About the writer

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I have a beautiful granddaughter who was born with Down syndrome. She has enough challenges to face in her life and I want to make sure that finding appropriately fitting clothes will not be one of them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My First Designer

It’s now the middle of November, my office is finished and I’m ready to get down to business.  I need to contact the designer that the school told me about; her name was Carrie.  After a little phone tag, we finally set up a meeting.  We agreed to meet at my office one evening after she finished work and she would go over what I would need to begin the design process.
Carrie was a beautiful girl.  She worked for a company in Cleveland that made work clothes.  She said she was very busy and worked a lot of hours.  But when she heard what I was doing, she said she would like to help me.  I told her of my plans to start with just jeans for now.  She thought that it was a good idea to start with just one thing.  She explained that creating a special size would be very difficult and there was a lot work involved.
She explained that first I would need to find “fit” models as she called them. The fit model is used as the template so a designer can create an article of clothing.  The designer takes many, many measurements from the fit model and then creates a pattern from that person’s measurements.  From that pattern, the designer creates an article of clothing like my jeans, for example.  It would take many visits with the fit model (called “fittings”) to get a proper fit.  Once the designer is satisfied with the fit, the pattern is “graded” up and down into various sizes.  I would need more than one fit model because not all body shapes are alike and various styles would need to be created. I would also need men and woman, boys and girls and also small children. 
I did not realize then how much time this would actually take.  I just thought she would take some measurements and then make the jeans…sounded easy to me!  Boy, what did I know!  So the next thing I had to do was find a few people to stand still long enough to get a few measurements. Where would I find people with Down syndrome to be a “fit” model?  I only knew my granddaughter and I knew that she would never stand still!  This is when I decided to start with adults first.  Mmmmm, where do I go from here?   Karen

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Finding Office Space

So far, I have some idea where I’m going to get financing, I have a designer in mind and I have a marketing person I like … now I need a place to work.  I definitely wanted something close to home so when I’m 90, driving to work won’t be too difficult.  I decide to search the internet first.  I found the number of someone who had commercial office space for rent in the area.  I called the number posted on the website and got an answering machine.  It may have been a day or two later when I got a phone call from Ted, he was responding to my phone message.  I explained what I had in mind and he said he had a place that just might be perfect for me.  So he gave me the address and we set up an appointment to meet the next day.   
When I got there, the place was about 5 minutes from my home.  I really liked that feature for sure. The address was on Tyler Blvd. in a building that had many similar units.  Each unit had a large garage door and a glass door to enter.  There may have been about 8 or 9 units in all.  We went inside to look around.  We first walked into a small room which led into another room that was about twice the size of the first room.  There was a small bathroom and a little kitchenette.  The office area was fully carpeted.   From the first room, a door opened out into a warehouse area.  It was huge!  The last tenant was a small construction company Ted said.  It definitely needed some decorating if I was going to use this space, but the space itself was perfect.  I knew it was exactly what I needed for this type of business.  When he told me how much the rent was, I just couldn’t believe it.  Totally affordable!  I signed a one-year lease that day!  I knew I wasn’t really ready for an office yet, but I had to grab this place because I may never find anything this perfect for this price again.  Besides, I thought I would use this office to have my weight loss meetings.   It was much closer to home than our medical office in Willoughby so it wouldn’t be a total waste if I didn’t need it right away.   
It didn’t take long for me put my own personal touch into the place.  I hired our favorite handy man, Bill, to turn this office and warehouse into a suitable environment for my clothing business.  I decided to use the first room for a reception area and the back room for an office.  The warehouse needed a lot of work, but Bill performed his magic.  I had the whole warehouse floor carpeted and he painted the entire area.  For those who know me it was ... pink ... of course!  Part of this area would be the shipping department and the rest would warehouse the clothes I would be distributing.  I had Bill hang a few more cupboards in the kitchenette and finish painting the offices.   He did a beautiful job. 
Next, I bought some furniture for the reception area and hung some curtains on the window.  I contacted a young woman who photographs children with Down syndrome to see if she would sell me a few photographs that I could hang on the walls.  She agreed so I bought four beautiful black and white photos that added the perfect touch to the reception area.  The rest of the office equipment and furniture would come later when I needed it.  For now, this was perfect.  Did I find this place by accident…I think not! … Karen

Friday, September 17, 2010

Meeting Michael

I belong to a local gym in the neighborhood and workout about 3 or 4 times a week.  One morning last October, I was on a treadmill chatting with a young woman named Rebecca.  Rebecca is a pharmaceutical representative who used to call on my husband from time to time.   I talked with her about my business idea and she thought I might be interested in meeting her fiancĂ© because he had a small marketing company.  Later she introduced me to him, his name was Michael Cardamone.
Michael and I talked for quite a while that day; I explained my idea for a clothing line for people with Down syndrome.  His first question was, “Why do they need to have special clothes?”  This is a very common question asked by almost everyone.  I explained about their different body shapes and what a struggle it was to find clothes that fit appropriately.  His first comment was:  “This sounds like a public awareness issue more than a marketing idea for a clothing line”.   After he made that comment, I knew at that moment I liked him!    In the months that followed, Michael would become a major part of the business.  His experience would be very valuable in the development of my clothing line.   Another chance meeting?  I don’t think so!  …. Karen

