By Lizzy Bennett
There are 200 to 300 businesses that actively manufacture products in San Francisco. I work for one of those companies - Timbuk2 Designs.
Timbuk2 has been making custom bags in San Francisco since 1989. We were started by bike messenger Rob Honeycutt, who became fascinated with just-in-time manufacturing and applied the Toyota model to the making of messenger bags. He hired a team of highly skilled sewers, several of whom are still with the business. One of Timbuk2's sewing leads, Hui Wu, has been with Timbuk2 for thirteen years, and she and her 15 person team - 13 sewers, 2 cutters - can make up to 400 bags a day in our San Francisco factory. Wu and her team are fully cross-trained so they can work on any machine, and their skill is incredible.
Filmmaker Brent Bishop recently spent time in our factory while making this movie, and despite having grown up in his grandfather's sewing factories, he was amazed by Wu. After watching her sew a messenger bag flap, Bishop exclaimed, "She was just blowing around those corners!" A lot of folks don't realize that women like Wu still exist in the US or that the city of San Francisco is able to find an outlet for her talent.
A mini-break to convince you that I'm not just trying to sell you bags. For me as an online marketer it's tempting, but I know better than to ignore or misread my audience. I'm including Timbuk2 in this post because it's a story I know, and because it's a core part of a local manufacturing story that I find really compelling! It may not sound modern or even possible, but local manufacturing is happening in American cities and it's actually working. Here's why.
Like most of the rest of the country's, San Francisco's manufacturing peaked in the 1970's. Honeycutt says, "When I started in '89, there was a lot of sewing in San Francisco. I remember as a bike messenger seeing all the sewing factories letting out South of Market." He adds that with the exception of a handful of companies like Timbuk2, "All the sewing left San Francisco during the 90's." But today, San Francisco manufacturing is on the rise again.