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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.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Holy Cow is all I can say!

November is going down as my most exciting month ever.  At last I feel like a business in motion.  So much has changed since we began in January, 2010.  Back then I had no office space, Jillian and I worked together in my home.  Then I found a place to rent that Jillian and I could go to.  It seemed just perfect!

I rented space about 5 minutes from my home that was both an office and a warehouse.  Previously it had been a construction business and it needed quite a bit of redecorating.  I prepared it as a place where we could work, bring people in for private fittings and have a space to warehouse our clothes. 

The first year it was certainly adequate, it was just Jillian and I.  But by the second year we were getting a little crowded in our work space.  I had hired a second designer, but that turned out to be a bad idea after the fact.  Our warehouse now was shelving our order of ladies jeans and tees and the first order of the men’s jeans that I totally scrapped.  I had also created a shipping area in the warehouse as well but was not really doing much shipping as sales were not so much in 2011.

I was taking pictures for the website on a bare wall or in the corner of my office/reception area.  It was the best I could do.  The website itself needed work, but we didn’t have much to sell anyway, so it seemed good enough at the time.

The year 2011 was almost a lost year for Downs Designs.  I was struggling with the factory that I had been working with the entire time.  We were getting one bad sample after another.  We spent months and months getting one failure after the next.  My start-up money was dwindling and by year end, I knew I had to start looking for a new factory.  It really frightened me.

Then 2012 came and we still had no new style jeans.  After Jillian  finished the adults jeans and tees, she had been preparing the small children jeans.   The factory had been given the order in November of 2011 and I didn’t get them into my shop until May of 2012.  In the meantime, I had started working with another factory and we just couldn’t believe how good they were.  We would send them a pattern and the sample would come back perfect.  We were just overjoyed and, of course, I’m kicking myself in the rear for wasting so much time with the first factory.  But, it’s all been a learning experience for me, so I can’t look back with regrets, I can only learn from the experience.

So finally in May of 2012, we receive the children’s jeans from the first factory.  But, during the early months of 2012,  I had started working with a new factory and were already preparing the teen girl's jeans and were expecting them by late summer.  They arrived in August and were just fantastic.  We couldn’t be more pleased.  So now, with the ladies' four styles, the children's two styles and the teen girl's two styles to sell, I felt the time was right to begin marketing Downs Designs.

Laura joined the team at the end of August, 2012, and by the end of her first week she had already boosted sales.  The large men's jeans arrived shortly after that and then by the mid November the small men's jeans and teen boy's jeans arrived.  So with Laura’s hard work and actually having quality products to sell, sales in November were my best ever!  I also added Sean, my IT guy on a retainer.  He has been working on and improving our website ever since.

The Unit right next to mine became available so I rented it right away.  I knew I needed more warehouse space for the addition of all the new jeans and future clothes and I needed more office space as well.  After a little paint and some new carpeting, Jillian and Laura moved into the office space next door.  I then turned part of my main space into a photography studio with proper lighting and backdrop.  I brought in our seamstress, Doris, to take care of the hemming and alterations and prepared an adequate work area for her.

We’ve completely reorganized our warehouse and shipping area and put systems into place to handle the influx of all the new business.  We’ve developed work stations and flow charts to keep track of each and every order.  I’m been overwhelmed with all the business and putting in 12-plus-hour days. So I added another member to the team, Robin Gaw.  Robin is a great gal who has worked for my husband and I for eleven years in our medical practice.  She still works part time for my husband, works as a crossing guard for the City of Mentor and now comes in a few hours a day after her afternoon crossing duties to help me out in the warehouse. 

I also started working with a great organization called SCORE.  They have been consulting with Laura and I by sharing their years of experience in business to help me improve my own.    I also hired a consultant to help me put together a business plan and now I’m bringing in a QuickBooks expert who can help me utilize the QuickBooks program to its full potential.   

