Los Angeles is the largest manufacturing center in the United States. As our MAKE IT IN LA study shows, the LA region has nearly 30,000 manufacturers in industries spanning from food and fashion to electronics and aerospace. It’s possible to get practically anything made here—but it can be hard to navigate the process.
We often get asked for referrals. We’ve experimented with providing one-on-one help for select startups (see our Catalyst program) and we’ve learned a lot in the process. Mostly, that entrepreneurs who reach out aren’t usually ready for referrals, but instead need guidance getting ready for production. So we’re providing some helpful resources below. When you’re finally ready to go into production, we have some resources for that, too.
Branding for products made locally
- “Made in the USA” – what does it mean? – Governed by the Federal Trade Commission, the definition can be complex. Understand the regulations with this information from the Reshoring Institute.
- Made in California – This labeling program is headed by the State of California.
- LA Original – A branded collection of locally made products, designated through a program of the City of LA Mayor’s Office, to showcase LA makers and to benefit local non-profits.
Should I make it locally?
There are many reasons to make locally: better quality control, ease of collaboration, rapid iteration, oversight of intellectual property, sustainability, and more. You might even feel strongly that “locally made” is the ethical thing to do, or it might be inherent to your brand.
Many assume you have to pay more for these benefits. But in fact, when you consider the total costs of ownership, it can often be less expensive to make locally. Not always, however. And the calculus is constantly changing with new regulations and tariffs. Fortunately, the resources below can help you make this complex decision in a way that’s right for you.
- “Should I Make It Locally?” video or audio – a candid conversation between local entrepreneurs
- Domestic vs. Offshore Sourcing for Startups – from Reshore Initiative
- Trade Wars and Tariff Watch – a link to a guide from the Reshoring Institute
Am I ready?
These checklists will help you know when you’re ready for production:
- Apparel Checklist – in collaboration with Zack Hurley of IndieSource
- Food Checklist – in collaboration with Freya Estreller
- Hardware Checklist – from MiLA Capital
- Hardware Sample Production Timeline – from Michael Corr of Duro Labs
- “Product Strategy” video and recap – MAKE IT Monthly
How do I find the right factory?
Sample audit forms for when touring or selecting a factory:
- Electronics Manufacturing Service (EMS) supplier – thanks to Duro Labs
- Food Co-Packing Facility – thanks to Freya Estreller
- Apparel Cut and Sew Facility – thanks to Zack Hurley
- How to Partner with Hardware Manufacturers – Catalyst fishbowl with Michael Corr
- Five Tips for Partnering with Contract Manufacturers: video and written recap – MAKE IT Monthly
- How to Partner with Apparel Manufacturers – Catalyst fishbowl with Zack Hurley
Supplier databases and resources
The most effective way to find the right suppliers is to talk to your colleagues and other suppliers. MAKE IT IN LA is passionate about building community. (Sign up for occasional news and events here, and check out other organizations that are connecting our ecosystem.) To supplement your personal network, here are some helpful databases and other resources.
- Thomas – The categories are somewhat convoluted, so you’ll need to conduct multiple searches with an assortment of phrases. Though Thomas is not as comprehensive as it once was, you can achieve some success here.
- ReferenceUSA – Yellow pages on steroids. Free access with a Los Angeles Public Library card.
- Maker’s Row – Smaller database, but user-friendly with some good tutorials.
- SyncFab – This local on-demand manufacturer partners with factories primarily in California to fulfill orders. They started with a focus on CNC machining but are expanding to other capabilities.
- 3Diligent – A local resource for fulfilling orders with qualified fabrication partners. They started with a focus in additive manufacturing and are expanding to other capabilities.
- Manufactured.net – a local emerging platform for digitizing your supply chain. Find factories around the globe, including Los Angeles. They charge a transaction fee.
Other manufacturing resources
- California Manufacturers Accelerator® Program – a non-profit that provides government-subsidized consulting services to small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) in California, through a variety of programs.
- Reshoring Institute – a 501(c)(3) that supports companies starting, restarting, or expanding manufacturing in the United States.
No, there is not a single database of LA factories.
“Why?” you may wonder. We’ve watched as others have tried (and failed) to solve the problem with technology. It turns out manufacturing is much harder to commodify than, say, driving (by Uber—$24.2B in funding to date) or hospitality (by Airbnb—$4.4B in funding). Capabilities and customer needs vary. Lists go out of date. And a surprising number of factories want to remain under the radar for a variety of reasons, whether it’s not having bandwidth for unqualified leads, being risk-averse about startups, not being in compliance with all of the regulations, or getting ready to wind down operations as the owner retires. (Read more about the most underreported challenge of manufacturing here.)
We’re enthusiastic about the sharing-economy concept applied to manufacturing, and we look forward to a time when a well-funded company has figured out how to connect all of the dots. You may note that Alibaba has done something like this for Chinese manufacturing. But as our colleagues have pointed out in the “Should I Make it Locally?” video, using Alibaba is a crapshoot. Companies that have succeeded in creating a “matching system” in the US have done so by limiting their scope.
So we encourage you to try the resources listed above. Be aware of their limitations, but we hope they are a helpful starting point for your journey. If you need further help, you might want to connect with a consultant. (See below for some ideas.)