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Okay, I know for sure I’m going to build this business and I also know I’m going to need money.  But, I never gave that much thought at all; I would just go to the bank and borrow it.  My credit was excellent and I had never been turned down for a loan in my life.   How could this be a problem? 
I made an appointment with my accountant and told him all about my plans.  He said when I was ready he would write a business plan for me.  My accountant had been with me for years; he knew I had a great sense for business and that I was a very determined woman.  I have no formal education in business, but I do have a natural gift.   He warned me that times were very different now and banks weren’t loaning money as easily as they had in the past. But I never thought for a second I couldn’t get a loan.  So, he gave me a list of all the information he would need to write a business plan and off I went.
First I had to gather the cost of manufacturing clothes.  What did I know about manufacturers?  So back to the internet I went.  I typed in clothing manufacturers in the United States.  There was a long list and most were in foreign countries, but I narrowed it down to a few companies that were fairly close to Ohio.  I felt travel would be much easier if this place were closer.  The most helpful company I found was in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  When I called there, I actually spoke to the owner.  I told him that I knew nothing about manufacturing clothes and would really need a lot of guidance.  I shared with him what I wanted to make and he took a lot of time to explain what was involved in manufacturing clothes.  Then he explained the costs; there were charges for everything.  There were minimum orders per every color fabric, set up fees, marking fees and pattern maker fees.  Once we got past all the set up fees, then there was the cost per item.  Of course, he couldn’t quote any actual prices without patterns but he did give me a ballpark cost. 
In my mind, I think I’ll make a variety of clothes for all the ages. But, after speaking to the factory owner and realizing what this may cost, I narrowed it down to four or five items.  He had mentioned to me that I should probably start with just one thing.  Was he crazy?  How could I only make one thing?  So I calculated that I may need as much as two or three hundred thousand dollars just for manufacturing 4 or 5 different items.  Okay, I need to visit the bank and see about getting a loan.  I can do this, no problem!
The reality of my request came very quickly.  There was no way any bank was going to loan me that much money for a start-up business!  I couldn’t believe it!  What was I going to do now?  I left the bank with my head down to my knees.  The feeling I was experiencing really couldn’t be put into words.  It was as if someone had just punched me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me.  I never dreamed a “little” thing like money would stand in my way!
But that devastating feeling was very short lived, my spirits began to rise again and I felt my enthusiasm returning.  I realized I had a fairly large line of credit at the bank already and I could do this without a loan at all.  I wouldn’t need that business plan after all!  I remembered what the owner of the factory said, “Why don’t you start with just one thing?”  A light bulb went off in my head and I said to myself, “I’ll start with jeans; everyone needs a good pair of jeans!”  I was back…and I could do this!
I called factory owner back and talked about just making jeans.  He told me very few jeans were made in the United States.  He also told me they were very expensive to make and that he was one of the few manufacturers left in the U.S. who still made them.  I pressed him for a ballpark price and he guesstimated about $20.00/each to make a child’s pair of jeans.   Can you believe that price…I can buy a nice pair of jeans for Maggie at Children’s Place for $14.00.  So, I called a few other manufacturers around the country trying to find someone who might give me a quote but without success; one place even hung up in my ear and told me, “Honey, nobody makes jeans in the U.S.”  click…Karen   

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Idea Becomes a Reality


Maggie and Bridget
 I remember this day like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday in August of 2009. I was visiting my daughter, Michelle. She has four of my eleven grandchildren: Sean, Patrick, Bridget and Maggie. Maggie was 4 years old at the time and was born with Down syndrome. I really didn’t know very much about Down syndrome and had never really known anyone who had children with Down syndrome. I just knew I loved her very much and nothing else really mattered.


Michelle was getting Maggie dressed at the time and, as usual, rolling up her sleeves and pant legs. She was so frustrated with her clothing situation but even then, I didn’t realize what a big problem that was. Michelle turned to me and said, “Boy Mom, if you want to start a good business, you should make clothes for people with Down syndrome.” She went on to explain all the difficulties she had with proper fitting clothes. She had other friends who had children with Down syndrome and they all struggled the same way. We talked about it for awhile and I just laughed at the idea because I was already so busy how could I possibly have time for one more thing in my life?

I kept asking myself all the way home what did I know about clothes and what did I really know about Down syndrome? So when I got home, I got on the internet and thought I would do a little research and also see if I could order something for Maggie. I was sure there must be something available on line. Well, to my surprise there were no clothing options specific for a person with Down syndrome. My head exploded! Didn’t anyone have something that would fit her appropriately?

I couldn’t stop thinking about this. I must have called Michelle about 10 or 15 times that day. I had a million questions. I wanted to know more. At first I thought that the clothes just needed to be shortened and that would solve the problem. So I thought about the idea of buying clothes and hiring someone to hem them. I started researching body types of people with Down syndrome. I spent hours on the internet looking at photographs of Down syndrome conferences and Special Olympics. I was amazed at the differences. I researched statistics on height and weight issues.

As the weeks went by and I began to seriously look into this matter, people were popping into my life as if it were a plan. Answers to questions just fell into place. The idea of buying clothes already made and hemming them was very short lived; their body shapes were just too different. The only solution was to actually make a special clothing line.

Boy, what did I know about that business; how would I begin? But as I had questions, someone came along with the answers. My friend and owner of the salon I had worked was an incredible entrepreneur. We had conversations about my clothing line idea. She said she knew a teacher at the design school in Cleveland and suggested I contact him and ask him what he thought. I contacted this fellow and we talked for a long time; he explained about the process of designing clothes. It was very complicated…what had I gotten myself into? He gave me the name of some other teachers at the school that may be able to be more helpful. Another very nice woman explained about designers and specification writers. It was quite involved and a very specialized field.

I really struggled with this idea, but I couldn’t let it go. There was something driving me that kept me going. One day, I was passing by a well-known tailoring shop in the neightborhood that specialized in hand-made suits. My neighbor across the street just happened to be the owner. I pulled my car into their parking lot and decided I would see if they would give me a moment of their time.

It seems like there have been no coincidences in my journey. You won’t believe what happened next. The tailor was very helpful. He explained the difficulty in designing clothes and all that was involved. I told him the school had explained that I would need a specification writer and they were very difficult to find. He agreed but said he knew a young lady who might be able to help. He didn’t know her phone number so I only had her name. I came home that day and tried to locate this person … no luck.

