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What Some People Don't Get About Small Business Manufacturing

By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

Last month, entrepreneur Anisa Kaicker got what might have been some nice recognition for two decades of hard work and perseverance. Under the headline College dropout rakes in $35m on makeup brushes, a USA Today reporter described how Kaicker beat the odds in a male-dominated global industry to build a leading private-label makeup brush manufacturing company that has contracts with most of the major cosmetics brands as well as Sephora. Yahoo Beauty followed up shortly with a summarized version of the story that was seen by hundreds of thousands of readers on the Yahoo front page. Friends and colleagues congratulated Kaicker on the publicity and shared the articles with her.

But she was taken aback by hundreds of critical, snarky, even vicious readers’ comments. One reader tracked down her Facebook page and posted a nasty comment there.

Why the backlash? Readers were outraged that Anisa International brushes are manufactured in China. Commenters accused her of killing American jobs, evading taxes, and being unpatriotic.

In fact, Kaicker says her business directly employs 40 people in the U.S.; holds at least 7 U.S. product patents; contracts with U.S. shops for the manufacture of other products such as brush cleaners and wipes; faithfully pays its fair share of taxes to the U.S. government; gives back philanthropically to the communities it operates in; and provides living wages to 500 trained artisans to manufacture a traditional handmade product in a safe, healthy, fair, and ethical workplace that she owns in China. 

But Kaicker is far from the first small business owner to find herself the target of such vitriol from American consumers. Numerous stories in this blog about American entrepreneurs who had no choice but to manufacture overseas have elicited scathing comments from readers. Some businesses are forced by U.S. trade laws or a complete lack of U.S.-based capabilities to make their products or buy their materials overseas. Others, like a startup bicycle business, go overseas because that’s where the best-in-class skills and facilities for building their products exist.

Kaicker says the brush-making craft originated in Japan, was exported to Korea, and now is centered in China. “That heritage was never in the U.S. Like traditional rugs made in the Middle East or ceramics made in Mexico—you don’t make those in the U.S. because you don’t have the craftsmanship here,” she says. “If there had been any way I could have done this in the U.S., it would have been my first choice.”

Kaicker also notes that she doesn’t outsource traditionally American strengths. “My leadership team in China is American. The product design, marketing, customer service, logistics, and quality control jobs are also all American,” she says. “And right now I’m focused on becoming larger so I can employ more people here.”

To be sure, Kaicker acknowledges that not every American company manufacturing overseas upholds the same standards she does. “Not all Chinese factories are at the same level. And some U.S. companies don’t care if a factory is compliant. Look at what happened in Bangladesh,” she says, referring to the tragic garment industry fires there.

She says she has owned a factory in China for 11 years, 100 percent. “I’ve been audited by all the major cosmetic companies. They have to be compliant. They look at what we pay our employees, how clean the workplace is, and how we treat the environment, the air, the water. It’s a major part of our spend to make sure we’re in compliance.”

Kaicker learned the ropes of the cosmetic brush industry from a Korean businessman whom she met through her mother’s import/export company. When she expressed interest in selling his brushes in the U.S., but was unable to make a $10,000 purchase order to get started, he offered her a line of credit. “He helped me understand the industry and he did not make me pay him for the brushes until I got paid,” she recalls.

So, it turns out that the story so many hateful commenters ought to be aware of is that 40 Americans and 500 Chinese employed by Anisa International actually owe their jobs to the leap of faith that a Korean businessman took in an American woman. As Kaicker notes, “We live in a global economy.”  

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