Our last age group will be in production very soon and we hope to have them delivered by early next year.  When we finally get all the age groups completed, we're going to start adding new fabric colors.  We have already prepared some of our ladies styles to be made in a black denim.  We're waiting on samples now to see how the fabric works out.  We'll know by the end of the year or early January about the new fabric we're trying to incorporate.  Jillian is also working on designing a short-sleeve T-shirt so we'll see where this goes as well.  This will involve finding another factory for manufacturing the tees.  But with the help of the young man, Joey, that I'm now working with, he'll guide me to the right people.

So you can see how far we’ve come and, hopefully, where we’re headed.  I plan to build Downs Designs into a full line of clothing one day and provide a line of clothing that people will be proud to wear.   I'm focusing now on the hardest to fit shapes and doing our best to create a standard size for people with Down syndrome.  I call our sizing "Downsizing"! 

I'm looking forward to the New Year and to the next phase of my journey.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

An Amazing October 2012

Wow, I’m so late writing my blog this month.  I’ve been so busy I just haven’t had any time.  But the busy is a good thing.  So much good news to share and I wish I had more time to write.
First of all, what has happened since Laura came on board is nothing short of amazing.  Sales are up eight times now and I’m hoping that November continues the trend.  Sales are certainly not where they need to be but the fact that they are rising at such a good rate is very important for us.  She has such creativity and a “heart” for what we do, that I’m so proud to have her as part of our team.
Laura and I attended the ARC conference in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago.  It was the first time that I attended one of their conferences and I’m so glad we went.  The people came from all over the world and everyone was so nice.  We met leaders of ARC organizations from all over the United States and Laura made a lasting impression on so many.  She is a true “people” person and connected with everyone in such a positive way.
A lot of changes are happening at our office as well.  I finally got Doris Jackson to work as our seamstress and do the hemming for our jeans.  This will free up Jillian to do what she does best…to design.  Because we’re finally getting more orders, Jill has been pulled away from what she needs to be doing.  So with Doris now as part of our team, Jill can focus on creating and designing.  Jill is also working with Laura to make new brochures and other marketing tools.  So you can see that Downs Designs is beginning to grow its staff so we can better serve our customers

Doris Jackson is an amazing seamstress.  I don’t think there is much she can’t do with a sewing machine.  So with Doris now part of Downs Designs, I’ve finally moved forward with something I’ve wanted to do since I started Downs Designs.  And that is to start an alteration business for people with special needs of all kinds.  I call my new business … Special Fits.  Special Fits can now serve our local community and we can alter clothes to accommodate any kind of special needs.  It’s a great addition and compliment to Downs Designs to be able to take existing clothes and make them fit better or accommodate a certain devise or wheelchair issues.
Our Facebook has been growing, thanks to Laura’s input.  Also, our Newsletter is now functioning so look for our monthly updates and specials.  If haven’t joined our mailing list, please do.  You might be missing out on some suprises
Four more styles of men’s and teen boys are almost here.  The Charlie and Michael Dip Down jeans and the Alex and Jacob Dip Downs should be available by the end of November.   I think there are lots of you waiting for these sizes.  Also, we just sent in our Youth patterns to the factory.  They will begin the process now of preparing the samples for us.  Once we get their samples we will test them on the two models we have been using.  If they are good, then production can begin.  Production will take about 3 weeks.  Shipping may add another 4 weeks, but we may air ship a few of each size to get them in here sooner…not sure.  The cost of air shipping is very, very expensive.
Well, I guess that sums up the last month or so of progress.  I’m so excited the direction that we’re heading.  I’m glad to see sales increasing and to see how happy our customers are with their new jeans.  Our plans are to finish the first round of all the jeans, our second project will be to remake the woman’s jeans and thirdly, we will start making our  jeans in black denim.  I want to complete khaki and navy and possibly another denim color by the end of next year.  We’ll just have to see how it plays out. 
I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving holiday.  I can’t believe it’s just around the corner.  Thank you all for the support I have been getting and the pictures you have been sending.  It’s so helpful for us to see how our jeans are looking on our customers. 