A few weeks had gone by and I received a phone call from one of the design teachers at the school who was finally able to return my call. She was very interested in my project and wanted to help in any way she could. We talked about finding someone to help me and said she would make a few calls. Later she called back with the name of a young woman who said she would be glad to be of assistance. Guess who it was…yes it was same woman that the tailor had suggested. I couldn’t believe it! This was the sign…I knew I was supposed to do this…Karen

Thursday, September 9, 2010

About the Author

I think the best way to tell my story is to tell you a little about myself first. I’m 61 years old; I have two daughters, 42 and 41 years old, who together have given me 11 grandchildren. I have been married for 22 years to my husband, Dr. Harold Bowersox, and enjoy the company of my 85 year-old mother several days a week. I work out at a local gym four days a week and I love gardening and taking photographs.

In 1986 I started my first business. I had a very large domestic housekeeping service called Kare-N-Kleen, Inc. It started much like Downs Designs; with me and one other woman. We started cleaning houses together as a team. In no time, the business grew into a very large-scale housekeeping service. I had over 250 regular customers, a fleet of 7 cars and a staff of 25 women. Business flourished and my reputation became very well known in the area.

In 1998 I sold my cleaning company and stayed home for about 5 years. During that time my daughters had married and started having children. I enjoyed spending time with my grandchildren very much. But, it came time for me to go back to work so I took a job as an inventory control clerk of a very large hair salon.

My husband had become very dissatisfied with working for a group practice so we took a leap of faith and, together, we started his own medical practice. He is a well-loved physician and before long, business was booming. His practice is very unique as Dr. Bowersox enjoys a natural approach to medicine.

My husband has been a physician for over 40 years and has been practicing alternative medicine for almost 15 years. During the 10 years he has been in private practice, he has written a book about his specialty, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue, He has a very successful treatment for these conditions and new patients wait almost 3 months for an appointment. We have a staff of 6 medical personnel and enjoy their company both at work and as friends.

Two years ago my husband lost a considerable amount of weight with a doctor supervised meal-replacement program. His patients wanted to know how he did it and wanted to follow his lead. So to properly help our patients with this program, I became a health coach for Take Shape for Life and began working with them personally. I’ve helped over 200 people find a new, healthier lifestyle and lose thousands of pounds.

As you can see, I have a very full and busy life. But last year when I thought I couldn’t get any busier; my daughter planted a thought in my head, she suggested a new business idea to me. I laughed at the idea at the time…Karen

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Recovering from the Trip

So as Sunday night nearly comes to an end, I pull in the driveway of my home about 10:30 pm anxious to see my husband. I knew it was late but I had so much to tell him. I was wide awake and still on China time.

I was greeted by my husband with lots of hugs…it was nice to be home! I couldn’t wait to tell him all about my trip. Of course, the pictures were the easiest way to share my adventure. So, I opened my laptop and whipped out all 450 photos! Poor guy, it was late and I was wide awake. While on the plane ride home I had edited and prepared my photos, so they were all ready to go. We sat up for a while and looked through all my photos and I explained the many highlights of the trip.

We finally got to bed, but sleep was impossible. So I got back up, worked on my journal and caught up on some bills. When I finally fell asleep about 4:00 am it didn’t last very long, only a few hours. At that point I decided I would try to stay up all day and then get a good night’s sleep.

Monday morning my mother came by and I had shared the events of my trip with her as she was anxious to hear every detail. It was good to see her again. Of course, the laundry was calling my name. I was completely exhausted but I managed to get through the day and finally fell into bed very early that night.

I returned to work on Tuesday, but still had not recovered. I was just not right. I felt disoriented and out of sorts. I even took a nap at lunch which I would never normally do. I finally got through the day and then headed for the gym. I certainly could use a good work out. The rest of week was not much better. I was very, very tired every day. This jetlag thing must be a real thing because it really kicked my butt. We had a long weekend to look forward to because of the Labor Day holiday, so I hoped I could catch up with my rest with an extra day off.

Well, it’s now Tuesday and I’ve been home over a week. Where has the time gone? Today was a much better day and I think I’m finally recovering from my trip. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’ve decided that I am going to blog my story about how Downs Designs got started. I think my blog page is the perfect place for me to share this incredible journey I’ve been on since I began creating Downs Designs. So many wonderful things have happened in my life since this idea was just a thought in my head. I’ve said all along, that none of this has anything to do with me. I think I’m just a vessel that’s been chosen to help people with Down syndrome have some options in their wardrobe choices and help them with the struggles of appropriately fitting clothes.

So, if you care to follow my story, I’ll find the time to share it with whoever wants to know. It’s been an amazing process that has taken me to another place in my life. It’s changed me as a person and given me a special purpose in my life. I’m 61 years old…I should be slowing down and thinking about doing less, but that is not the case. I’m busier than ever and loving every minute…Karen

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Our journey back home

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jillian and I got up early and packed up our things. We got ready for our journey home. We had plenty of time, so we walked back to our “favorite” restaurant…McDonald’s… and had our last meal in China. Yuan arrived on time about 8:00 am and we still had a little time to visit, so we went back to McDonalds one last time.

Now it was time to head to the train station. Yuan would stay with us until we got on the train. We loaded our luggage in the trunk of a cab and we were off. It was a quiet ride. My emotions were all over the place. I was excited to get home yet very sad to leave. It had been an experience I would never forget.

When we finally arrived at the train station, it was under construction as well and we were dropped off somewhere nearby. Thank God Yuan was with us because I would have never found my way without him. Once we got into the station, we had to buy our tickets and no one spoke English. Yuan helped us with all of that and we were so thankful he was there with us.

Saying goodbye was very sad for me. I wanted to pack him in my luggage and bring him home with me.  But we had to catch our train and head for home. We had a two-hour train ride back to Hong Kong, a 15-hour flight back to Canada and then a short flight back to Cleveland.

