Clippy is very niche, specializing in designing products that nobody else has. Sometimes I have longed to be a soap producer or a candle maker, items which seem to be timeless sellers, and used to be perceived by me to be an easy selling option, and that was my first mistake. Every range comes with problems. It is too simplistic to think that other companies have it easy. In fact it is extraordinary how the same tribulations seem to occur whatever you are making.
Everyone who has been involved in the process of manufacturing will understand the heartache of the shipment that arrives covered in mildew, or missing that small but vital part. We have had a container of bags delivered, only to notice that a small biro mark had been placed on every pocket, presumably as a cutting guide. We tried in a mad way to remove the biro, with every product from baby oil to bath cleaner, but to no avail. Off it goes to be recycled or to our favourite charity. This is a very disheartening experience as not only are you disposing of a basically good product, but it will take another six weeks to replace, which means you will inevitably lose sales and goodwill.
Nobody apart from another designer understands how many things can go wrong, and really how extraordinary it is that so few things do. Even the store buyers, who you might expect to show a degree of sympathy, are in the end the ones to show the least. Shelves must be filled, with the goods they have selected. Getting deliveries in on time is vital – hefty fines if late. This is one reason that department stores will avoid ordering from very new companies (unless of course they have got a ‘must have’ product). They need to be sure that they will still be around in six months, a year’s time, and that a company will have the infrastructure to be able to supply on a regular basis.
Clippy makes a lot of sales to Japan. The Japanese are extremely particular when it comes to product. They will send back an order if the smallest detail on an item is not correct. Europeans are less exacting. The Japanese buyers also like to alter designs.
We have been asked to make our products smaller, change the trims, the zips, the packaging - in fact make entirely new items for the market. This is very frustrating as sometimes we see the point and sometimes we don’t. Again we are not unique. Companies who deal with Japan all agree that it takes perseverance and patience to build up a brand in Japan. We do not automatically agree to manufacture everything they ask us to . It is very easy to try and please and placate, but no good for cash flow and stock numbers.
The moral of course, is to find a good manufacturer, one who has been tried and tested by companies that are larger than Clippy and demand very high quality controls is a good starting point. Learn to be demanding. I did. When Clippy started our initial production runs were tiny. We had to find a manufacturer that would help us with a run of 250 bags. This is where English manufacturers come into their own. I sourced via the very useful Kelly’s directory a manufacturer in Milton Keynes, who was only too pleased to advise and help me get started. Manufacturing in the UK is in comparison to dealing with China very simple. Numbers are smaller, logistics are simple, and you can actually visit the factory in the time it takes to swirl around the M5. The disadvantages are that it is still at the moment, expensive, and you don’t get the same choices of fabrics, trims and packaging. In the UK everything is a price add-on. In China where I now manufacture these will be included in the package.
If you are producing a very high end accessory, a Mulberry bag for example, then I can imagine nothing better than producing it in the UK. Clippy is a range that is very price conscious, and China is really my only option. My dealings with China have not been without the odd hiccup, but I can truthfully say that I have found the factories I work with extremely helpful and quick to respond.
So thank God for Skype and the internet, Google translate ( everyone gets the gist) and every other tool that I use to communicate with the far East, and as I wait for my next shipment fingers crossed that lovely Alison ( real name unknown, the Chinese always choose a western nom de plume) has personally been up checking all those little boxes…………
Calypso Rose, MD, Clippy London
You can watch Calypso talking about how she has successfully expanded abroad too - just click here.