Professional Plush Manufacture: Factory or Handcraft?

October 21, 2015 at 5:03 am Leave a comment

This is the first of a series of blogs regarding the plush process.

You’ve got a plush design that you like and it’s selling so fast you can’t keep up. You’re home is full of loose threads, minky fuzz and stuffing. Every flat surface has been dedicated to sewing. You’re tired of the chaos and the time commitment that keeps you from creating new designs. Outsourcing your plush is looking like the solution to all your problems.

I’ve been making plush for Kimchi Kawaii over the last year and a half. They sell really well (you may be familiar with a certain angry bunny in a dim sum steamer), but wow, are they a little time sucker! It’s a good thing they’re so cute!

Hand-made version of my Steamed Bun, one of my most popular designs.

Hand-made version of my Steamed Bun, one of my most popular designs.

Anyway, I’ve been working on getting more of my plush designs outsourced to free up design time. At the time of writing this blog, I’ve run three plush Kickstarter projects and used three different factories. I’ve been getting a lot of questions about plush production so I wanted to share what I’ve learned – which could help you avoid making some of the mistakes I made.

A lot of independent artists are turning to plush manufacture as companies are opening who make it easier to do so as a small business. It may seem like a no-brainer and you’re ready to jump on the bandwagon. However, here are some things to consider:

Plush manufacture is EXPENSIVE.

I can’t stress this enough. Most companies are going to require a minimum order which keeps it cost effective for them, and subsequently, you. I’ve seen minimum quantities offered as low as 250, but average is 500. Keep in mind that a smaller quantity isn’t always better. You’ll pay more per item at a lower quantity. A plush ordered at the 250 amount could be $11 per unit while ordering a minimum of 500 plush can cut that same plush to $8. (This applies to most manufactured product, not just plush). Higher per plush cost can cut into your profit margin¬†when you go to sell the item. True, you can mark it up to get the profit percentage, but the customer will only pay so much.

No matter what quantity you go with, $8-11 or so per item multiplied by 250 or 500 adds up fast. Plush costs vary greatly depending on size, materials, details in the design and the company you chose. But expect to pay anywhere from $2k on up for the production alone.

And then there’s shipping. Once again this depends heavily on the size of your plush, carrier and your location. Nearly all plush are manufactured overseas in Asia. Getting 500 of your creations to the right side of the pond can and will run up quite a bill. For one of my projects, shipping ran about $1,200 for 500 8″ plush.

Did I mention, plush manufacture is expensive???

Are you still with me or have I scared you off with the cost? Despite all this, I do think it’s more than worth it

Let’s face it, plush production when you’re a business of one is very time consuming. Time is money. That was the largest factor for me deciding to take the leap. Ever since my plush production has gone up, my illustration time has gone down. My business started out with illustrated puns and has established a reputation for them. I don’t want to cut that aspect of Kimchi Kawaii. In fact, most of my plush are based on my 2D, illustrated puns. Which brings me to my next point….

Since plush manufacture is so pricey, definitely try out your intended design in less expensive forms before throwing $$$$ at a factory. I’m going to use Steamed Bun as an example.

  • First sold as a 2D print design on clothing, prints and pins at anime cons.
  • Then sold as a hand crafted plush when the design proved very popular.
  • Finally, sent to manufacture when demand was outpacing my ability to create them on my own. Nearly every con I’ve been at, Steamy will sell out by morning of the second day and it’s not uncommon for me to come home with 4-5 pre-orders. The online shop is almost always sold out of them as I’m selling them as fast as I can make them. It was definitely time to get them done in bulk.

I’d like to stress a point here – base your decision on a design that’s proven itself in SALES, not just word of mouth. It’s very easy, especially in the social media world we live in for people to gush about your design and how they want to buy 500 of them right now. However, when push comes to shove, the ratio¬†of actual purchasers is usually pretty off.

I had another plush that I did for my second Kickstarter. A lot of people had raved about the design and said it was super cute and all. When the KS launched, funding didn’t take off the way I had hoped based on the comments. I ended up putting in a bunch of my own money to save it, but I should have taken that as a warning on the actual customer trend with that design. I now have a bunch of that plush that are barely moving. I probably should have just saved myself the money and storage issues and let the project not fund. Live and learn!

Also remember, once you’ve funded a plush, you will need storage! If you don’t have a garage or extra room where you can store them safely, you may have to look into renting a storage unit and investing in some plastic tubs to keep them all safe, dry and pet dander free (this is huge for potential customers who have allergies).

Plush manufacture is quite an endeavor. And it can be scary on the first time out. But if you consider the above items, you can avoid a very expensive headache in the end.

Next up, going directly to the factory or working with a middle man, the pros and and cons.

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Entry filed under: Informational. Tags: , , , , .

Otakon 2015: Artist Alley Review Professional Plush Manufacture: Direct to Factory or Middleman?

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