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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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Back in China for a Third Time October 17, 2011

I think I am now a seasoned traveler to the jeans factory in China.  This trip seems very simple and less complicated now.  I know exactly what I have to do and where I have to go.  I know how much money I need to exchange for both Hong Kong and China because where I go in China does not take American money or American credit cards.  I even know which train to catch and where to get the taxis.  Now if I only knew Chinese!

I think it is probably one of the most important trips I have made.  There are some things that cannot be handled by phone, Skype or instant messaging.  Being here and speaking with the manufacturer face to face is vital and with the language challenges, it makes it much easier to explain our issues in person.

People ask me why I make this trip and I can say with all honesty, I MUST!  If we are to solve the ongoing problems, than I must be here several times a year.  Also picking the fabrics cannot be done through the mail, it’s important for me to see and feel the variety of fabrics myself.  I think the quality of our clothing will be much better by being here in person on a regular basis.  The trip is brutally long and expensive but the value of being here is priceless.

This is not a fun trip or a place I would come for a vacation.  I’m deep into southern China where the living standards are not what most would feel comfortable.  The weather is hot and there is no pollution control.  The streets are packed with people, cars and scooters everywhere and crossing the street is like playing “Frogger”.  No one speaks English and my blonde hair is like a neon sign over my head.  

Andy Yen
But I love the people and all the help they have given me.  Because of one man, Andy Yen, who is   the owner of jeans factory, my interpreter and my friend, I am able to communicate with everyone with whom I need to be involved and learn the ways of the Chinese manufacturers.  He has been my teacher of this industry for almost two years and without him, we could not accomplish our goals. He has persistently stuck by me through all our difficulties and has helped solve many problems during our development.  There are not enough words to describe what his help has meant to me.  He has made Downs Designs his top priority until we finally launch our children’s jeans.  He knows how important it is to get our jeans completed for all ages as soon as possible but he also knows how difficult this has been for my designers and his pattern makers as well.  We are virtually inventing the wheel in the fashion industry.

October 19, 2011
Our first day of full business was an important meeting, probably the primary reason I am here.  I met with his new pattern maker.  He has hired the most skillful of teams to be his pattern makers and sample makers and this alone, speaks of his integrity and his desire to have a successful jeans manufacturing facility.  His standards are very high and his sincerity is beyond reproach. 

Through interpreting only, I spoke with the pattern maker.  I could tell he had many skills in this field.  We discussed the waistband problems that we have been having consistently and I’m hoping that we have now solved them.  The Chinese have their own ways of doing things and it’s important for us to learn their ways.  But after our conversation yesterday, I think they will follow our design style of measuring the waistbands.  It seems that the difference in how they measure has been a large problem and the reason for the constant discrepancy in the size of the waists.  They will make new samples while I am here and I hope we will have good results this time.

October 20, 2011
Our second day of business was spent at the fabric shops.  I chose some other denim options for our next round of jeans.  Once we finish the patterns successfully and I find our first batch of jeans to be a good fit, I want to immediately start another batch of jeans of different fabric and style.  I also want to start some casual dress pants, khaki, black and navy colors.  I want to finally offer some casual dress pants for other occasions.  Here I ran into a snag right away.  I want a wrinkle-free fabric for our casual wear.  NOTHING like it at all!  I must have gone into about 20 shops and not one shop had a wrinkle-free khaki.  Mmmmm, this is a dilemma to me now.

Later that night, I contacted Jillian and told her of this situation.  She checked online and it appears the treatment to make them wrinkle free is applied after they are made.  No one knew that here.  Andy only specializes in jeans, so he was not aware of this method. The store owners don’t speak a word of English and had no idea what I was talking about.  So we must do more research on the khaki fabric.  Nothing is ever simple, that’s for sure.

October 21, 2011
The third day of business blew my mind.  We went out of the city to see the “wash” factory.  This is what actually makes the jeans…jeans.  It’s difficult to explain the amazing process to manufacture a pair of jeans.  It’s like no other fabric in the world.  When we go to a store and buy a pair of jeans, we have no idea all the work that goes into manufacturing them. 