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Just back from China Fall 2012

This month’s blog is so far my most exciting to write.  I don’t even know where to begin.  I just returned from my fifth trip to China and it was my best trip yet.  My relationship with Joey and his dad has evolved into one of friendship and trust.  Joey’s dad moved into a new factory since I was there last and I was excited to see him again and tour his new facilities.  We also made some selections of other fabrics that we are going to be working on in the near future. 
Also, while I was visiting the factory, what did I see sitting on their shipping dock ready to be delivered?  Our next order of jeans!  The Danny, Jacob, Charlie and Michael were all boxed and ready to be shipped.  Unfortunately, China started another big holiday this week and won’t be back to work until October 8.  So these won’t get shipped out until next week.   I wanted to strap them on my back and bring them home with me.  But once they are loaded on a ship, it will take about 4 weeks until they reach our shop. Just in time for the Christmas season!
Also while I was in China, the Jonathan and Timmy jeans were delivered.  These two styles are for men with larger round tummies.  There are ten sizes in all for each style and our largest size is really LARGE!  We feel that we can now accommodate those men with Down syndrome who really struggle to find comfortable pants due to their unique body shape.  I can’t wait to get them into customer’s hands to see what people think.  That’s the true test of our pants…how the customer likes them and how well they fit. 
When I got back to work this week, I was able to get our model in for pictures in our two new style jeans.  We put him in two different colors of our men’s shirts and in the Jonathan and the Timmy jeans.  He looked amazing!  Ray Sawyer has been working with us for months and to finally see him in the finished product brought tears to my eyes.  Jillian did a fantastic job designing the jeans and the factory did a great job manufacturing them.
I also spent time with my friend Andy, who is now working with a very large factory and seems to be doing well.  He's even got his own brand and is selling it to other countries.  When he sold his factory, he was able to keep his brand name, "Jeansburg".  I was so proud to see his own label on a pair of jeans that he designed.  His first order was being shipped to South Africa while I was there.   Andy is also working on black pants for us in the Jacob and Danny style.  We're still tryting to find just the right fabric.  
Well, my Chinese lessons are finally paying off.  I was much improved in my communication skills since my last visit.  My Chinese is still very limited, but I was able to have small, simple conversations.  I was really proud of myself for how much better my Chinese was compared to my last trip.  Both Joey and Andy have been helping me as well, but my Chinese still needs lots of time to develop (maybe the rest of my lift)!
With all the positive changes happening, my excitement and enthusiasm is hard to contain most days.  Seeing the growth of our product line and the increase in sales renews my faith in what I am trying to achieve.  There have been so many disappointments along the way, but I’ve never lost faith.   I see the vision clearly in my head and I know exactly where I am going.  It seemed that for a long time I was going the long way around and forced to take detours.  But now the road is beginning to straighten and I’m overjoyed with the current path I’m on.

Friday, September 7, 2012

September has good news!

Well, at last things are starting to fall into place.  I have such exciting news to share! 
First…the Jessica and Marcia style jeans have finally arrived.  When the truck backed up to the warehouse, I had no idea what to expect.  The driver opened the doors and, to my pleasant surprise, they were packaged perfectly and the boxes were not damaged.  The shipment was small (about 15 cases);   250 of the Jessica and 250 of the Marcie. 
In this industry, it’s rare that a factory would agree to make such a small minimum quantity.  But the new factory I’m using now has been so helpful and cooperative and I’m so impressed with the quality of their products.  Their samples have been amazing and now to see the final production, I’m “over the top”! 
The next two styles on their way are the Jonathan and Timmy “Dip Down”, our larger men’s style jeans.  They should be arriving about September 20th and now I have confidence that this will be a successful delivery also.
The factory has started production on four more styles as well:  The Charlie and Michael “Dip Down” for smaller men and the Danny and Jacob “Dip Down” for larger teen boys.  They should be arriving near the end of November, just in time for the holidays.
The last size group, the Youth style pants, are now being designed and I'm hoping to have them available by year end.  Unfortunately, we hadn't been able to find any models in that age group until just recently,  But at last two adorable models have been found and Jill has begun working on those pants styles.
With product finally becoming available, it’s now time to develop a marketing program.  So I’ve added a new addition to our team, Laura Smiley.  Her experience in Marketing and PR should bring improved sales and more public awareness. 
We’re also building an advisory board and preparing a business plan.  I want to take Downs Designs to the next level and will start to look for outside funding.  I want to manufacture pants in khaki, navy, black and another style denim.  This will take a large sum of money, so I think it’s time I reach out for help. 
With the economy in such bad shape, banks will not loan a startup company money, they say you must have sales, but how can you sell something if you don’t have money to make it.  It’s a frustrating situation…the chicken or the egg!  But, I’m going to see what other options are available and I’m certainly open to suggestions.
I’m thrilled with the direction Downs Designs is headed and so encouraged with all our progress!  I think we have a bright future ahead!


