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.
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 a while 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.
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 choose 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.
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 either, 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 off 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.
The next part of my story, I will take directly from the journal I wrote while in China. 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 to 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 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.Our flight to Hong Kong was leaving from Toronto at 10:00 am.
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 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, Yi Yuan, had sent me all the information to get from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, 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 train 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 again 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 general manager 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 businesses. 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 contact in China, 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 anyone 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.
We returned home from the conference filled with excitement.The experience was amazing and we learned so much more about our clients and what they wanted and needed.I think this conference was a major turning point for us in what we were doing.It was important to see so many different shapes and sizes.It was really important to speak with so many parents and hear their struggles.It gave us ideas for change and improvement and motivated us to work even harder because the need for appropriate fitting clothes was even greater than we had realized.
Returning home we knew we had more work to do.We took our jeans back to the drawing board.We needed to make improvements to them.Our shirts needed some small changes too.It was our most important task to complete these two items, because it would be impossible to move forward with any other clothing items without a basic pair of pants and a T shirt that fit.
Changing the waistband was our top priority.We needed to get rid of ribbing and make the waistband out of denim.I knew we needed to have elastic in some way, but I didn’t want them to look like sweatpants waistbands.I wanted them to look like a regular pair of jeans.Well, as usual when I need an answer to something, it just appears!I was shopping one day at the mall and saw the perfect type band.It was about 2 inches wide and the crinkles were pressed into the band which gave it a completely different look.It didn’t look so gathered and looked so much better than the heavily gathered elastic bands.We would also include a working zipper and an easy hook fastener, but with the elastic, most could actually get them on and off without using the zipper. We’d only make the elastic three quarters of the way around as well.Most of the front would not be gathered which would make them look so much better.
Now about the “Dip Downs”?We really needed to come up with something for the many who didn’t like to wear anything around their waists.It would have to be a full elastic band though in order for it to stay up.We worked on this one for quite some time.When we finished the pattern, we sent it off to the factory for a test sample. Actually, there would be many attempts to get this waistband to work. We would have to wait to see how our theory would play out.
The shirts needed a little “tweaking”, too, but they basically fit pretty well.We needed to shorten the length and make more room in the upper arm.We didn’t like the stretchy fabric either, so we decided to use a cotton fabric and, of course, we would pick some cool colors.
Before we left for the conference I had decided that a trip to China was vital. I had booked a flight August 23, for both of us.I felt very strongly about seeing the factories where our clothes were being made.Even though I had a great relationship with my contact in China, I wanted to see for myself where our clothes were actually produced.It was also important to choose the fabric ourselves for the jeans and shirts.I wanted to touch and feel the fabric.I wanted our jeans and shirts to be soft and comfortable.But I couldn’t do it myself; I would need Jillian to be with me and she didn’t have a passport, so before we left for the conference, she had applied for one and we hoped when we got home, it would be there by then.
Well, it was not.We were leaving for China soon and still needed to get our visas after she got her passport.But as everything else seems to work out for us, a few days later her passport arrived.We immediately sent them off to New York City for our visas.Time was getting close and we needed our passports and visas in order to get on the plane. But, the visas arrived just before we left…the timing couldn’t have been planned more perfectly…another divine intervention for sure!