Outsourcing to the Amish?

Rwrightmanchair-PAscene.jpgWhen New York furniture designer Richard Wrightman told me he outsourced all of his chair production to the Amish of Lancaster County, I couldn’t believe it. But Richard, I asked, they don’t use electricity. This didn’t seem to bother him. It actually enticed him to use the Amish. He says their history of woodworking, strong work ethic, and integrity swayed him away from some of the more economical factories abroad and they do use some electricity.

In the community Wrightman is working with, the bishop draws the line of what’s in violation of Amish custom and to help their economy, he’s loosened up the rules a bit. They still can’t use the electrical grid, but they can use power tools. To make this work, they convert power tools electric motors to hydraulic motors and thus keep their self-sufficient energy system. And for the big projects that require some extra voltage, they can ask their Mennonite neighbors to help finish the job.

This insight into contemporary Amish practices is a bit surprising, but their occasional use of electricity doesn’t take away from their craftsmanship–their trained hands, mind, and eyes are what sets them apart from other manufacturers. And for smaller companies like Richard Wrightman Design, who need help with their production but want a supremely high level of quality, the Amish are apparently a great resource.