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DIY Manufacturing

Handmade in San Francisco

SFMade Week has come and gone, but the week-long celebration of San Francisco’s manufacturing sector spotlighted some of the city's great businesses and the local manufacturing scene. The “Artisans and the Economy” walking tour showcased three local operations: Tech Shop San Francisco, Hello Lucky and National Apparel.

Tech Shop: Dream Factory

SFMade shares office space with TechShop San Francisco, the city-dwellers’ community workshop filled with nearly $1 milliion worth of machinery and tools to bring your project ideas to life.

“If you can imagine it, you can build it here,” said Joe Menard, Techshop’s VP. “We provide the means for whatever you can imagine to be made.” Have an idea of something you want to make but don’t have any idea how to go about it? Head to Techshop, where you’ll find a laser cutters, vacuum formers, capabilities for 3D printing, injection molding, milling machines, lathes, welding stations, sheet metal-working equipment, industrial sewing machines, and more.

In addition to a full range of machinery and tools (and classes teaching you how to use the them), TechShop’s “Dream Coaches” (personal consultants) are available for extra assistance ($95 per hour with a two-hour minimum).

TechShop has allowed makers to turn their craft into full-fledged businesses, include the infamous DODOcase, whose iPad bamboo trays were first prototyped at TechShop; and laser-cut leather appliques used to dress up leather jackets. Interestingly, after laser cutters, the wood shop is the most popular room in the building.

Hello Lucky: Vintage-Styled Stationery In a Digital World

Started in the San Francisco garage of Eunice Moyle with a hand-crank press bought of eBay, Hello Lucky is a small boutique design-and-print (letterpress) studio that today calls SoMa home. Co-founded by Eunice and her sister Sabrina, Hello Lucky now sells a greeting card line of “300 or so” designs across the country and world.

Hello Lucky’s trademark cool retro-style is highlighted by its printing method, using vintage presses from the 1950s for a truly handcrafted touch and feel that’s becoming rare in today’s digital world. Custom invitations are where Hello Lucky really shines.

Letterpress, similarly to silk-screening, involves printing one color at a time (and thus burning individual plates for each color). Typically, the designers start with a hand drawing and finalize the illustration in Illustrator before plates are created for each color. The time involved in the process and 100 percent cotton cardstock used for wedding invitations can quickly add up to a high price tag.

Conscious of this, in the last few years Hello Lucky has partnered with a digital offset printer in the South Bay. Using digital offset printers for multi-color graphics and letterpress for the text, and expensive paper with inexpensive digital printing process preserves the letterpress quality without demanding an arm and a leg.

Another perk of Hello Lucky: you can pop into the showroom for some instant gratification.

National Apparel: Full-Service Sewing Contractor For Hire

On the third floor of the 1600 block of Market Street sits a contractor sewing shop, one of the few — and the largest — remaining shops in the Bay Area, according to owner Johnny Fan.

What’s a contractor sewing shop? Let’s say you’re interested in starting your own clothing line. No, not screen-printing on American Apparel tees, but a true cut-and-sew line of your own. A contractor like National Apparel is who you might go to, to produce your designs in small or large production runs.

Since the recession, National Apparel has seen a drastic reduction in business; whereas they might have required minimum orders before, now they’ll discuss any job no matter how small. Of course, high volume orders get cost breaks.

According to Fan, 15 years ago there were roughly 600 sewing shops in the Bay Area. Now there are only about 100, with approximately 50 that call San Francisco home. Some sewing shops do only that: sewing, whereas National Apparel does “cutting, sewing and finishing.” They can start anywhere from making patterns to inspecting and packaging you’re your designs.

Connecting product designers to contract manufacturers like National Apparel is just one facet of SFMade’s work. As Executive Director Kate Sofis will tell you, SFMade gets involved with just about everything and anything related to growing and sustaining manufacturing in San Francisco, which not only contributes to a vibrant economy but provides local jobs.