Andy has always talked about the importance of the wash, but I had no idea what he was talking about.  I had to be here to see it for myself.  When the jeans are made in the factory, the denim is in a raw material state; it’s a very heavy canvas like material and the color is almost black.  As I have explained previously, the jeans are made before shrinkage so the calculations must be precisely made before the pattern pieces are cut.  So if the fabric that is used is tested first, the process goes like this:

A sample of the fabric is sent to wash factory where it is put through the chemical process that changes the color and then it is put through a precise heat and time process that shrinks that particular fabric.  For example, if the fabric swatch is 10” x 10” it may shrink to 6” x 8”.  That difference then must be added to the pattern pieces. 

Then the sample jeans are made with the denim in this raw material state and sent to the wash factory.  There the jeans are chemically treated and any fancy stressing is done to it.  Then it goes into these enormous dryers that are set for the precise heat and time the sample was tested.  If it not the exact heat and time, it will not shrink to the proper amount and the jeans will be misshapen. 

So in touring this factory, I couldn’t believe the enormity of it. It employed about 3000 people that all live on the premises.  It was like its own city.  The factory itself was so huge; walking through it all would have taken a very long time.  But we visited each of the departments.  I saw firsthand the many steps to make a pair of jeans and they are done one pair at a time.  This factory does millions of jeans.  It has to be so organized and controlled because hundreds of different manufacturers use the same facility.  The jeans come in by the truckload and the docks where full of truck after truck.

All the fancy coloring is like tie-dying shirts.  One department gathers the area on the upper thigh and sews it together so when it goes through the wash it has the variegated colors that you see on the jeans.  One guy was taking a steel brush to a pair of jeans that obviously was stressing the fabric.  There were huge carts full of stones that they use to stress the denim and other departments spray on a chemical to lighten the jeans in certain areas such as down the thighs.  No one pair of jeans is ever exactly the same.  They are each individually prepared one step at a time.  Then they are put into large vats and the chemical washing is done.  They are then sent to the dryers for shrinkage which is precisely monitored. 

The next step is the ironing of the jeans.  And there are several steps to the ironing process as well.  Then I think the final step is putting the order back together where they are then shipped back to the manufacturer.  There the manufacturer folds and packages the jeans and prepares them for shipping.  How they keep track of every pair is mind boggling.  There is just no way to describe this process.  I have a new appreciation for a pair of jeans now and I hope I been descriptive enough for you to have an idea as well.  Who invents this stuff anyway?

October 22, 2011
On our fourth day of business, Andy had made arrangements for me to visit a new clothing manufacturer, remember Andy only makes jeans.  After the last batch of samples from the other shirt factory, I decided to look into another manufacturer.  Even though I decided not work on the shirts until we completely finish the pants, I thought while I was there I could look into finding a different company.  

Andy told me we would be picked up about 4:00 pm by the representative of another company.  They arrived on time and I was met in the hotel lobby by a sweet young lady named Renee.  Her driver picked us up in front of the hotel and we all headed into Guangzhou.  From what I am learning the factories are in similar districts.  While the jeans are in one district, the other clothing factories are much farther away outside of the city of Guangzhou.

Our ride into the city soon changed very drastically as we drove into the factory district.  The streets became much smaller and the conditions deteriorated very quickly.  This part of town seemed to be the most depressed I had seen since I had been in China.  Poverty was obvious and made me feel very bad. 

We finally arrived at the factory which was in a small building about four flights up.  The factory was just one floor and was in complete disarray. But this seems to be their way.  The sewing was obviously not done in this building.   On appearance, one would have no idea how anything gets done, but the end results are what we see in our stores.  Being at the source is an eye opener.

I will have them make samples for us when we start working on shirts again.  Renee was a very nice person and spoke a little English.  I’m still unsure of what the results will be from this company, but I am more than willing to give them a try.  After looking at the quality of the clothes I saw, I was very pleased with their work but only time will tell.

October 23, 2011
Well, my last day in China came as a pleasant surprise.  Andy arrived around 11:30 am to pick me up and suggested we go to the mountain in Guangzhou.  I had no idea what he was talking about but I was excited to do something just for fun.  He had an unexpected visitor arrive this week, a good friend from college.  He brought him along to spend the day with us and wondered if I would mind.  Of course, I didn’t mind at all.  His friend spoke not one word of English.

