Building Communities Kim Lachance Shandrow  | September 21, 2017

These Retail Entrepreneurs Are Unboxing L.A.’s Manufacturing Revival

Los Angeles may be best known for palm trees, movie stars and laid-back surfers, but it’s also awash in thousands of ambitious, young entrepreneurs like Jesse Genet.

At 16, some 2,000 miles from La La Land in the suburbs of Detroit, Genet launched her first company when she started printing T-shirts in her basement. Her entrepreneurial journey would eventually lead her west to Los Angeles, where, in the heart of the city’s historic manufacturing district, the 29-year-old industrial product designer has since ridden the online selling wave to startup success in the shipping and fulfillment arena.

“The growth of e-commerce has not only made it easier than ever to shop,” Genet said, “it’s made it easier to than ever before to launch a business with physical products.”

She did the latter in 2015 alongside fellow industrial designer Stephan Ango when they bootstrapped Vernon, Calif.-based Lumi together with funds from two successful Kickstarter campaigns. The innovative e-commerce startup — which Genet helms as CEO — crafts custom shipping and packaging supplies for other retail product entrepreneurs through its impeccability designed online store. Aiming to be “the full package,” from sourcing to delivery, the nascent company also provides thousands of small- to mid-sized businesses near and far with supply chain management, manufacturing and graphic design services.

Here’s where Lumi’s unique online platform stands out from the crowd: It enables companies to upload their own logos and designs, then create their own customized stamps, ribbons, boxes, tape, bags and mailers.

“My goal is to take everything I’ve learned about manufacturing and packaging and make it accessible to other entrepreneurs who are just starting out,” said Genet, who got turned down for an investment deal on ABC’s Shark Tank (and used the experience to her advantage).

When she was just starting out, she very intently chose to hatch Lumi out of Los Angeles, a sprawling city of some 4 million people, many of them on about every possible career path you can dream up.

“There is a tremendous amount going on in Los Angeles,” Genet said. “With that mash-up of the local fashion industry, plus the entertainment industry being here, you can get anything made. Anything your brain can imagine can be manufactured in L.A.”

While she grew up on the outskirts of The Motor City, a historical American manufacturing mecca in its own right, the Y Combinator graduate says she was drawn to L.A. for its wealth of resources for beginning entrepreneurs. She was also attracted by its famously open and eclectic creative scene. The sunny “vibes” and weather didn’t hurt either.

“I chose L.A. because it seemed like an incredibly warm, positive and creative place to me when I landed here,” she said. “I love the energy and diversity of things going on here.”

Los Angeles native and veteran entrepreneur Dennis Delgado says Genet couldn’t have picked a better place in the country to build a business, particularly as an online manufacturing and retail business owner.

“Here in Los Angeles County, we have the largest county concentration of manufacturing activity in the country,” said the co-founder of L.A.-based SyncFab, a startup that matches retail product developers with area automated fabrication providers and facilities.

Delgado continued: “California, on the whole, has the highest level of manufacturing employment in the nation, so there’s never been a better time to break into the business.”

He’s certainly onto something. According to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, there are more than 365,000 people employed by the manufacturing industry in L.A. County. Indeed, that’s the most for any county in America. Led by aerospace and fashion, manufacturing accounts for almost 10 percent of all jobs in L.A. County.

In addition to broad access to manufacturing talent, further adding to the appeal of launching a business like Lumi or SyncFab in L.A. is Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Make It In L.A.” initiative to connect what Garcetti describes as “the nation’s largest community of maker-entrepreneurs.” The public-private push, now in its second year, is designed to “support the manufacturing ecosystem and inspire entrepreneurs to turn their passions into products in L.A.”

The increasingly revitalized manufacturing and export trade sector in America’s second most populated city is fueling innovation in the shadows of its many aging factories, 58 percent of which are not operating at full capacity in the wake of overseas manufacturing, according to a Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce-supported Make It In L.A. survey of 1,600 businesses in L.A. County, CEO-focus groups and analysis of 30,000 manufacturing companies.

While more inroads in local sourcing of packaging, prototyping, assembly and product development and design are needed, on a broader level, L.A. remains well-positioned across several other technology-fueled business sectors. In fact, the city ranked among the top 25 rising American tech epicenters on the latest Innovation That Matters study, a joint project between Free Enterprise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and 1776. Per the analysis, the metropolis has demonstrated strong recent gains in the smart cities, edtech, healthtech and energy sectors.

“L.A. is full of passionate innovators who are ready to shape our future,” Garcetti said. “Sometimes, the next big idea is just one nudge away from entering the marketplace, redefining an industry, and changing millions of lives. Make It In L.A. will empower manufacturers and entrepreneurs, and help channel our city’s creative energy into a sector that is the backbone of our economy.”

For her part, Genet is empowering other local entrepreneurs by partnering with them whenever she’s in a position to.

“I can work locally by working with people in L.A. who have certain equipment or can take on a piece of my process,” she said. “L.A. has an unparalleled community of creative people, and manufacturing facilities and industry to support a whole host of endeavors. L.A. is a great place to boldly blaze your own path as an entrepreneur.”