We finally got aboard the train but this train was so different from the one we came in on. It was very modern with two stories; it was more comfortable and much faster than the other one. It seemed like no time at all before we arrived at the train station in Hong Kong. By this time we were more familiar with the area and knew exactly what to do.

We grabbed a cab and headed for the Hong Kong airport.  We got to the airport and made our way through the airport processes. It wasn’t very crowded at all and the lines were very short. We finally boarded our plane and settled in for a long flight.

Time passed so much more quickly. I worked on my computer for hours writing my journal.  I also worked on editing all 450 pictures I took.  I even slept for a few hours this time. Before we knew it, we landed in Toronto. Going through American customs was the hardest of all; they were very thorough and it took a long time waiting in line. We had only a short wait before our plane took off and just like that, our trip was over.

Once we landed in Cleveland, it was like we never left. We were back home and our lives would return to normal. I hugged Jillian goodbye and went back to my car. Jillian is a great traveling partner and I look forward to many more trips together with her. I guess since she didn’t kill me, we must still be friends.

The ride home felt a little strange for me. I had waited for months for this trip and now it was over…just like that! We will need to travel to China every year to pick our fabrics for each year's clothes.  But our next trip will be so much easier.  The unknown is over and we will become seasoned travelers...Karen

Day 4 our last full day in China

Saturday, August 28, 2010

This was our last day before we headed for home. I was feeling sad about leaving. We have so many misconceptions about life in other countries and seeing firsthand how other people live has changed me. I’m grateful for our country and our abundance but I also see how happy people can be without so many “things”. It’s wonderful to see people respect each other and be grateful for what they have, no matter how minimal it may seem to us.
I also felt bad about leaving my friend, Yuan. We had become such good friends over the last year and finally meeting him sealed our friendship. Having a good friend helping Downs Designs grow makes our relationship even more special. Having someone who cares so much about making our clothes is a gift I have been given. His communication skills are excellent and I’m so thankful for all he has done for us.

On our last day, Yuan made plans for us. He’s planned a trip to a beautiful waterfall in the mountains that was about 2 hours out of town. Jillian and I were up very early, about 4:30 am. It was a good thing we got up that early because you should have seen the hair dryer in this room…OMG…it looked like a big vacuum cleaner hanging on the wall and it took us forever to dry our hair. We finished getting dressed and headed to the lobby for an early breakfast. This hotel had one of those “free” breakfasts included and we needed to eat before today’s excursion.

We tried to eat this food but I can’t tell you how bad it was. It was an attempt at French toast, an egg, sausage (that was only a funny looking hot dog) and orange juice. Not one item on this menu even vaguely tasted familiar. We remembered there was a McDonald’s around the corner so we ran there as fast as we could. I have to say one thing about being a blonde in China, we were a rare commodity. We were starred at everywhere we went. Walking down the street this morning was no different; I was feeling a bit uncomfortable.

We finally get to the McDonald’s and it felt good to be in familiar surroundings. Everything looked just like any other McDonald’s in the U.S. and menu was the same as well. We ordered our breakfast and when I attempted to pay, I realized I had brought the wrong money. I had brought Hong Kong dollars and not Chinese dollars.

So back to the hotel we went. I grabbed the right money this time and we walked back to McDonald’s for another try. A sausage sandwich and orange juice was our meal of choice. I’m not a big fan of fast food, but today it was like a gourmet meal. Every bite was a bit of heaven. To Hell with our cholesterol!!!

After we ate, we headed back to the hotel to wait for Yuan. He arrived on time! It was still early in the morning and the temperature was already very hot. We had to wait on the corner of the street for a bus. That was an experience in itself. Traffic was everywhere and so were the buses. I don’t know how Yuan knew which one to take, but the right one finally came along. He said we would ride this bus for quite a while to another bus station, and then change buses again.

The trip took about two hours. It was a very pleasant ride. The bus was air conditioned and it really felt good to be out of the heat. I couldn’t believe the change in life style once we were out of the city. The farmers live very differently. I saw cows along the way, but they didn’t look like cows in the U.S. They actually looked Asian. Yuan explained that these cows are not eaten, they are used for work. I saw no horses; instead, cows are used for pulling their plows.

We finally arrived at the park. You could see this beautiful, white waterfall very far up the mountain side. We walked for quite a while before we got to the base of the mountain. There were thousands of steps that would take us to the top. The steps at this point were made out of wood and followed along the side of the water. It was beautiful. The huge rocks made for many waterfalls along the way. It was still fairly early and there weren’t too many people but the heat was almost unbearable already.

We climbed for hours and I was able to take so many beautiful pictures. The water was chrystal clear. As we got higher up the mountain, the steps became steeper and wooden steps became stone steps. We held on to the railing tighter and tighter. It seemed like bus loads of people were beginning to arrive. We were hot and tired but the scenery was worth it!

Finally about 2:00 pm we stopped and Yuan spoke with some people who were coming down the mountain. They told him we still had about a three hour climb to the top. We couldn’t believe it. We had climbed almost 2000 feet up and we still had another 2000 feet to go? At that point we thought we better start heading back. We weren’t sure how long it would take us and it was getting late in the afternoon.
So we started our descent. It was obviously much faster coming down than going up. More and more people were there at this point and it was more difficult getting through the crowds. The heat had drained us and people were jumping in the water to cool off. It looked inviting I must admit. We finally made it back to the bus and climbed aboard. The air conditioning felt wonderful! The ride back was quiet. We were very tired. Jillian wasn’t feeling too well and she couldn’t wait to get back the room. We think she was suffering from elevation sickness.