We took a taxi into Guangzhou which took about 45 minutes.  We were dropped off in front of a hospital and I had no idea where we were going.  We were in the middle of the city and I couldn’t imagine where there was a mountain.  We walked along a back street for quite some time and then we came upon the entrance to the park.  The weather was very hot and humid.  What was ahead was to my complete amazement.

As we entered the park, we had to climb many, many flights of stairs.  Then the stairs turned into a road and we kept walking uphill.  We continued our uphill walk for about 30 minutes, and then we entered a large park area full of activity.  This was not what I expected at all.  There were people everywhere having a good time.  There were restaurants and areas where people where playing games.  There were small rides for children and even a bungee jump.  What a great place!

We passed through the park area and continued our ascent.  At last we reached the top of mountain. Here was another very active area; so many people!  We spotted a bird walk and thought it might be fun.  So we bought a ticket and entered through the gate; it turned out to be a fabulous experience.  The first thing we did was enter a small aviary alive with small birds of all kinds like parakeets and love birds.  There were many birds I didn’t recognize and we actually got to touch them and some even got on our finger.  I love birds a lot and really enjoyed being around them.

When we left the aviary, we passed by a parrot show stadium.  The show was about to start so we sat and waited.  What a laugh.  The huge parrots put on quite a performance and the finale was spectacular.  The trainer held up a $5.00 bill (Chinese money) and out from a window where the birds must have lived flew a small bird about the size of a pigeon.  I had never seen a bird like this one before.  The bird landed on the trainer’s hand and took the $5.00 bill and flew back into the window that he flew out of.  The trainer held up another $5.00 bill and out came the bird again.  The bird took the money and flew back into the window again.  Soon everyone was holding up $5.00 bills and the bird kept flying out, taking the bills then flying back to drop them in the window.  Andy was so excited, he held up a $5.00 bill and out came the bird, landed on his hand and off the bird went with his money.  It was a clever way to support the parrot show; we had such a good time; I was so glad we came.

When the show was over we walked deeper in the bird park.  It was like walking through a zoo.  There were peacocks and ostrich in huge cages and many other species, some I didn’t recognize.  We saw a black swan and a white swan and many other parrots.  I really enjoyed seeing all the different kinds of birds.  Then we came to what appeared the end of the bird park so we followed the stairs that seemed to be the way out.  Andy thought this was another way down the mountain and suggested we take this way out of the park through the forest.  I kept seeing signs pointing the opposite direction that said, “THIS WAY OUT”.  I told Andy, I didn’t think we were going the right direction and I was afraid we would eventually have to turn around and climb back up all these stairs.  After about 45 minutes of climbing down these stone steps through this beautiful forest on the side of the mountain, there it was…the stairs stopped going down and we were headed back up.  I knew it!  Now we had to climb back up all these steps.  We were hot and tired and I didn’t think I could make it, but I had no choice.  We stopped many times to catch our breath and rest.  At last we made our way back to the bird park and headed back out into the main area. 

I suggested we take a bus back down as we were completely exhausted by this time.  But Andy chose another way down the mountain, the cable car ride.  Who knew our day would turn out like this.  So we bought tickets for the cable car ride and hopped on board one of the cable cars.  The view from the top of mountain was amazing.  We could see the entire city of Guangzhou and all the forest below us.  What a contrast from city to mountain side.
Finally we were at the base of the mountain and headed back to the main streets.  There we caught a taxi and rode back to the hotel.  We were hot, tired and hungry, but we really had a great day.  I enjoyed the experience.  We were all starving by this time, so it was out to another restaurant for dinner.

The night ended with the two buddies watching their favorite sport, soccer.  The two favorite  teams were on TV that night and I just couldn’t let them leave without them watching the game.  They yelled and hollered as the opposing teams played ball and they had a great time.  I finished my packing and prepared for the long flight home the next day.

Andy arrived at 8:00 am the next morning to take me to the train station in Guangzhou.  The traffic was not so heavy and we arrived in plenty of time.  It’s always very sad to say goodbye to my friend so we sat and had a quiet breakfast together and then said our goodbyes at the gate.  The train ride was uneventful and I arrived at the train station in Hong Kong, caught a taxi to the Hong Kong airport which took about 35 minutes and then finally boarded the big jet for Toronto. I had to wait about two hours in Toronto for the plane to Cleveland but the plane took off on time and I arrived in Cleveland about 9:30 pm and headed for home. 

