In February, Jenny Drinkard, an industrial designer and recent Georgia Institute of Technology graduate, proposed an idea to a website called Quirky.com to turn modified milk crates into a home storage system. Then 1,791 Quirky community members around the world refined the design, suggesting accessories and ranking them in order of preference on the site. The result: plastic cubes that can be stacked, connected, and customized with drawers, slide-in wooden shelves, cork bulletin boards, wooden feet, and rollers—fit for a college dorm room.
Quirky needed to ship a million units of the product, called simply Crates, to such retailers as Target and Staples by July to capture back-to-school shoppers. To hit that deadline, the three-year-old New York company, which has made 50 products from crowdsourced ideas, would have to do what it’s never done before: manufacture in the U.S. “Usually you have months of freight time to ship from China,” says Quirky founder and Chief Executive Ben Kaufman. “But for Crates we knew we couldn’t afford the luxury of weeks on the water.”