On my end of the phone, I apologized for the humming refrigerator. On her end, Janet Lees, Senior Director of SFMade, apologized for the clanging in the tech shop. We talked about the origins of the organization aimed at supporting manufacturing in San Francisco at the nadir of the recession and its rapid expansion since then.
The SFMade journey, expanding membership and programs
We started in 2010 with 12 local manufacturers who were iconic brands in San Francisco, including Anchor (Brewing), McRoskey Mattresses, one of the oldest manufactures in the city, more than 100 years old, Ritual Coffee, Rickshaw Bags (founded by former head of Timbuk2, Mark Dwight). Mark created the SFMade logo, he was the founder of the brand. (Executive Director) Kate Sofis and I started to build the organization around the brand. Both of us come from economic development backgrounds, and we knew each other from our previous jobs. I worked for the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center and Kate at Pacific Community Ventures.
Kate has a background in supply chain and she used to run a furniture company. I worked at the Renaissance Center with a lot of apparel entrepreneurs. People were looking for local factories…We saw an opportunity to do something that didn’t exist in the landscape which was an industry specific economic development organization. When we started talking about this at the end of 2009 we were in the middle of the recession.
When we stared in 2010 with the 12 members, and we were quickly inundated by companies wanting to join SFMade, I think there were a few reason for that. We had key iconic brands on board, it’s free to be a member, companies were looking for visibility and especially for the new brands to adopt a platform to broaden their visibility. Our goal was to have 50 companies by the end of the year, but by the end of 2010 we had more than 100, and it completely snowballed from there. We’re at 600 members now, and we think we’ve got about 95 percent of manufacturers (in SF) in our network, so that anyone that’s making product in San Francisco and headquartered here, we believe, 95% are members of SFMade.
The ones that are joining now are usually the very small startups. When companies join SFMade what they say they join for – the top reason — is to use the brand platform, and to be part of a manufacturing community. There’s an incredible amount of day-to-day activity that goes on, companies located in the same neighborhoods, doing business with each other, sharing resources, sometimes employees, sharing space.
Once they join, they have different needs, depending on how big they are, how old they are. We think of our programming in three different distinct categories,
- Brand platform
- Infrastructure (place, people and capital)
- Education and Advising, like HR, review of production space, lean manufacturing, getting into export markets, legality around trademark – An accelerator program where our largest 45 companies create a strategic growth plan are part of a manufactures leadership circle, and meet quarterly with each other
Over time we’ve grown and expanded our capacity, programs, staff, but we have not veered from our original goal- which is to help businesses start, grow and stay in San Francisco and create jobs for local residents.
I love working with creative entrepreneurs, they were always my favorite population at the Renaissance Center. I’m married to a furniture designer. I really like the entrepreneurs, I also love the variety. I am absolutely involved on the ground with the with businesses, with the private sector, with the public sector, with the small entrepreneur, with the larger entrepreneur, with the workforce agencies. The whole fabric of the city intersects with my job, and I find that fascinating.
Youth and the Next Wave
Our youth programs are called YouthMade and our vision was always getting young people educated about what the new landscape of manufacturing looks like. It’s not being on an assembly line, it’s small, nimble companies, using technology, craft, small batch primarily consumer products – 95% of our companies are creating higher end, limited edition, customizable consumer products.
We have a Youth internship program, thinking of the next wave of young people going into manufacturing. We currently have 30 low-income high school student internships for 23 SFMade companies.
Another one of our youth programs is called Inside Manufacturing, and we work with two high schools, Washington and O’Connell. We take students on field trips to our businesses, we have companies also come into the school to talk about how they started and what they do, and we also do some hands on workshops where they actually build something.
So our growth is happening around very specific programs where we receive funding and are able hire staff for these areas. For example, we’ve got a real estate manager and we have a workforce manager.
Finding Space to Make
Space is the biggest constraint. We are trying to be creative, we’re asking our companies if they’re in a building (they might own it, they might lease it), if they have any dead space, would they be willing to free it up for another SFMade member? The new companies are looking for a starter space of 500 square feet, small spaces are hard to find. If three companies are all looking for 500 square feet, it’s possible to connect them together so that they could share a 1,500 square foot space.
Galanater and Jones, they are a furniture company making heated outdoor furniture, and they are in a production space with Capital eye ware, custom sunglasses. They moved from South of Market to the Bayview to the space that they share together. There are also three jewelry makers in the Flood Building who joined together in one space.
The directory of all of our businesses on line is very powerful. Anybody can search on that directory. So if you’re our member and you want to know who else you want to do businesses with or share resources with. Retailers and buyers search for SFMade products on the directory, and we know that companies get wholesale accounts with retailers because they’ve been found through our directory.
And we’ve created a new program called PlaceMade, our sister organization that works with developers to either build new industrial real estate or rehab existing buildings in PDR zone neighborhoods (production, distribution and repair). We’re in the in process of trying to purchase a building at 100 Hooper Street, and it would be 2/3 office and 1/3 brand new manufacturing space, and it would be the first to built in more than 25 years. There was new legislation passed last year that allows developers who want to be in industrial neighborhoods to build new construction with 2/3 office and 1/3 manufacturing.
Partnering with the Public Sector
The city is a major partner of ours, not only from a funding perspective. They were our first major funder, and they stepped up in 2010 when they were hardly funding any new organizations (because of the recession). They totally got what we were trying to do and really wanted to support the manufacturing sector. They partner with us on so many levels. Permitting, for example. If a business is having a bit of an issue getting a permit, we may be able to help expedite the process. The City calls on SFMade to convene the manufacturing sector for input on policy issues.
We are very connected to the workforce agencies to help connect their clients with potential jobs with SFMade companies. We have a job board on our website. When any of our companies are hiring, they post their jobs on our board and our workforce and hiring manager sends the job descriptions out to all the workforce partners.
A Very Varied Schedule
My day is very varied. I might be speaking on panel, I could have a meeting at City Hall, I could be meeting with one of my staff, out meeting with a company, or speaking to the press. Tomorrow I have a meetings with a potential funder, an SFMade company, and an existing funding partner. My domain expertise in in the sewn products arena. I teach a monthly class on how to manufacture locally for apparel and I take designers on study tours of local sewing factories.
I also direct our retail partnerships, I’ve got two in the hopper at the moment. If they go forward, a number of our companies will be able to access major new retail channels. Three years ago Banana Republic had a popup shop in their Grant Street location, comprising of 15 SFMade brands. It was initially supposed to be there for the holiday season, but it was so successful, they kept it for two years. Other retail partnerships right now are with World Duty Free at SFO, the SF Travel Center and with the SF Giants at the YARD at Mission Rock.
Last year we created a partnership with Pinterest, They held workshop for our companies on , how to use Pinterest effectively and then we did a selling event in November. It was an early shopping event at Pinterest headquarters for their employees and the public. We did it on a Saturday and there was a line around the block all day long waiting to get in.
We have physical a retail map with 95 SFMade member retail outlets featured that gets distributed at places such as the SF Travel Center, and all the (sponsor) Wells Fargo branches. I don’t think any other city has anything like it. Visibility is especially important for the small guys, so we are able to generate this for them through the map, through the press, through retail partnerships and also through SFMade Week, which is a huge event we do every year. A week of activities, popup shops, demonstrations, factory tours and neighborhood events. It’s always in May, and this past May we had 71 events. It’s also our big fundraising time. It’s an incredible show case of this community that we’ve built. (Top photo is of Ashbury Images. All photos courtesy SFMade)