These days, the “Made in the USA” label seems harder and harder to come by, especially in the consumer electronic accessories industry. The fact is, it is much cheaper to outsource production of phone cases to countries outside of America, given that the cost of materials is lower and so are employee wages. One local company that has taken this issue to heart is Toast, a cover manufacturer that builds and ships out their wood skins from wet and gloomy Portland, Oregon.
The company got its first start on Kickstarter, hoping people would have an interest in wood covers for their iPhones. Receiving more than $16,000 in funding from about 300 backers, Toast’s founder, Matias Brecher was able to buy the company’s first laser cutter, and they haven’t slowed since. Now in their second year, Toast makes cases for an assortment of different devices – MacBooks, iPhones, many different Android devices, tablets, and specialty products for major corporations.
Last week, I was invited by Matias and the Toast crew to come check out their factory in Portland. Upon first entering the building, I was surprised at how much smaller the space was than I had initially intended. When you first think about a company pumping out cases for phones, you think of big machinery and stations for packaging and shipping, but this was much different. It was much more natural.
In the front of the building is a break area, with a table and chairs. In the second room is Toast’s main control area – this is where the employees handle packaging, shipping, and all of the paperwork that comes with running a business. In the two back rooms is where all of the magic happens. It is where they store their supply of different woods and wood-working materials. If you ever took wood shop in high school, then you will know exactly what this space looks and smells like. To try to describe it, I would say that it smells just like fresh cut wood. It’s very refreshing and reminds me of Northern California.
Once Toast receives wood from its suppliers, they measure out whatever it is they need for an order and then get to cutting. All the cutting and branding is done by the laser cutter, and the process doesn’t actually take that long. On an average day, Toast is churning out about 150 covers a day, but it all depends on how many orders they have to fulfill. On top of that, some skins are much more intricate than others, so how many or how fast they create covers all depends on the design.
At this time, Toast currently makes covers and skins for plenty of Android devices, including the HTC One, Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 2, Xperia Z, Nexus 4, Moto X, Nexus 5, and the DROID Bionic. The company is also currently working on making covers for the Moto G and Galaxy Note 3.
As of right now, about 90% of all materials used by Toast come from the USA, with the other small portion coming from overseas. The product coming from outside of America are the bamboo and ebony veneers, but the other backing materials (walnut and ash), adhesive, and all of the packaging is made in the USA. And by taking a quick peek inside their trash can, I saw that Toast takes waste very seriously. Almost all of the wood they order is used for product, and if the laser cuts something wrong or there are other imperfections, they will reuse the material for another project. It’s a very efficient and non-wasteful process, which I admired.
Below I have a gallery of the Toast factory. It’s small, but they are pumping out great work, and it’s nice to see a small American business doing well for itself. I would like to thank Matias and Toast once again for the invite.
To check out the work Toast is doing or to buy a wood cover of your own, visit their website.