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Alisha Payne works on her latest collection of leather handbags as part of her designer brand Ruby Assata. Courtesy photo.

It’s time to talk about a very important topic: shoes and bags. Let’s be blunt, a good pair of shoes is hard to find these days. Birkenstocks and Doc Martens check out in the quality department. Though they’re pricey, they’re worth it. I just won’t pay $100 for a pair of shoes that last one month.

I started searching for good “made in the USA” shoes several months ago, hoping that if I supported domestic production, domestic production would support my arches. My search resulted in stumbling upon the Vere Sandal Company. Their slogan—“made here. made better.”—caught my attention. What I found: They make sandals after my own heart—err, feet. And then came the catch (there is always a catch, isn’t there?): This company wasn’t manufacturing yet. I found them on Kickstarter.com.

Kickstarter has received a lot of attention lately as a mechanism for supporting worthy artistic and business ventures in need of funding. encore ran a piece on it last fall when Meg Lansaw launched her film project and Logan Mock-Bunting looked to fund a book inspired to help families deal with the grief of losing a loved one. Just last week, encore’s own film reviewer, Anghus Houvouras, was featured in the StarNews about his Kickstarter project to fund his graphic novel.

This new wave of crowdfunding—which, essentially, allows the public to back projects they believe in—offers a host of great ideas to support people working in their own communities. Though located in New York, Vere Sandal Company needed to pre-sell enough shoes to cover their business expenses up front. This caught my attention; I couldn’t help but compare it to community supported agriculture, only involving manufacturing instead of produce. Thus, I jumped at the chance to bring manufacturing home—maybe not in my own backyard but at least away from China. And I stand behind the old supply-and-demand standard: If we show the dollars, more “made in USA” products will follow.

STRIKE A POSE: Courtney Bridgers handles the marketing side of Ruby Assata and models the leather handbags for promo pieces. Courtesy photos

Our dollars can flow even closer to home, thanks to one Wilmington designer who also is using Kickstarter to help fund her line for spring. Ruby Assata was founded by the creative hands of Alisha Payne. With her business partner, Courtney Bridgers, leading the marketing helm, the two hope to purchase an industrial sewing machine to ramp up production of their leather handbags, wallets and other specialty products. The ladies were kind enough to take time to answer a few questions I had about their Kickstarter experience, as well as share their thoughts on the future of manufacturing and made-in-the-USA products.

encore (e): How did you decide to seek funding through Kickstarter?
Ruby Assata (RA): Seeing film friends, like Meg Lansaw, sparked our interest in the website. After her success, we really dove in and checked out Kickstarter. Subsequently, we found so many other amazing creative projects we wanted to back. Then, we thought, before maxing out our credit cards, why don’t we try to get funding this way? It can’t hurt us.

e: How successful has it been?
RA: It’s hard to tell. Kickstarter doesn’t have a way to track page views yet. Therefore, we can’t see the number of potential backers. Our goal is $5,237, and right now we are at $1,404 with 40 days to go. If we don’t reach our goal, we get nothing! But, most of the projects we followed have received funding, which is promising.

e: You have a pretty small and reasonable goal; do you see Kickstarter as a way to help you grow incrementally?
RA: If you are asking if we would use Kickstarter again and again to help our business grow, the answer is no. We see Kickstarter only as a way to get start-up capital for a single project versus something you dip back into. You have to push your Kickstarter campaign pretty hard, blast e-mails and beg. We wouldn’t want to do that to our friends and family again. Kickstarter should only be a launch pad for ideas and projects.

e: Where do you see American clothing manufacturing in 10 years? Is it coming home to the USA?
RA: We definitely think consumers are more conscious of where their clothing is being produced, which is a step in the right direction. For the most part, we will not buy clothing made overseas. And we aren’t alone! Hopefully, more and more small-scale American, grassroots clothing operations will pop up in the future. If the demand for American-made clothing and accessories increases, then it will have to come back to America.

e: Will Ruby Assata always be made in the USA?
RA: Always. Always. Always.

e: When you grow to the point that you, Alisha, can no longer cut and sew every piece, what is the plan?
RA: Our plan would be to get a space locally where we could hire other local artisans to cut and sew every piece. The idea is that our bags would always be made in the USA by a real person, even if that person isn’t Alisha. We have seen several small-scale clothing/accessory companies succeed  with this small-factory model. When textile and clothing companies were moved over seas, factories with their equipment were left in America, which resorted to liquidations of sewing machines and equipment, which is handy if you are in our position.

e: Will something like Kickstarter be implemented then?
RA: We don’t plan on using Kickstarter again to create another collection of Ruby Assata bags. Maybe for a different jumping off point, something collaborative—a show? A book?

e: Have you gotten support from people on Kickstarter that were not part of your target market for Ruby Assata goods?
RA: Yes and maybe. We have had support from friends and family that aren’t necessarily our target market but want to support us. People have also anonymously backed our project.

The video aspect makes it so personal, it’s more like you’re funding the person. You see a labor of love in Kickstarter projects which really allows you to connect with people and therefore contribute to their cause.

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