Maker’s Row keeps America crafty
Tanya Menendez, Muir ’09, is revolutionizing American manufacturing. Maker’s Row, an online company founded in 2012 by Menendez and partner Matthew Burnett, has quickly become a go-to source for the maker movement, connecting DIY artisans to professional manufacturers throughout the United States. From design, materials and samples to production and packaging, Maker’s Row gives entrepreneurs—like Menendez herself—a safe place to start.
You could say Maker’s Row arose out of sheer frustration. Menendez had left a job at Goldman Sachs to help Burnett manage sales and operations for The Brooklyn Bakery, a leather goods line he was getting off the ground in New York City.
A hit with retailers, including Nordstrom and Henri Bendel, the business needed to expand, but the pair couldn’t find manufacturers that fit their needs. After a particularly grueling day spent literally going door to door to find an appropriate factory, they had an epiphany—a one-stop online site where they could look up manufacturers, identify who could suit their needs and determine which ones were more reputable than others.
“We want to break down the barriers to entry for those who want to manufacture items in the U.S.A.,” Menendez explains. “Access to domestic manufacturing should not be this difficult.”
The premise of Maker’s Row is simple: U.S. manufacturers are listed in a website directory, available to search by paying “makers” who have their own product ideas. Dedicated, searchable profiles allow entrepreneurs to match themselves with, say, the best supplier of denim based on location, cost, quality or a number of other factors.
Makers, in turn, can create their own profiles, helping factories find them in a reciprocal fashion. Menendez said Maker’s Row fulfills a need in the marketplace, completely transforming the way goods are produced in the U.S.
“We’ve seen many more original products come to life,” Menendez says. Over the past year, they have had more than 2 million designs come full turn and seen a tenfold rise in the number of factories catalogued on the site, with representation of more than 10,000 U.S. manufacturers.
“What’s really cool is that now manufacturing is more democratized,” she says. “People are making solutions for their own problems.”
When Menendez discovered that many first-time business owners simply don’t know where to start with their investment in manufacturing, the company implemented the Maker’s Row Academy, providing email courses in production, sourcing, the making of a first sample and quality control.
“The biggest thing we realized we needed was to provide the education,” she says. “We’re teaching people not just to make a product, but to make a business. I think [the Academy] reduces the barriers, because it helps a person get over the initial hump of being scared to enter the field.”
And that translates to helping a lot of creative people. “Entrepreneurs are more likely to be an entrepreneur if they have at least one friend. We’re often that one friend,” Menendez says.
While many of their members are first-timers, the company has discovered that even larger, established businesses were having issues finding companies to work with. Maker’s Row was the place where Playboy went to find help for a recent rebrand, and Burberry, Ralph Lauren and Ikea have all performed sourcing through the website.
Menendez, who completed her degree in sociology at UC San Diego in just three years, says one of the key takeaways is learning how to be not only a consumer of information but also a maker of information. This is precisely the premise behind Maker’s Row—using information to connect others. And for their efforts revitalizing domestic manufacturing, in 2014 Menendez and Burnett were named to Popular Mechanics’ “25 Makers Who Are Reinventing the American Dream.” In 2015, Menendez also landed a spot on the “30 Under 30” list from Forbes.
“[At UC San Diego] I was able to have the flexibility to do research and create my own ideas,” she says. “That was really helpful in thinking of entrepreneurship. It’s not just to have an idea, but to have an idea and to see it through.”