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SFMade Week celebrates local manufacturing

May 10, 2012 7:02:23 PM PDT
All this week, a nonprofit organization called SFMade has been promoting local manufacturing in San Francisco with factory tours and parties and local sales events. The goal is to raise awareness that even in one of the most expensive cities in the country, manufacturing still exists.

This week, dozens of companies are giving open factory tours to show off San Francisco's handmade economy.

Timbuk2 was started in the late 80s by a San Francisco bike messenger. The company now makes 60,000 bags a year at its factory in the Mission District.

Timbuk2 is just one of more than 300 companies that partner with SFMade and proudly display the SF logo on their products.

"For us it's about making it easy if a consumer wants to exercise a preference, for them to know that that preference is a choice," SFMade Executive Director Kate Sofis said.

Sofis would like to see consumers made a choice to buy locally made products.

But in the case of Timbuk2 there's a twist. The company's business was so good that in 2006 it began expanding into travel bags and it starting making those bags overseas. Today, 75 percent of the company's bags are made in either China or Vietnam.

"One is well, cost, and being able to deliver goods to consumers at a price that they're willing to pay for it," Timbuk2 spokesperson Jenny Carroll said.

The public relations director for Timbuk2 is quick to add that the custom work being done in San Francisco is the fastest growing segment of the company.

"We saw a 22 percent increase in our custom manufacturing here in San Francisco last year alone," Carroll said.

The SFMade tag only goes on bags that are made in San Francisco.

"And they can use it to describe the ethos of their company, but Timbuck2 is a good example as very transparent of what's done here and what isn't done here and they'll be the first to say that because they can do certain things that our labor costs won't support in the U.S. it actually enables them to do the stuff that they do do here domestically," Sofis said.

Timbuk2 is a mix of local and foreign manufacturing. To a great degree it's consumers who drive that mix. Companies have gone overseas in pursuit of lower costs, but if consumers recognize there is value in buying locally, that could change.

This Saturday, SFMade is holding a "buy local" event at more than 60 retailers in San Francisco.


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