We have recently returned from beautiful Portugal, where we visited shoe manufacturers - here is what what we learned. The goal: To find a manufacturer that can turn our idea of upcycled shoes made from textile waste into a reality.
Before going on this trip I was extremely nervous. The saying that entrepreneurship is a steep learning curve felt like a bit of an understatement in this case. It felt more like throwing myself off a clif and then just hoping that I could fly. Everything went really well though, I have learned so insanely much and WAIR feels so much closer to becoming a reality now. I am so excited for how the samples will look like, and I can't wait to show them to the world. I found it quite difficult to find any tips on what to do when visiting manufacturers, so I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned. 4 TIPS FOR VISITING MANUFACTURERS: 1. Do your homework Obvious tip I know - but especially when you are trying to do something new, it is extremely important. After identifying manufacturers that lived up to our expectations of focus on sustainable production, we emailed these with our idea. Most of them didn't reply or simply said that our idea wasn't realistic - it wasn't possible to make upcycled shoes from textile waste. In the end we had a few manufacturers that were interested and we exchanged several emails with them and had phone calls in order to make them understand exactly what we wanted to do and to ensure that they were still interested. 2. Take someone with you - if you can My advisors told me that it would be a big advantage to take someone with me for these manufacturer visits. It makes your company look more serious and it is always good to have a "second opinion" of the information you are given. It was difficult for me to find someone who could take a week out of their calendar to go to Portugal with me, but luckily Peter - one of my advisors, had time to join for the last part of the trip. We had two meetings with each manufacturer and he then joined for the second meeting with the manufacturers - it was a huge help. 3. Take notes - during and after your meetings You get SO MUCH information during these manufacturer visits (especially the first one). The manager showing you around will often throw information at you from the left and the right - "embroidery is being done at another factory and costs X EUR", "We do this type of construction, but we can also do the other for an extra price of X EUR". It is impossible to remember so bring your notebook where ever you go (I unfortunately forgot to take my notebook with me when I was given a tour of the factory floor for the first visit - big mistake). When you get home, write down all the impressions you got, what was good, what wasn't and what questions do you want to ask for the second meeting.
4. GO My fourth tip is to not wait too long to visit manufacturers. Don't wait until you feel 100% prepared (it is impossible) and don't make excuses for this and that. I spent a lot of time figuring out who to take with me, which postponed the trip quite a bit. Originally it was planned to be in September but ended up being in October. Of course I don't want to recommend going unprepared - but sometimes you just have to book the ticket and then you will figure out the rest in the meantime.