Yuan dropped us off back at our hotel and we agreed we would meet for dinner later. It was our last night and I looked forward to a quiet dinner together. A shower was definitely in order. Poor Jillian just wanted to sleep so she climbed into bed and was out like a light! The shower felt great but I had to deal with that hair dryer again…OMG!

About 8:00 pm, Yuan arrived. Jillian did not want to go with us so I left her there sound asleep. Yuan and I walked to a local restaurant and had our last dinner together. We enjoyed a great meal and talked for several hours. It was nice having a one on one conversation with him. We talked about his childhood; we talked about their government and we talked about what he wanted for his future.

Yuan is highly intelligent and very educated. He speaks out strongly about the things that bother him and he would like to see changes in the way the government runs his country. I learned about how the young people feel about their government through his eyes. They want to make a difference. Because the internet has opened up the world to China the people know there is another way of life. I’m so proud to know him!

After dinner, we walked the busy streets. Not far from our hotel, was another big shopping mall. The malls are on many floors in China. Each floor is a different department; such as, women’s clothes on one floor and men’s clothes are on another. I still didn’t see anything I wanted to buy and the clothes were way too small for me.

It was getting late and it was time to head back to the hotel. I was tired and we were leaving the next day. It was going to be a long flight home. I said goodnight to Yuan and headed up to my room. Jillian was just waking and we talked for a short while. She said I fell asleep in the middle of a sentence. I was truly exhausted by this time. Anticipation for our trip back home didn’t keep me from a good night’s sleep tonight...Karen

Day 3 of our China Adventure

Friday, August 27, 2010

Jillian and I got ready for the day and headed to the hotel restaurant for another delicious breakfast. When we finished eating, we waited for Yuan to arrive, but again he was late. I felt so bad for what he went through every morning to pick us up. When he finally arrived, we packed up our things and checked out of the hotel. We took a taxi to the new hotel outside of Guangzhou not far from where Yuan lived. When we pulled up to the front entrance, I was little nervous. But once inside, it wasn’t so bad. Nothing like the Hyatt, I will admit, but at least it was more convenient for poor Yuan. It was within walking distance from his apartment and not far from the jeans factory. For that reason alone, it was worth the downgrade. Besides, I saw several McDonalds very close by and their food was looking mighty tasty by this time!

Once we checked in, we all ate lunch together in the hotel restaurant. This restaurant did not have very good food, but the fried rice was satisfactory. Then we went back to the jeans factory. Yuan wanted to prepare gifts for us he said. He was going to have his company make us each a pair of custom made jeans. He wanted to get our measurements and wanted us to design them however we wanted. What a special treat this was. I was thrilled to have something custom made and embroidered especially for me. It meant a lot to him to do this for us. But instead of jeans, I chose a jeans skirt and, of course, Jillian could fit into a pair of those “skinny” jeans! They will begin making these for us very soon and send them to us later.

We took a tour of the factory, floor by floor, and were amazed at the skills of the people who worked there. There were no modern computers or lazars for cutting. Everything was done by hand or on a sewing machine. On one floor, two men were laying out the fabric on a huge cutting table. Yuan explained the process to us. They stack the fabric sometimes 300 layers high. The pattern pieces are laid out on top of the stack and then the workers use a large “jigsaw” type saw to cut out each pattern piece. In the U.S., this would be done by a computer and lazar. One woman I watched was putting a stencil on a pocket piece. She had some sort of white solution that she brushed over a stencil that sat on top of a large stack of pocket pieces. She was as fast as any machine; her hands moved like lightening. She would stencil each pocket piece so it could be embroidered with stitching.

On another floor, the pieces are sewn together by the sewing staff. It was a large room with many people at sewing machines. Each person had just one job. I watched one man sew the flat felt seam from one end of the pant leg, around the crotch and down to the other end of the pant leg. It may have taken two or three seconds. I watched in amazement how fast he could do this. He had a stack on one side of work to be done and on the other side of him was his completed stack. Parts and pieces were everywhere. Some people wore masks, others did not. The fabric dust was everywhere and scraps of denim lay in piles.

The next floor we toured was the shipping department. The people on this floor inspected and packaged the jeans and prepared them for shipping. It seemed like a very simple process here.

After our tour of the factory, you guessed it; it was time for another meal. So, we’re off to a different restaurant. It’s Friday night and dinner was even more of an event. We were joined by many other people. The meal turned into an enormous feast, so many different dishes. They just kept bringing more and more food. I tried many of them and most were very delicious. But, the restaurant got really crowded and smoking was allowed…I couldn’t wait to get some fresh air.

When dinner was over, we went to a shopping mall nearby. We shopped with the owner of the factory. She was so kind and bought us each a small gift. We walked around for awhile and finally headed back to our hotel.

Yuan had a special night planned. In China, the young people love to go to a place called KTV. I was definitely out of place here. This place consisted of individual party rooms where they gather to eat, drink beer and sing Karaoke all night long. They also played some sort of dice game which I really didn’t understand. Jillian joined in and played for a few hours. They really had a great time. I think this was their way of unwinding after working long, hard hours all week. No man was embarrassed to sing; they each took their turn. Yuan chose all his songs in English. We got such a kick out of watching him sing; he’ll be ready for American Idol very soon!

We had a good time but it was getting late and we were tired. So we asked if someone could drop us off at our hotel. Saturday would be our last day and Yuan was taking us to a place called White Water Valley. I knew it would be hot and we needed to get a good night’s rest. Back in our room, I collapsed on the bed and was fast asleep in no time...Karen

Day 2 of our China Adventure

Thursday, August 26, 2010

As usual, I woke up very early in the morning, today it was 3:30 am. I started writing my journal yesterday and today, as I sat quietly trying not to disturb Jillian, my writing continued. Documenting this journey as it happened is very important to me. I want to remember every detail.

