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To Build? Or Not to Build? For One Middle-Market Firm, a Chinese Factory Became a Gateway to Growth

Building a factory in China is a task that the world’s largest corporations approach with no shortage of trepidation. From suspect building materials to organized corruption, when it comes to construction in a foreign land, there seems to be any number of unexpected hurdles waiting to trip up even the most seasoned global executives.

So when an American company generating less than $5 million in annual revenue decides to build a factory in China, you might imagine that “To build? Or not to build” became a matter of life-or-death considerations for the firm. And so they were. Or at least that’s how Anisa Telwar, CEO of Anisa International (AI), recalls the decision-making that led her to build a fully owned manufacturing plant in Tianjin, China.

anisa-telwarToday, 10 years later, AI is the largest designer and manufacturer of cosmetic brushes in the world, approaching nearly $30 million in annual revenue and with a payroll of more than 600 employees. Looking back, Telwar simply says, “If I had not built this facility, we would not exist. It was a necessity.”

This necessity surfaced as Telwar’s original manufacturing partner in China began directly tapping into her American cosmetic company customers.

“They were pretty well going to usurp the business I had grown for them because they had the manufacturing and my customers didn’t really want a middleman anymore. They didn’t want to give away that margin,” explains Telwar, who says that AI has routinely tested its rivals over the years by tightly integrating its manufacturing with R&D and allowing the firm to operate at “warp speed” when it comes to designing and producing brushes.

“We can today design so many variables and varieties, and this is what has been triggering opportunities and contributes to our growth,” says Telwar, whose keen market knowledge and sense of design has earned her a reputation for gauging and perhaps even triggering the market needs of consumers.

Among the cosmetic companies outfitting their offerings with AI’s brushes are Laura Mercier, Smashbox, Sonia Kashuk, and Estée Lauder.

Meanwhile, beauty retail giant Sephora recently began carrying an AI brush that uses a new fiber made in partnership with DuPont.

“DuPont doesn’t want to make brushes, but they do want to understand the use of fibers, the filament thickness, and how it should be kept, cut, or coated,” explains Telwar.

With 20 percent of AI’s own income being directed back into the development and testing of its new products annually, the firm appears to be well matched with DuPont when it comes to a sturdy commitment to R&D and a budding eagerness to guard its intellectual property.

“We have control over quality and creativity, and now we even patent brushes — and it has worked,” says Telwar. (AI was awarded its fifth design patent this past October.)

While Telwar continues to emphasize the virtues of control, she doesn’t necessarily want to build or even own additional facilities in China.

“I feel like we no longer have to own everything. I do want our China facility to be the hub of our organization and maintain the culture of the company. But as we increase our capacity, we are looking to find good partners to help us expand — and that will be our next evolution,” says Telwar.

No matter what challenges may lie ahead for AI, Telwar says the decision to build in China will continue to pay dividends for many years to come.



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