Friday, August 10, 2012

Making Progress (August 2012)

I cannot believe that August is already here.  Next month I'll be heading for China again; where does the time go.

Well, I must admit that I'm so encouraged about what is happening and the progress we are making.  Here's where we are so far with what's available and what will be available:

Our ladies jeans are available and so far have been a great success,  The photo on the left is a picture sent to me from a customer that was thrilled with our ladies jeans and sent me quite a few photos of his daughter wearing them. I wish there were more sales, but since I really haven't don't any marketing, what should I expect.  The children's jeans have been in stock for about 2 months and I've sold about a dozen pairs.  They are awesome little jeans, but I think part of the problem is the heat.  Who is wearing jeans this time of year?  And the fact that only my Facebook page followers really know about our clothing line doesn't help sales either, 

The large teen girl jeans are on a ship as we speak and are due in our shop about August 22.  We made one big mistake already that I can see.  We ordered them unhemmed at 27".  OMG, what was I thinking.  First of all we need 1" for the hem, so the longest length I would be able to sell is 26".  In my wildest dreams, we haven't seen any young teens with Down syndrome with an inseam that long.  But while we were at the conference, there were several.  So I've learned a huge lesson from this...make all the unhemmed jeans at least 30"

Our large men jeans (left photo) are in production and the small men's jeans (right photo) will be in production in about one week. These photos are only samples, they are not a finished products, but at least you can get an idea of the different body shapes and the look of jean.  These samples are not hemmed and are not the jeans after production.  There were small changes made even after these samples. 

Our large teen boy styles are being prepared for production also.  Production should begin in about one week.  This photo shows our teen model in the jean with a high rise in the front, it will also come in a jean with a low rise in the front (called our dip downs).  Again this is only a sample and not the finished product.  There's even a tag hanging from this pair.  As you can see these jeans are made for a boy with a fuller figure.  The other two styles will be coming out later for the thinner teen boy.  We are working on the harder to fit sizes first, then we'll finish up with the smaller sizes later.

The good news is that we finally found a girl and boy model at the Buddy Walk for our large youth sizes.  Up until now, we have had no models for this size.  We found some volunteers at the NDSC Conference, but Jill told me it is just too difficult not have a model close by so she see how each fitting looks and feels on the model.  Jill has begun to make test samples already.  She's even had her first fitting with the little girl model.  The one problem is the models both live in Medina and it's a little bit far for Jillian.  But, as usual, she always goes the extra mile to get the job done.  What would I do without her.  Also, with the experience she has gained developing these pants, she just gets better and better at figuring out how to made these jeans look right on their unique body shapes.  

With all this good news, I'm really hoping that by the Christmas holiday, I will have completed some jeans for all the age groups.  We may not have all the styles for each age group completed (we're creating 26 styles in all), but the harder-to-fit kids should be able to fit into a pair of our jeans. With the adult line, I think we will have all the styles completed and even startto make some of the styles in black denim.  Let's hope we continue moving forward.  I'm finally thrilled with our progress!

Monday, July 30, 2012

The NDSC Conference and The Buddy Walk 2012

July was certainly a busy month for Downs Designs.  We had our booth at the NDSC Conference in Washington, D.C. and also had a booth at the Upside of Downs Buddy Walk at Progressive Field the following weekend.

