How we made Stackware: Meet our factory
When ENSEMBL set out to radically redesign cookware, nothing like Stackware existed. In this interview, Founder Kate Swanson discusses how she invented a product from scratch, beginning with materials, craftsmanship, and innovative partnerships.
Stackware is radically redesigned cookware. Before we created its patented removable handles and laser welded side brackets, there was no product like it.
Without a roadmap for what a production process might look like, we started at the very beginning: focusing on precision materials, quality craftsmanship, and relationships with partners that were excited to innovate alongside our team.
In the first installment of a series diving into ENSEMBL’s production process and the people we work with, Founder Kate Swanson, shares her journey bringing Stackware to life.
What qualities were you looking for in a producer when you set out to build Stackware?
When we set out to build Stackware, we were looking for a partner who wanted to innovate with us. Because we were building an entirely new product – one that could not rely on existing moulds – we needed someone who was open to creating something from the ground up.
We were also looking for quality. Not all cookware – or even stainless steel – is made equal. A lot goes into the cladding process, and whoever we worked with needed to be an expert in that area.
What made you sure ENSEMBL’s factory was the right choice?
During the selection process, we met with factories in Canada, the USA, Europe, and Asia, before finally signing with our partner in Jinhua, Zhejiang – about an hour and half from Shanghai.
When we met with our partners, I had just come off a week of tours and expected the visit to feel routine. But immediately, there were things that really stood out. On the factory floor, the attention to detail by the workers was impressive. When we discussed our ideas for innovation, the team’s candid feedback about the challenges and solutions they saw in bringing our vision to life served as validation that they could be our partners.
On top of that, they had been in the cookware business for over forty years. Starting as a metal cladding factory, they expanded into full cookware production fifteen years ago. Even today, they still sell their discs to other factories around the world – they’re THAT good! We built common ground through our commitment to making incredible products.
How is the process of producing a product from scratch different from producing a more conventional item, like a t-shirt or disc-bottom set of cookware?
When you make a new product from scratch, you have to make the moulds and tools (the things that make the product) before you can make your actual product. That is a very different type of manufacturing. It is costly, time consuming, and requires extreme precision.
For ENSEMBL, because we were not just making a custom product, but making a product that didn’t previously exist, we also had to set aside time for extensive testing to ensure that the tools we made were capable of correctly and safely making our product, every single time.
This required a lot of investment, but also gave us the opportunity to improve the little things we didn’t like about traditional cookware. From the bespoke laser welded side brackets to adding measurement lines inside each vessel, building a custom product afforded us the ability to build something better.
You’ve been working with ENSEMBL’s factory for a while at this point. How has this relationship evolved?
I want to preface this by saying most of my relationships revolve around food, and surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) this one is no different.
My first trip to meet the factory in person was intense. The day started with an early morning train ride in from Shanghai (a trip I still make when I visit). We toured the factory floor, spending a lot of time asking questions about their production schedules, quality assurance processes, and the factory’s own plans. During my first few visits, our relationship was quite formal. We went to conventional restaurants for dinner and they would send a driver to meet me at the train station.
Now, it’s more like meeting old friends. We often try out the local (aka not touristy) lunch spots. There is an incredible place for beef soups and a fun marketplace style restaurant where you get to pick ingredients and they prepare your meal on the spot.
But one of the best informal perks about building a closer relationship with the factory team is being invited to “family lunch” at the factory. Every day, the team eats lunch together, at a large round table. It’s simple, no-frills food, but everything is really delicious and it’s the perfect fuel to get through an afternoon of work.
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