I wake up about 6:00 AM and I’m wide awake. Yuan said he would pick me up at 9:00 AM so I have plenty of time. I work on my computer for a while then I get ready for the day. By 9:00 AM, I’m ready and waiting to be picked up. I can’t watch TV here because there is nothing in English so I’m a little bored and hungry. Well, I wait and wait and, of course, he’s late. He calls at 9:30 and says he will be here in ten minutes and to wait in the lobby. So I head down to the lobby and it’s very hot. But I sit there for another 30 minutes and finally he arrives…late again!!!
I try to be mad at him, but he’s just too darn sweet. It’s impossible to feel that kind of emotion towards him. He apologizes many times, but I know the next time he will late again. I don’t think he arrived on time last year either. I think this culture is very different about punctuality. Most are very casual and laid back. Again he has his friend pick us up in his car and we drive to the factory.
In, February, 2011, Yuan left the factory where I first met him. He was the general manager of that factory, but he and another very experienced man in the industry started their own jeans factory. He named his factory Jeansburg, and I was very excited to see his new place. I'm so proud of him for stepping out of his comfort zone and putting everything on the line to have his own business. He is so honorable and has so many work ethics, that he didn’t feel other places met his high standards and the only way he could achieve his goals was to have his own jeans factory and be in charge of his own business. It really gives me peace to be working with him and having him a big part of Downs Designs. Without his help, we could not possibly have gotten this far.Well, the early morning temperature here is very hot and it’s starting to climb. The humidity feels like 100% but it’s not raining. My hair is already a disaster and I know that as the day goes on, it’s only going to get worse.
We drive into what appears a nicer part of town; the buildings look very new. Of course, everything here is small square footage per floor, but with multiple floors; his factory has five floors. The place is buzzing with activity and we head into his office. NO air conditioning anywhere, not even the small office where he spends his day. In this office there are four small desks; one desk is for him and then a desk for a young girl named Lisa, who he is training to be a contact person. A contact person is someone who is a sales representative for the company. Lisa also speaks a little English and is very nice. His partner, the production manager also has a desk here and there is another desk that appears to be unused so I sit down and set up my computer. The room is merely a place where work is done; there are no fancy offices for the owners with fancy desks and secretaries. Here they don’t feel the need for status; they come to work every day and focus on all the things that matter.Their day starts early and ends late. Yuan usually arrives around 10:00 am and works until 2:00 or 3:00 am. Their lives are very different in this culture and they work hard. But the factory workers take many long breaks during the day. They take several hours for the lunch and several hours for dinner and they are free to leave if necessary. Their rooms and meals are provided by the factory owners as well. They make various wages based on their skill levels and are paid a fair hourly wage. I do not see unhappy people working. Music is playing and people are laughing, so I feel good about the environment in his factory.
We first work on selecting fabrics for the men’s jeans we are remaking. Then we decide on the denim for the children and youth size jeans. He has swatches brought in from a local fabrics store with the fabrics that I suggested before I came. I’m very happy with the look and feel of the fabric and choose the ones I like the best. The quality is very good and they feel great, very soft and stretchy. I only hope Jillian and Cara are happy with my choices.
Last week Jillian and Cara made a trip to New York City to visit some friends. While they were there, they went to a store called Mood. It’s a huge fabrics store where they were able to bring back swatches of the type of fabrics they want me to select for many of the items they are designing. Because I’m not an expert in this area, I let the girls decide the type of fabric needed for the different clothing items we are making.
By about 2:00 pm we finally get out for some lunch. We go to a local restaurant and finally cool down, this place has air conditioning. Lunch here was not so good, they had no fried rice, so I had some sort of potato or squash, not sure what it was. We walked back and I couldn’t believe the fabrics stores, literally thousands and thousands in this area of nothing be denim shops. Like I said, this town is the jeans capital of the world and if you can imagine the need for jeans factories that produce jeans for the entire world, you can relate to what they do here.
We came back to the factory and the heat is nauseating. With no air conditioning anywhere in the factory, there is no relief from the temperature or the high humidity. But, I finally get a tour of his new business and I’m amazed at what he has built in just a short time. The second floor is the cutting room where the fabric is stacked and cut into pattern pieces on a huge metal table. The next two floors are sewing floors where the pattern pieces are sewn together. Most workers are not working now because they work in different stages. Each person specializes in a different part of the jeans so unless they are swamped with orders not all sewers work at the same time.
At 7:00 PM we are picked up by his good friend and have been invited to join his friend for dinner with about 40 other people. The bank where his friend works is celebrating a good sale and have all been treated for dinner. People here celebrate everything around food. Food is abundant here despite what you may think. They live in such small dwellings that most do not have kitchens. So eating out in restaurants is their way of life. In large groups, food is served in a family style fashion. Dish after dish after dish is brought to the table with every kind of food you can imagine. Each table has a huge lazy Suzan in the middle and the dishes are passed around. I don’t mind tasting new foods, as most are very delicious, but if the food looks back at me, I’m just not interested.
After about two hours of meeting new people and not understanding one word of any conversation, we head back to the factory. We meet with the patterner late but at least it’s much cooler. What a great guy he is and very knowledgeable. He speaks not one word of English, but, as usual, Yuan is my translator. We’re working out a huge crotch problem in the men’s jeans and he guides me with his skillful advice. They will remake the samples with the changes we have made and the children’s and the youth size problems are also discussed. I hope this next set of samples is finally correct. I don’t want any more mistakes this time so I am being much more cautious with my decision on when to start production.It’s now about 11:00 PM and we finish up our meeting and now it’s time to eat again. The production manager, the patterner, Yuan and I are now head out to another restaurant at this late hour. It’s their culture here! We walk to a small outdoor restaurant around the corner and they order a few dishes. Wow, this meal was really very good. I can’t believe how different they can make food taste. I really enjoy their company even with our lack of communication. They try to teach me a little Chinese but have a good laugh as I struggle to pronounce their language. I think Chinese is probably one of the hardest languages to learn. I’m not sure I could every master it.
So, after dinner Yuan walks me back to my hotel and we say goodnight. It’s about a 20 minute walk but the streets are still alive with people. I’m not afraid at all here in the city streets this late at night. Because the punishment for crime is very high and no guns are allowed, the streets are very safe. I have learned that everything we read is not necessarily true.
Back in my hotel room now, it’s time to check in with the office and see how things are going. Skype is such a great tool and saves lots of money on phone calls. I spend about an hour with Jillian and Cara discussing the day’s events, answer a few emails and check my Facebook page. Here in China, Facebook is blocked, but with remote access, I’m able to connect to my office computer in Mentor and get online there. I never thought about that method when I left home and thought I would be out of touch on my Facebook page. I love posting our events and sharing our progress on Facebook. So far there are 1,100 people who have joined my Downs Designs page. I think it’s important for those who are interested to know exactly what we’re doing and how we are coming along. Finally about 2:00 AM I get some sleep.