When Jillian woke up, it was time to get ready for another new day. Still no flat iron! Yuan was going to meet us at 10:00 am today so we took our time getting ready and then went down to the restaurant for another delicious breakfast. The food in the restaurant was fantastic. We could chose from an amazing buffet of Asian and American style foods.

After we ate, we headed for the lobby to wait. Yuan called to let us know he was on the way and said he would be arriving in 20 minutes…which we guessed would be an hour. We were right! Once he arrived, we had to wait for the owner of the shirt factory to pick us up…more waiting.

After the owner finally arrives, Yuan introduces us and, of course, he speaks no English. He is the owner of the factory that will be making our shirts. By this time, guess what, it’s time for lunch. He takes us to a beautiful hotel restaurant that is near his factory. We head up to the 5th floor to a private room. When we get into the room there are others there waiting for us. The feast begins. He orders a large variety of foods and we were at a loss as to what to eat. Many of the foods were looking back at us. We tried being polite and tasted several of the different dishes which were actually very tasty. It took several hours to complete the meal. The owner commented many times that woman my age in China do not usually work and he admired me for the business I was starting. He continually gave me a “thumbs up” with a twinkle in his eye. He was so friendly and gracious. Thank God we had Yuan to help us communicate!

When lunch was over we walked to his factory which was right around the corner. We had to climb several flights of stairs to get to the office and showroom area. The temperature was very hot and the building was stifling. Air conditioning is not what we’re used to. The air conditioners are large, individual units that look like a big refrigerator in the room. They didn’t turn it on until we got there so the room was very warm. We all sat down on a large sofa that surrounded a very unusual coffee table. The coffee table was designed to serve tea in a very unique way. We had the same type of seating when we visited the jeans factory; it must be their way. The owner sat at the head of the table and prepared the tea. He was very talkative and Yuan was doing a wonderful job interpreting but still the conversation was difficult. As I became more comfortable, we got down to business. Next he took us into his enormous showroom. This company manufacturers many things that we will be making later on as we grow. They are a local manufacturer and have never made clothes for people from other countries and especially not for people with Down syndrome. But we were very pleased with the quality of their work and plan to continue to work with them in the future.

The next order of business was to take a tour of the factory. It was very impressive. Again, in their standards, this place was very modern. I will be happy to do business with them and I liked how the factory looked.

We went back to his office where we discussed our shirts. He brought us many types of fabrics from which to choose. Jillian and I decided to go with 100% cotton. We picked some fun colors and discussed price. He invited us to stay for dinner but I graciously declined. We just couldn’t face another creature looking us in the face; besides, Yuan had promised to take us to a shopping mall.

The owner was so kind and drove us back into town. He dropped us off at this enormous shopping mall: so many floors and stores. I’ve seen nothing like it in the U.S. People were everywhere. I needed to find a FLAT IRON! We headed up to the fourth floor where all the electronic stores were located. We were completely shocked at the prices of their electronic equipment…almost double the price in the U.S. We looked at computers with common brand names and they were outrageously expensive. Even the flat iron was more than I should have paid.

The clothes were much too small for us and we just couldn’t find anything of interest to buy. It was getting late and Yuan had to get back to his apartment. He wanted us to take a taxi back to our hotel but we wanted to walk. We said our goodbyes and thanked him for being so helpful.

It took us about 25 minutes, but we needed the exercise. It felt good! When we got back to the hotel, we headed to the restaurant for some dinner. It was about 9:00 pm and the restaurant would be closing soon. We ate dinner then headed back to our room. Yuan had asked if he could get us a hotel nearer to his town. He had made plans for us to do some site seeing and the long distance back and forth would make the plans more difficult. We agreed we would move to another hotel closer to where he lived because the traveling time for him was just too much. I was a little unsure about giving up all the comforts of the Hyatt for a hotel I knew nothing about but we only had 2 days left and I felt very bad about how much time Yuan was spending on a bus or in a taxi. So in the morning we would move...Karen

Friday, September 3, 2010

Arrived in China - our first full day!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It seemed we had lost two whole days of our lives…we left Cleveland on Monday morning and now it was Wednesday morning. Where had those two days gone? But, it was our first day of business and our plans were to go to the jeans factory and pick out our fabrics and accessories. I wanted to see for myself where our clothes were being manufactured. Choosing the fabric is so important and we must be here in person to do that.

We showered and prepared for the day. I had brought an outlet adaptor for our electronic devices to plug in to. But when I plugged in our hair dryer smoke instantly starts pouring out of it. I quickly shut it off. I had no idea what just happened. Luckily, the hotel room had a hair dryer so we were able to use that one. The next problem was my flat iron. I was afraid to plug it in now because I realized that it might catch on fire if I did. What was I to do now? My hair was a disaster. I did my best with the hair dryer, but I knew I was in for a “bad hair day”! I needed to buy a flat iron somewhere here in China that would work in their outlets.

Our plans were to meet Yuan in the lobby at 9:00 am. He was coming with the owner of the company to pick us up as he does not drive. We had a great breakfast in the hotel restaurant and proceeded to the lobby to wait for our ride. We waited for almost two hours. Apparently, the traffic was so jammed up due to construction in the city that it took them almost three hours to get here from their factory that was only one hour away. I felt terrible that it took them so long.

After meeting the owner, who spoke absolutely no English, we headed for the jeans factory. The ride was another “nail biter”. I just can’t believe the disorder on the streets. We finally arrived in one piece at their facility. The appearance is not what we expect to find in the United States but I am beginning to see how different this culture is from ours and their way of life is not ours. What appears to us as very unusual is completely normal for them. We went inside and were seated in the main office. The smell of incense burning is pungent but not unpleasant. Yuan introduced us to the owner’s wife who actually runs the factory. She is another reason I liked this factory…its run by a woman! Conversations are very difficult as none of these people speak English. Yuan is our only source of communication and I look to him every step of the way.

