biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: how to import

by Stephanie

yesterday we posted about harper poe from proud mary‘s new textile collection. and today harper is back to share her tips for working with foreign products and how to import items from abroad. for those of you looking to connect with artisans in different countries, this is definitely a must read. thanks so much to harper for this informative post! -stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

There is an amazing supply of unique, beautiful goods from across the world.  Globalization has made the world smaller and consumers more aware of other cultures, where their products come from, and how they are made. If you are a storeowner or a designer, global goods are in high demand.  I’m going to try and simplify the (rather confusing) process of importing goods from abroad to sell in the U.S.…

Choosing Products to Import:

Based on what type of product you are looking for; different countries specialize and excel in furniture, crafts, ceramics, materials, foods, etc.  Do your research to determine who makes the best product you are looking for.

1.  Visit a Trade Show:

ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) and NYIGF (New York International Gift Fair) trade shows are a great resource for globally made goods.  ICFF focuses on furniture, lighting, wallpaper, textiles, and kitchen and bath, representing 40 countries and 14 contingents (exporters, trade organizations).  NYIGF showcases accessories and gift items representing 85 countries.

ICFF:  Twice yearly show exhibiting at the Javits Center in NYC (www.icff.com)

NYIGF:  Twice yearly show exhibiting at the Javits Center in NYC (www.nyigf.com)

2.  Research Exporters and Trade Organizations online by country.  They usually break the goods down by category and lists specific products, manufacturers, and exporters to contact.

Getting your goods into the U.S.:

This is the technical part…

  1. When you purchase items from a vendor at a trade show you are essentially buying from them at wholesale.  They will be able to handle all of the logistics including packing, shipping, customs duties, taxes and clearance or exporting OUT of the country.  They should give you an option of shipping “Door-to-Door” or “Door-to-Airport”, I go over those in more detail below.
  2. Importing directly from the maker…in this scenario be ready to handle getting your goods packed and shipped OUT of the country of origin as well as INTO the U.S.

Ask your producer/maker to suggest a trustworthy freight forwarding company.   They will be handling, packing, and securing your goods so this is an important decision. If they cannot suggest someone search online for freight forwarders specializing in the products you are exporting.  Don’t be afraid to ask for references!

Once you choose your freight forwarder you must decide whether to ship your goods “Door-to Door” or “Door-to-Airport”.

Door-to-Airport”:  You handle customs clearance and collection once your goods reach the U.S.

  1. They will give you an estimate based on the material, weight, mode of transportation, and final location.  Charges on the estimate will include; freight, handling, document creation, collection, and an agency fee.
  2. Payment must be made before leaving the country of origin.
  3. Once your items are collected, Air or Cargo Ship booking details, as well as a Waybill will be sent to you.  You must then forward them to your agent in the U.S.
  4. Customs Broker in U.S.:  A Customs Broker will handle entry documents, calculate (and usually payment) of taxes and duties, and communicate on your behalf with port authorities.  To find a list of customs brokers in your area check with U.S. Customs and Border Protection:  http://www.cbp.gov/

What to provide Customs Broker:

  1. Manufacturer’s Invoice including detailed description of goods, address, cost of goods, and weight of goods.
  2. Airway Bill or Flight Booking Details (provided by exporter or freight forwarder)
  3. Very detailed description of your goods so that they can classify them according to the Harmonized Trade Schedule (in case the manufacturer’s invoice is too vague).   Example, for textiles you need to specify whether woven or printed, bleached or unbleached, painted or dyed, thickness of fabric, and warp and weft details.
  4. Your broker will provide you with an invoice and once all fees are paid they will contact the port/cargo unit where your packages are waiting to release them for you to pick up.


Exactly what it sounds like, they handle shipping from makers door to your door.

Fee Excludes: customs examination charges, duties, and taxes, which are calculated upon arrival.  These fees are paid to the courier when your packages are delivered.

Don’t get discouraged:

Like anything, this will get easier with time. Once you have your “team” established and initial paperwork filed things will go much more smoothly.  Last thing; DON’T be afraid to ask a million questions.  I just looked back through the first emails I sent to my Customs Broker and they were VERY patient with me to say the least!

Terms and Definitions:

Import Duty:  Tax on goods entering the country based on the Harmonized Tariff Classification (HTC)

Freight Forwarder: A person or company that organizes shipments for individuals or other companies and may also act as a carrier but usually just as an agent.

Harmonized Tariff Schedule:  Determines the duty and taxes paid on your goods.  Your goods are classified and given a 10-digit tariff classification number based on the specific make of your goods.

Airway Bill: a document issued by a carrier giving details and instructions relating to the shipment of goods. Typically it will show the names of the customer, the point of origin of the consignment, its destination, route, and method of shipment, and the amount charged for carriage.

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  • Really nice job on this! I agree that the logistics get easier, it’s finding the right manufacturer & packaging your goods so they can survive their journey that is vital.

    Iris – if you can get good samples & sell a container full of goods to someone, you can absolutely do this without storage or a storefront.

  • thanks harper! just a point when specifically working with artisan groups abroad, since i’m going through that right now… to start out, it’s a good idea to partner with a non-profit group to help coordinate logistics as you establish relationships, or build your “team” as harper says. i’ve even noticed that some companies that are already doing business in this space have been open with their process (proud mary was one of those!) and willing to help if I just ask. it’s been great to learn from these business mentors; some have even offered smaller shipments to “piggy back” on their larger shipments as we get our footing.

  • This is such a great post – I’ve spent the last year researching all of this information. To think I could have just waited for this update!

    I just wanted to add that we’ve found both EMS (similar to UPS) to be cost-effective when dealing with lighter weight goods. We ship jewelry and some textiles this way. For heavier items such as pottery an export agent is often the way to go as they get better rates based on weight, and have more experience with packaging.

    There are times when it really does pay to hire an expert – a customs agent is an invaluable resource for larger shipments.

    Thanks again for the great tips.

  • Hi! This was particularly interesting as I’ve been working for a freight forwarding for several years now – and there are still things about the industry that I’m learning today! Harper, you’re right in saying that all this information can be a bit intimidating at first, but really once you contract or even reach out to a freight forwarder for more information, someone will be more than happy to provide a quote and literally hold your hand through the process. We have several customers that are smaller businesses that don’t have anyone in their organization who has any sort of background with customs brokerage or transportation, so don’t be discouraged. ;)

    One thing I did notice that I actually ran across with one of our customers just a few weeks ago – Harper, you mentioned that the customs broker will be able to classify good according to the HTS code. Unfortunately, you cannot depend solely on the the broker to provide this classification for you, according to the Duty of Reasonable Care that came into effect here in the US in 1993. This act prevents customs brokers to be able to classify good on behalf of their customers; however, it does not prevent them from “guiding” customers in classifying the goods themselves. That being said, it is good to approach the broker and ask them if the classification you have submitted to them is correct, and they can help you identify the correct classification for the particular good you’re wanting to import. This is kind of annoying – I know. But I think the act was put into place to protect customs brokers should they classify incorrectly and the customer wants to come back and blame them for the mistake. But I just wanted to give this information out so that no one is caught off guard when the broker comes back and refuses to classify the goods.

    Other than that – I’m very excited to see this topic (as you can probably tell by my lengthy input!). I follow Design Sponge every day and especially your column, Harper, and although my career doesn’t touch any of the exciting things that you usually cover in your Biz Ladies posts, I’m so happy that I can finally contribute to this one!

    Thank you! xo

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