Brenda Sacks | Crain's San Diego

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Brenda Sacks

Background:  

Owned by La Jolla resident Brenda Sacks, BottleCloth is an internet retailer selling a line of contemporary, colorful and washable table linens that are made from recycled materials.

The Mistake:

I used to be a clothing designer, but I always found it frustrating that I couldn’t find interesting tablecloths. At one point, I wasn’t working but was entertaining a lot. Whenever I traveled, I looked for colorful, contemporary tablecloths, but could never find them. I started designing some in my head, and then went looking for a recycled or recyclable fabric. At a fabric show in New York, I found 100 percent recyclable polyester that was being used in lightweight garments, like exercise clothes. I needed to find a factory willing to make a heavier weight fabric.

My mistake was working with a person in China who knew nothing about the fabric industry. Someone at the Canton Fabric Show directed me to a guy in Taiwan. He produced samples for me, but got sick and backed out of the project. I asked someone I knew in the housewares industry if he knew anyone I could work with in China, and he directed me to the woman who ran production for him. She didn’t know anything about fabric, or about sewing. She was in the glassware industry, and all of a sudden was trying to make fabric. I knew that fabrics weren’t her expertise but I thought she was just going to source the material and find a factory to produce it.

I was eventually able to get product out of her, but her learning curve delayed me for a year.

You need to find someone who knows more than you do.

The Lesson:

You need to find someone who knows more than you do. Find someone who is an expert in your field who knows what they’re doing. The person overseeing your production needs to understands your product so you can do it right the first time. I can’t regret the mistake I made in the beginning; it was a journey, and I became aware of what’s important.

Now I work with an expert who has been producing fabrics for 35 years and runs production for me. Finally, I’m able to sell tablecloths, table runners and napkins that are made from 100 percent recycled polyester that is machine washable.

If you’re looking for an expert in China in a specific field, there are a few things you can do. I would go to a trade commission – people you can trust. I would also go to fabric shows (or shows for your industry). You can advertise for people with specific expertise through Alibaba, which works like a search engine: you identify the requirements you’re looking for, and get a long list of people with that experience. The more you pay for this search, the more qualified the results. It’s still a very involved process. You need to meet with people face to face, see what they’ve made, and try to get references – people they’ve worked with. No matter which way you go, it’s still a slog, but don’t just go with the first person you meet.

Follow BottleCloth on Twitter at @BottleCloth.

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