By now its lunch time and we were taken to a restaurant not far away. Jillian and I were about to experience real Chinese food. They seated us in a private room for lunch and we were given menus we couldn’t read. So we looked at the pictures and Yuan helped us to choose our foods.

The food was delicious and very spicy. Jillian actually had a pizza that was the best I’ve ever tasted but it was also very spicy. I stuck with a more traditional meal of fried rice. It was simple but full of such a different flavor. The meal was quite a feast and was eaten very slowly. Our observation so far was that people are very laid back, they work at their own pace and their meals are very important, almost ritualistic. They don’t seem in any hurry at all and it appeared that time didn’t matter. Yuan explained that his everyday habit was to eat his lunch very quickly and run home for a 2 hour nap.

After lunch we got to work. We spent several hours with their fabric specialist making decisions for every detail of our jeans. Their people are extremely knowledgeable and I feel very confident in their abilities. But in truth, their facilities are not like factories in the United States. They would never pass an OSHA inspection that’s for sure! Their workers have a lot of experience and seem very happy in their jobs. The conditions were not what we would expect in the United States, but I didn’t feel bad or uncomfortable with their surroundings.

By this time, dinner was the next order of business. Another ritual we were to experience. We took a cab to a different restaurant which was very crowded and no private room was available. Yuan was uncomfortable eating in a large crowd. He said he preferred to eat at 8:00 or 9:00 pm after the crowds thinned out. All workers stop working and everything closes down during their lunch and dinner hours. This restaurant served another type of food, Cantonese, which is not as spicy. I stuck to the fried rice but I did taste some of the other foods that were served. Eating in this restaurant was different from the last one, it didn’t look as appetizing as I would have liked, but strangely enough was quite delicious. How do they make so many flavors?

From there it got a little hairy. Apparently the taxi driver was invited to eat dinner with us but he refused. When we finished our dinner, he was still waiting. When we got in the taxi, the conversation between Yuan, the owner and the taxi driver became a little heated. I knew they were disagreeing about the fees. Yuan explained to us that in China the taxis wait for the rides to finish their dinner and cannot charge for that time. This taxi driver had left his meter running and they were not going to pay him for that time. Finally we headed back to the factory dropped of the owner and said goodbye to Yuan. He gave the taxi driver enough money for our trip back to Guangzhou, an hour away….

Okay, we were a little uncomfortable with this driver but Yuan assured us we would be fine. It was a long ride back to our hotel. Again, insanity was everywhere…how could anyone survive these crazy drivers or the drivers survive these crazy people.

Because the city was preparing for the Asian Games, construction was everywhere. The roads were being rebuilt and new skyscrapers were being added everywhere the eye could see. This made travel in the city even more difficult. Getting to our hotel became very confusing for our driver. We saw the hotel, but he couldn’t find a way to get to it. We finally tried to tell him we would get out and walk but he had absolutely no idea what we were talking about. He pulled over as we tried to explain we wanted to walk to our hotel, but he didn’t understand us. I had no Chinese money to give him and I felt bad for the time it took him to drive us back to our hotel. I tried to give him a $20.00 bill in American money but he had no idea what it was. So finally I handed him the money Yuan had given us and the $20.00 US dollars from me and we hopped out of the cab. We made our way through the mayhem of traffic and finally arrived back at our hotel…happy to have survived the ride back.

The day had actually been a very good one. We had gotten so much accomplished. The main purpose of our trip was nearly completed. A little celebration seemed to be in order, so we headed for the lounge for a cocktail. We sat for a while listening to a woman sing, had a drink that was actually not very good, then headed back to our room for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we were meeting with the people from the shirt factory...Karen

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My trip to China

I will start my blog with the diary of my trip to China.  Jillian, my designer, and I made the journey to see the factory where our jeans and shirts are going to made.  The trip was necessary to choose our fabrics and accessories.  The experience was so memorable, I wanted to journalize every detail.  It may be a little long and too wordy, but it is important to me remember all the details.  I'll start from the beginning:

Monday, Tuesday, August 23, 24, 2010

I woke up at 2:30 am but sleep had been very sporadic. I had been waiting for this day for months and the anticipation was beyond description. My husband slept soundly as I got ready for my journey. Everything had been carefully packed and completely organized. I was totally prepared but had no idea what to expect. I kissed him goodbye and I was out the door at 4:00 am headed for China!

I was meeting Jillian at the Cleveland airport at 5:00 am for a 6:40 takeoff to Toronto. Our flight to Hong Kong was leaving from there at 10:00 am. We were flying Air Canada all the way. Our first plane was a small one, not even a jet. It only took one hour to get there and then we had a two hour layover.

Flying to Hong Kong was going to take a long time…15 hours! I wasn’t afraid or worried. We were actually flying first class on an enormous jet. We had our own individual pods that were very comfortable with every convenience. The seat was completely adjustable in all positions, even a bed. We had movies galore to watch and all kinds of different programs to keep us busy. 

We tried to sleep, but it was not possible. Not sure why, but I was just wide awake. I may have dozed for 10 or 15 minutes once during the entire flight. The flight was uneventful but very, very long. 
Our landing was perfect in Hong Kong. Not a glitch. We got off the plane with no idea what was in store for us. The airport was very large and very busy. The weather was rainy and humid. I think the temperature was fairly cool because of the rain; it may have been in the high 70’s. My contact in China, Yuan Yi, had sent me all the information to get from Hong Kong to Guanghzou, China. He had everything prepared for us and even wrote it in Chinese in case we couldn’t find someone who spoke English. I tried right away to call him and let him know we had arrived safely in Hong Kong but I had no service on my cell phone and was unable to call as I had promised I would. This made a little angry because I had my phone set up to handle international calls before I left.

We followed the crowd through the airport, not exactly sure where we were going. First we made our way through customs. It went very smoothly. Then we found our way to baggage claim and were thankful to find both bags coming around the conveyor. Now where were we to go?

