Urban Manufacturing and Local Shopping

Written by  //  March 16, 2012  //  Posts  //  Comments Off on Urban Manufacturing and Local Shopping

An organization called SFMade from San Francisco is leading a revival in urban manufacturing and local shopping. A powerful but simple idea – municipally branded merchandise – is having a significant positive impact on San Francisco’s economy.

Yes, we still make things right here in San Francisco!

Founded in 2010, SFMade came about through the collective actions of manufacturers that were operating within San Francisco. The SFMade logo was created by a local company that produced specialized bags to help customers identify with their products. Only two years later, this logo is now widely used by firms manufacturing products in San Francisco and is quickly gaining brand recognition among consumers. The logo is being marketed as more than just a way into the growing “buy-local” movement, it is also meant to demonstrate a high level of product quality.

In addition to local branding, SFMade offers a range of other services which support manufacturers, and build linkages with the public.
–  Workshops and Factory Tours
–  Industry Clusters and Networking Events
–  Individual Consultations
–  Workforce and Hiring
–  Industrial Real Estate Services

From a city-building perspective, SFMade offers some excellent lessons in ways we can support the underlying pillars of our local economies. For decades, we have neglected industrial uses within urban areas by actively promoting their conversion to alternative land uses. Over time, our economy has become increasingly reliant on importing cheaper products from overseas. I am by no means a promoter of protectionist trade policies, but I do believe that maintaining some local production and keeping a diversified economy helps build in a lay of resilience into our urban environments. Not only has SFMade been able to support new and existing businesses, it has even been able to attract manufacturers from outside of San Francisco such as Heath Ceramics which plans to develop a hybrid retail & manufacturing facility.

Connecting manufacturers with customers is the ultimate outcome of the local branding process.  SFMade has being making headway in this area with a number of key initiatives, including the development of the following retail map that identifies stores which sell products from certified local manufacturers.

SFMade set up a 500 square foot pop-up shop within Banana Republic’s Union Square location to feature local products during the holiday shopping season. This innovative partnership drives traffic to Banana Republic and boosts their own brand image, while allowing SFMade to showcase products in the city’s most prominent retail precinct. The store has proved to be so popular that it is still open, several months after it was supposed to close!

SFMade Pop-Up Store (Photo Credit: Laila Bahman)

SFMade is also exploring other interesting retail opportunities, including product display areas that target tourists at visitor centres, and at the San Francisco International Airport.

SFMade is now getting significant public attention, both by San Francisco mayor Ed Lee, and by national media. SFMade’s latest initiative,  the Urban Manufacturing Alliance (a network of similar US organizations in other cities) was recognized by Bill Clinton for its role in creating a new model for local economic development and job creation.

At the 2012 Creative Cities Summit in Toronto, I had the good fortune of sitting next to SFMade’s Senior Director, Janet Lees. Janet asked me about about local manufacturing and I had to admit my ignorance – other than vague notions that some sort of clothing manufacturing probably still occurs in the “Fashion District”. While I can think of dozens of grocery stores, markets and restaurants which focus on locally produced food, I (and I imagine much of the public) have little knowledge of locally manufactured products. In both Toronto and Vancouver, urban planners are now debating the importance of  retaining manufacturing jobs by preventing conversion to other land uses. Despite this focus, I have heard little discussion of more creative ways to support these industries. I’m happy to see SFMade actively promoting these ideas here in Toronto, and hope we begin to see parallel organizations springing up across Canada.

About the Author


Reurbanist is a multi-disciplinary firm that blends land use economics with urban planning and economic development. At its core, Reurbanist believes that great urban places that are compelling and vibrant must find success at both a fiscal and social level. Stronger cities and urban destinations translate into improved job growth, municipal tax revenue, and a higher quality of life for residents.

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