NEW YORK — Danica Lause manufactured knitted hats in China for four years and struggled the whole time.
“I was unable to achieve the level of quality control our brand requires in any of the factories we worked with in China,” says Lause, whose company, Peekaboos, makes hats with openings for wearers to pull their ponytails through.
To begin with, the factories were unable to make the hats on machines. Lause then had the hats knit by hand, but the sizing was often off or the openings were in the wrong place — problems she only learned about when shipments of the hats arrived.
Small businesses have been drawn to manufacturing overseas for the same reasons as Fortune 500 companies: Labor costs are lower than in the U.S. But there are downsides and complications to making goods overseas and owners have contended with these issues for years, long before the Trump administration’s trade wars and tariffs added another layer of difficulty. Small businesses without the resources and bargaining power that larger companies have can struggle as they deal with issues like poor quality, missed production deadlines and legal disputes.
“It’s a vexing problem for anyone, but being small and offshore makes it harder,” says John Gray, a professor of operations at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. Most companies soldier on and find solutions, but some end up moving their manufacturing to the U.S.
In 2016, Lause began moving the work to a facility in Germantown, Wisconsin. She found engineers who figured out how to get the hats knit on machines, and she discovered it’s not as expensive as she thought to manufacture in the U.S.
When the owners of beyond Green began producing their compostable plastic bags three years ago, it was a natural for them to manufacture in India. CEO Veejay Patel came from India and had already been involved in plastics manufacturing in his home country.
But by early this year, Patel and co-owners Rudy Patel and Achyut Patel had reasons to move their manufacturing to the U.S., says Katrina Hart, coordinator of business development for the Lake Forest, California, company.
“Quality control was not up to our needs,” Hart says. The Patels also realized they would save money by not having bags shipped from India to California and then sent to customers across the U.S. Cost aside, their shipping method wasn’t as environmentally friendly enough for a company whose mission is to be green. They began production in Lake Forest early this year.