures of the flaws and the spreadsheet. They essentially said “we won’t refund you but will add 50 pairs of replacement gloves to every subsequent batch I ordered”. So I’d have to order 5 more production batches to be made whole? Horse shit. Back and forth for 3-4 very frustrating months of this same stuff. I explain my issues, they basically said tough shit, order more and we’ll fix the next batch. They refused to get on a call or Skype with me. I asked a friend who is from Pakistan to call them and try to work it out, thinking there was something cultural I was missing. After his call he said “Those guys are idiots. They are complaining they haven’t made any money on you and were in the hole. Don’t do business with them anymore.” How could they be in the hole when I ordered the quantity they requested and paid their asking price for everything? That’s their problem they don’t know how to run a business.
I was even more frustrated now. If this is how it’s going to be with them, then they are not worth doing business with. So I fired them and ate the entire batch. Ouch. I cancelled all the pop-up shops. I went to the show with some of the left-over test gloves. I managed to sell the test gloves at the show but was very frustrated to have to tell people the story of the failed production batch.
Here we go again
So now I’m sitting on a mountain of blemished gloves I couldn’t sell and I need to find another vendor. So Veeka and I start looking for new vendors. Veeka approaches their vendor again with the caveat that we MUST have the highest quality, materials and workmanship, regardless of cost. They agree and we start the process over again. Design, samples, test, more samples, modifications, test. Rinse. Repeat. Etc.
In the meantime I was also able to scrounge up a few additional potential vendors. One was a startup in the SE US, the other in Hungary. So I had each of them start the sample process. Hungary made excellent gloves but their communication would sometimes be weeks between replies. I couldn’t deal with that, so they were out, unfortunately. US was just starting their business so they had other things on their mind. Understandable. Their gloves were very good, but minimum quantities were 4x Pakistan and costs were 3-4x higher at the quantities I was considering. US is definitely an option in the future when my order size is higher and the costs come down accordingly.
Meanwhile Pakistan was making good progress on the samples. Their costs and minimums were more in-line with what I could afford. So I have stayed with Pakistan.
This process took at least another full year.
Production – round 2
Pakistan was able to meet all requirements for production and I took a deep breath and ordered another full batch. Once again I paid for the full order up front, as they required. The gloves arrived in about a month and thankfully they were all the same as the samples. Whew!
The e-commerce functions on the website were turned back on and I now I’m selling. The gloves available on the site are all 1st quality with no blemishes.
So what did I do with the mountain of BLEM’s? I figured I would try and get at least some of my money back, so I offered them at a huge discount and sold them as-is. I pointed out the blems to everyone and managed to make most of the initial production costs back.
During this process the guys at Veeka were invaluable. I was on the phone or Skype with them weekly, working through this whole mess. They were super apologetic that the original vendor was such a PITA. It was not their fault, though. I certainly did not blame them. No one could see this coming.
As we ramped up after firing the original vendor, I was taking on more of the communication and production process with the new vendors. They had other things they were beginning to focus on, which was good for their business. So we mutually agreed to end our original agreement. So even though we are no longer partners, I credit them on the website and in all marketing materials. I consider these guys friends and would highly recommend them and any product that they offer. A+ across the board. I would not be where I am today without them.