We had to get to a train station in Hong Kong that was about 30 minutes from the airport. Our next challenge was to find a taxi to get us there. Then Jillian remembered we needed to exchange our American dollars so we looked for somewhere to find Hong Kong money. We found an ATM machine and thought we got $100.00 but in reality, we got 100 Hong Kong dollars which was not worth very much. The taxi driver was very nice and took our American money. The actual cost was only 40 dollars and a tip!

It was pouring down rain when we arrived at the station. Once at the station, there was a place to exchange money. Next I purchased two tickets to Guangzhou, China. We had about an hour to wait. Since my phone didn’t work I needed to use a pay phone. Calling Guangzhou from Hong Kong was not so easy. Nothing we tried worked. Luckily, there was a very nice lady at the phone booth who spoke English. She was able to make a successful call to Yuan for us and told him we were okay and would arrive at Guangzhou at 6:30 pm. Luckily for us she was taking the same train. We stuck to her like glue and she led us in the right direction.

The train took 2 hours and I felt very sad during this time. The train was full of very typical people who, for reasons of their own, were coming or going. Some had luggage and others had shopping bags. It was a quiet ride and the sound of the “clickity clack” should have put us to sleep. But I couldn’t stop looking out the window. Poverty was everywhere. People lived in huge, tall buildings in very small apartments. Laundry hung outside on their little balconies in every unit. You could tell air pollution was not controlled, the buildings were very dirty. It made me feel very sorry for these people. As we traveled through the countryside, I saw shacks that people lived in that were right next to their rice patties and gardens. It was raining very hard, but people still kept working. It looked like a picture from a magazine. They wore their large straw hats and rode bicycles everywhere.

We finally arrived at the train station in Guangzhou, China. I knew Yuan would be there waiting for us. I was so excited to finally meet him after all these months of communicating. But first we had to go through customs in China…the lines were very long. It took about 30 or 40 minutes but finally it was over! As we walked toward the exit, there he was…just as I had pictured him.

First, I should tell you how I met this young man and how he has become such an important part of Downs Designs. Yuan is 27 years old and the sales representative for the jeans manufacturer that is making our jeans. After attempting to find an American company failed due to their high costs, I was forced to seek a factory outside of the United States. I had help with this by a fellow who was making golf shirts overseas. He explained the ways of finding an overseas manufacturer and guided me through the process.

I joined a website that was set up for finding international business. All I needed to do was post what I wanted to manufacturer. My request read something like this: “I am looking for a manufacturer to make jeans for people with Down syndrome. They require a special size.” Immediately, people from all over the world began to contact me. I was overwhelmed with companies seeking my business. How could I possibly know who these people were? Communication was by instant messaging and I got many pictures of “skinny jeans”. I knew they had no idea what I was talking about.

Then I was contacted by Andy Yen who introduced himself to me. This is the name that Yuan goes by for business purposes. I could tell he spoke very good English by his writing and I felt something through our communication that was different from the others. It was more of an instinct than anything else. I explained that I would need to make a size that was not standard and would require special sizing. I told him that these jeans would be for people with Down syndrome. I couldn’t believe what happened next…he sent me a picture of a fellow named “Tom Weggie”. In the picture, Tom Weggie was directing a symphony…and he had Down syndrome! I knew then that Yuan understood. I knew I had found the factory that was going to make our jeans. Without his help all these months, none of this would have been possible. Yuan has become an important part of Downs Designs and also my dearest friend. I’m not exactly sure what I would have done without him.

Now that I have explained how I came to know our sales representative, I can get back to our journey.

We left the train station by taxi and Yuan told us the hotel was not far away, but it took us over 30 minutes. I cannot put into words what that experience was like…OMG! It was dark by this time, now after 7:00 pm. Road construction was everywhere, people were everywhere and traffic was insane. Everyone in China drives like a crazy person. People were on bicycles, people were walking everywhere in the streets and sidewalks, cars swerved in and out, and scooters zipped between the cars with no regard for anything else on the road. I don’t know how anyone could survive on these roads, but this chaos all seemed normal to them. When I tell you their horns worked…I mean that was their main means of communicating.

Yuan described to us how long it takes to get a driver’s license in China. He explained that it was very difficult and expensive, and that it required a long schooling period. I wondered why if everyone had to take a lot of driving classes, why didn’t any of them know how to drive? I think they must have skipped the class on tail-gating and the one where the pedestrian has the right of way was not even on the curriculum! Another interesting factor was that they could only drive on certain days of the week. I thought about what the traffic would have been like if everyone had been able to drive on the same day…I can only imagine.

We finally arrived at our hotel; it was right in the middle of this huge, enormous city. Tall skyscrapers were everywhere. I had made reservations at a Hyatt Hotel and couldn’t wait to finally get to our room. The two-day journey had taken its toll. We figured we hadn’t slept in almost 35 hours but I was surprisingly not tired at all. Adrenaline was still flowing through my veins.

Our hotel was like any other Hyatt in United States. The people were extremely friendly and courteous and our room was beautiful. We dropped our luggage off in the room, brushed our teeth, changed our clothes and headed for the restaurant. By this time it was about 8:30 pm and we were hungry. After dinner, we said goodbye to Yuan. He lived about an hour outside Guangzhou and still had to find transportation home, which apparently would not be a problem.

Jillian and I headed back to our room, praying that we could finally sleep. We sat up for a while trying to absorb what had just happened over the last 2 days and couldn’t believe the journey we had just experienced. But we were here safe and sound and ready for a good night’s sleep. After a while of restlessness, I was finally able to sleep. But at 4:30 am….I’m up and wide awake!!!! I couldn’t believe it, how could that be.

This explains our first two days which were all travel time.  I'll write another blog soon to continue our journey...Karen