Jake Kalick and Chip Malt have been friends since the age of 5. They now run a company together that’s trying to bring chef-quality products to the home cook but made by artisanal manufacturers, and keeping in mind eco-friendly practices.
MadeIn, which launched in 2016, has aimed to transform the way cookware is made, brought to market, recycled, and shipped. By 2021, the company has also promised to make the majority of their products and packaging (95% of them) plastic-free.
Kalick and Malt have gone from hosting dinners in their New York City apartments to working with some of the top chefs in the country who admire their products. But when the pandemic hit in March, they stopped selling as much cookware to restaurants, and re-shifted their focus on the home. Where possible, they started hiring ex-restaurant workers as customer service reps and staff for their growing online business.
While there’s been a boom of cookware brands in the last five years, particularly to cater to a Millennial market whose purchasing preferences are different than their parent’s generation, MadeIn hopes to marry heritage stories in manufacturing with a more tech-savvy approach that suits today’s customers.
After having mastered stainless steel cookware, manufactured in the US and Italy, they’re adding new options this fall to their collection, and deviating from the kitchen to the dinner table: dinnerware from ceramics capital Stoke-on-Trent in England, glassware from Parma Italy, and flatware from Italy as well.
Getting family-owned factories to sign on to work with them hasn’t been easy, says Malt. “Some are reluctant to work with two 30-something business school kids, and others don’t have the capital to invest in raw materials and bring prices down so that we can sell them to a broader market.”
Yet, these manufacturers, like the 5th-generation, family-owned knife maker in Thiers, France, who works with MadeIn, need to adapt. “This is a town that when you drive through, all the signs have knives under the city’s name. It’s their identity, and has been for a long time. But the younger generations are less interested in carrying it forward.”
That’s where Malt and Kalick step in. Kalick’s family has been working in cookware manufacturing, which gave him an upper hand in building a supply chain for MadeIn. But getting these manufacturers to work with them has required some nudging, he says. “It’s opened up conversations for us. But it’s a long journey from there.”
One that he explains includes a fair bit of hand-holding, experimentation (with designs that don’t come to fruition), and putting up capital for manufacturers to take on these risks and scale. “It’s not easy, for sure.”
MadeIn, however, has focused on working primarily with manufacturers in the US and Western Europe who they identify as best in class. “We built our supply chains and products first, and then came all the other stuff in the business, such as social, marketing. But the focus from day one is asking who is the best in X and then finding that maker,” says Malt.
These stories seem to be resonating with their consumers who are after longevity and durability, not a cheap quick-fix. The ceramics video, highlighting the craft story behind their new dinnerware set, Kalick says, has been their most-watched video to date on social media.
While the prices are steeper, the duo offer lifetime guarantees on most products, and product-specific guarantees. The new plates, for instance, have a one year “no chip” guarantee.
The plates, in fact, represent the kind of makers, Malt and Kalick, want to work with to deepen their environmental commitments. The Staffordshire factories where the ceramics are made recycle 99.6% of the waste. Everything from paper to metal to broken, fired ceramics to plaster molds are all recycled or put back into manufacturing streams. In 2007, the Stoke-on-Trent facility put into place a Lamella system — an old technology adapted in modern times— for recycling clay waste.
Similarly, MadeIn’s butcher’s block is made in Wisconsin from 100% repurposed American maple wood. Though much pricier than a $20 wooden chopping board, it has a much broader surface area, is heavy (and unlikely to crack easily), and thus, designed to last.
“The idea is that you buy it once, and you invest in something, and it’ll last,” Kalick adds.
For customers who are ready to get rid of old, unwanted pots and pans, MadeIn has a recycling system in place, using the same package that a new item would be shipped out to a customer in. “We just thought how can we put that same box to use? Put your old stuff in it and we’ll take it,” he explains.
They’ve also partnered with Habitat for Humanity to have MadeIn returns go to one of Habitat’s 8 warehouses around the country (whichever one is closest to the customer). Then, these items are sold at Habitat’s ReStore where the proceeds go to the non-profit.
MadeIn, though only four years old, aspires to take on the giants of the cookware and tabletop industry with their manufacturer-first model, and a growing emphasis on sustainability.