God Bless the USA!

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Children's Jeans Almost Complete

September was a busy month and the designers, Jillian and Cara, have been really pushing to complete the children’s jeans pattern.  They had been working on the them for months.  The four children models that we used all looked good in their last fittings and I felt confident that we’d finally gotten the patterns correct.

The girls prepared their final paper patterns, their sample jeans (made out of muslin) and their spec sheets and I sent them off to the factory for what I hoped was the last sample for the children’s jeans.  It took almost four weeks to finally get the sample jeans from the factory; I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to see them on our models.

The next day (Friday) I called Jessica’s mother (one of our little girl models) to see if she could bring her in for a fitting.  She arrived in the afternoon and when we put them on her (to my utter amazement) they looked terrible.  It was a complete disaster!  I was beside myself; I just could not believe this was happening.  What went wrong?  We were sure that what we sent the factory was correct.  I was furious to say the least!  Another delay was my only thought.  Of course, China was sleeping so I couldn’t call Andy to find out what happened.  My stress level was off the chart. 

The next day, I tried to contact Andy but he was not available.  Of all days for him to be out, I really needed to talk to him.  I felt like I was having a bad dream but couldn’t wake up.  I told myself I had to calm down and stop the negativity running through me but it was just too difficult.  I was frustrated and disappointed.

Finally, Saturday night about 11:00 PM, I headed to bed but, just on a chance, I checked my online connection to Andy and I saw that he was finally online (remember its 12 hours later in China.)  We talked until about 2:00 AM.  I let him know how upset I was and he was upset as well.  He said he would visit the pattern makers to see what went wrong.

Well, the next morning, I finally got my answer.  Andy was able to talk with the pattern makers.  The jeans in question (the adjustable waist style) were made according to our paper pattern as I had instructed.  But our paper pattern was for the shape after they were washed.  Because I was so insistent that they use our paper patterns, they didn’t understand that they should have adjusted the pattern first for the shrinkage so the denim was a little distorted after the wash because the shrinkage altered the shape just enough to destroy the fit.  This is one of the challenges of denim; it’s like no other fabric.  So the pattern makers got busy right way to make more samples for us.

Perfect Fit!!!
On Monday, we had a fitting with our little boy, Danny, for the boy’s jeans with a full elastic waist.  It was perfect!  I couldn’t believe it.  The denim used in the boy’s jeans was a different fabric from the girl’s jeans and they shrunk in the proper proportion and turned out great.  But the pattern makers actually wanted to make the boys jeans again as well and use their own pattern this time, just to make sure that when they go into production, there are no surprises.

Surprisingly, I got the remade samples in one week.  God bless them for their speedy efforts.  In the meantime, I had Cara change the girl’s pattern, I wanted her to make a different shape; there is just something about the adjustable waistband jeans that I don’t like.  She also made another pair with a full elastic waist to try and one with half elastic in the back.

I contacted my daughter to see if my granddaughter would be available to try on our samples.  So Jillian and Cara headed to Michelle’s to see how the three different jean styles fit her.  All three pairs were a size too small, but they were still able to test the fit, nonetheless.   The one remade pair from the factory in denim with the adjustable waistband was a perfect fit, the half elastic waist fit the best though and the full elastic waist had some issues.

Next, our little boy model came back in for another fitting on the second sample from the factory.  Not good at all, the first pair was perfect so I was a little surprised at the bad results on the second pair.

In two days, I leave for China.  Cara made a new sample of the girl’s jeans with a half elastic waistband.  I’m taking this new sample with me and hope the pattern makers can make a sample while I’m there.  I’ll finally get to meet them and work with them face to face.

I’m really looking forward to this trip; we have so much to resolve that can’t be handled over Skype or Instant Message.  I’m also very excited to see my friend Andy again as well; we have a very busy week planned.  I’m going to pick some new fabric for pants, go the “wash” factory to learn about what happens there, spend time with the pattern makers and meet with a new shirt manufacturer.  I’m sure next week will go very fast and before you know it, I’ll be heading back home.