The Making of Moonlit Garden: A 2019 Calendar, pt. 2
This is the second post in a two-part series about our 2019 wall calendar: Moonlit Garden! In Part 1, we talked about the conceptual and creative story behind this calendar and the illustrations it contains. In this post, I'm sharing a behind-the-scenes look at how this calendar came into being, specifically focusing on the manufacturing side of things.
Now I want to let you in on something early on: the manufacturing of this calendar did NOT go as planned, and it resulted in a lot of headache and frustration on my part. I made what I consider to be the biggest mistake I've made since I started Root & Branch Paper Co. back in February. Yikes, right? But I want to share it with you.
The short version of this story is: I partnered with a manufacturer who led me to believe that these calendars would be printed and bound in New York. I placed an order with them, and discovered upon the fulfillment of my order that my calendars were actually manufactured in Germany, which goes entirely against my policy of working with US-based manufacturers. So, although the cover of this calendar says "Printed in the USA" that's actually not true.
Suffice it to say that when I first discovered this news, I was pretty devastated. For the sake of transparency, and to maintain the integrity of my business, I want to share the background fully with you all.
Manufacturing this Calendar
A couple months before I finished the illustrations for this calendar, I started searching for a manufacturing partner to print and bind these calendars for us. Now, I haven't gone into a lot of detail here on the blog about my manufacturing partners. I work really hard to find and build relationship with the companies I partner with to create my products. I don't do any of the printing myself, because it would be absolutely impossible and impractical. Instead, I outsource all printing, and binding to other US businesses.
When I launched Root & Branch Paper Co. I decided that the company values needed to reflect my own values: specifically, respect for the quality of human life, and for the planet that we live on. This means that all workers deserve a living wage, and that wastefulness and environmentally harmful practices are not tolerable. The way I've decided to incorporate these values into Root & Branch is in part, through choosing to work with US-based businesses.
The reason behind this decision is two-fold: in partnering with US small and family-run businesses, I have access to their background information and can know that they share the same values as I do. This is also possible working with international manufacturers, and I do believe that many trustworthy manufacturing companies exist all over the world, but for me, narrowing it down to US businesses makes the task of finding reputable partners much less complicated. Secondly, working with US businesses minimizes the shipping costs and the carbon footprint of my brand, since I don't have shipments coming in from other parts of the world.
This said, it has been my commitment to partner with only US-based manufacturers. This commitment has been easy to uphold because there are so many amazing printers to work with. But none of my current partners offered the printing capabilities of what I needed to produce these calendars: printing on thick, high quality card stock, including a sturdy backing, and providing wire-o binding with a metal hanger.
After much research, I found the website of a company that called itself "A US Print Shop" based out of New York. As I do with all potential manufacturers, I extensively researched this company, performing all kinds of Google searches to verify their reputation with the experiences of past customers. I found their warehouse on Google Maps, looked through all their social media accounts, ordered product samples, and emailed back and forth with their customer service representatives to ensure this was a company worth my time and money. They were very helpful and responsive to all my questions.
One question I did not ask, however, was to confirm that they would indeed manufacture my calendars at their location in New York. Big mistake.
I submitted my order, paid in advance, and waited a few weeks until I received an email with the shipping notification. It said that my order had shipped out and was currently in transit in Germany. I was confused, so I reached out to the customer service rep for clarification. This is when things started going downhill fast.
The rep confirmed that the calendars were indeed on their way from Germany, and that they "did not feel obligated to disclose the location of their printing company." He also told me that if I was so keen to work with a US printer, I should have said so myself. I do agree with that. I sent a response explaining my problem. Having been completely under the impression that I was working with a US-based print shop (as their site says) I had designed the covers of my calendars to include the phrase: Printed in the USA. This is industry standard and I include this phrase on all my products.
I was shocked to receive a second response from the company that was the polar opposite of the patient and helpful responses I had received previously. The customer service rep took on a condescending tone and explained the global economy to me as if I was a child, saying things like "you'd be surprised to know that all companies produce work overseas these days." (Now, I am a very small business owner but I have lived on three continents and done extensive research. I know a thing or two about manufacturing. Not all companies outsource internationally). The company insisted they had done nothing wrong and took no responsibility for misleading me with the language they used to describe their "US Print Shop." Unfortunately, I was left with no recourse but simply to own my mistake and avoid that company like the plague.
What Doesn't Kill You...
The calendars have now arrived and they are awesome. The print quality is beautiful and I'm so proud of the illustrations. But the major issue is that the printing location does not match the front cover. Ordering these calendars was a big financial investment for me, and, since the printing company offered no recourse for me, I don't have the financial capacity to order a re-print from a US company that's actually based in the US.
I don't feel comfortable selling these calendars without a disclaimer. That's why I'm sharing this story with you. I value transparency and honesty in my personal life as well as in business, and I'm sure you all do too.
After going through a very long and personal process to get these calendars made (which I explain in detail in part 1 of this blog) it feels incredibly disappointing to have to present them with a disclaimer. I have definitely learned from this mistake and I am confident it will NEVER happen again.
Despite everything, our 2019 calendar is available. It looks amazing. The paper is thick and durable, with a matte coating. The black wire-o binding is high-quality. The colors are rich and the illustrations are, in my opinion, the best I've made thus far. I am so proud of this piece.
I'm not sure if we will design a sticker to cover over the "Printed in the USA." It's something I'm looking into.
But for now, I just wanted to say thank you for reading this and joining in on my journey of learning how to get beautiful, high quality products manufactured in the US. It's possible and I'm getting better at it day by day. I'm considering this as just a hiccup along the way.