This year we were able to drive to the conference.  It made a huge difference because we saved hundreds of dollars in shipping costs.  There were three of us, Jillian, Robin and myself.  Robin works for my husband’s medical practice and has been with us for eleven years.  She also helps out at Downs Designs when I need her; so three women and all our “stuff” packed into my SUV made for quite a carload.   The drive was actually not so bad.  It took us about 6.5 hours in all and the weather was picture perfect.

The next morning we were busy setting up our booth.  The doors were opening at noon and we had a lot to do to get ready.  But with all three of us working together, we were all set up with time to spare.  The exhibitor’s hall was huge and there were so many vendors, about 80 in all I believe.  We had one slight problem; there was no internet available in the exhibitor’s area, so our credit card equipment was useless.  But it was only a slight aggravation and we worked around it.

With people in and out of sessions all day long, the traffic was extremely busy during the “break outs”.  We were glad we had two dressing rooms this year and both were in use at our peak times.  We had all our ladies’ and children’s jeans available to try on and order.  We had samples of the sizes of the Large Teen Girl jeans but ordering those will have to wait until they arrive in our shop.  They are due in around the end of August, just in time for school shopping I hope.  We also had a sample of men’s jeans to show as well, and everyone was disappointed that they were not available yet.  They are in production now and will be arriving in our shop about the end of September.  We are also waiting on the samples of the Large Teen Boy jeans.  Once we test the fit on those, we can begin production. 

The last size we are working on is our Large Youth Size.  We have not had a boy and girl model for that size group yet, but we did find some volunteers willing to help us out long distance.  It’s certainly not the best way for Jillian to design a pair of pants, but at the time, it was the best we could do.  So we’ll see how that works out…still not sure.

The event was great exposure for us and we met so many people that were excited about what we are trying to create.  But one of the most important things we get out of these events is that we are able to see how our jeans fit a lot of people, not just the model that Jill uses to design them.  Everyone is shaped so differently and Jill’s designs must be able to fit most people and we also realize that we cannot fit everyone perfectly.  But I must say, she has done a brilliant job!

Sunday afternoon the event was over so we loaded up the car and headed for home.  We were tired and happy to be home, but I must say I enjoyed the entire experience.  I look forward to next year’s event in Denver and Robin will definitely be joining us, she was a great help!

But no rest for the wicked…the Buddy Walk was the very next weekend.  I love the Buddy Walk though…it’s so much fun.  I don’t take dressing rooms or have people trying anything on; I just talk to people, show samples of our jeans and have brochures to hand out.  The energy and excitement at the Buddy Walk cannot be described.  About 4000 people are in attendance and it’s like one big party in the street. 

My favorite part comes after the “walk”.  The disc jockey gets everyone moving and the kids start dancing.  Thanks to the hard work by the staff of The Upside of Downs, this is one of the most fun events of the year.  Even the weather cooperated.  It was not too hot and the sun was shining.  Funny thing though, right after the event was over, it rained like cats and dogs. 

Some really good news too … we found a boy and girl model for the youth sizes.  Their parents are so kind to help us out.   Now Jill will be able to work her magic with this age group.  I can’t wait to see how the Youth sizes will turn out.

So with July coming to an end, I’m satisfied with the results.  Hopefully by the end of this year, we’ll have a pair of jeans for most of the hard-to-fit kids and adults.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

July 2012 Heading to the NDSC Conference

I’ve been so busy this month; I haven’t had time to work on my Blog.  With summer here and being so very hot, the 1000 impatience that I planted have certainly needed some extra TLC.  The extreme heat this year has been so unusual and besides stressing the trees and flowers, sales are showing the strain of this heat as well.  I haven’t had one sale in weeks.  But, in truth, I haven’t had much in sales at all.  Because I haven't had much to offer so far, I really can't expect people to be kicking down my doors to get to me.  But things are going to improve and in the next few months, we're going to start getting in more products.
I have done no marketing whatsoever … I’m waiting until I have more styles.  Not much point in disappointing people when they call looking for a boys pair of jeans and having to tell them I don’t have any…YET! But I’m so encouraged now with our new factory, that our future is looking so much brighter. 
Here’s the status as of mid-July:
Ladies and children’s jeans are in stock and the ladies full-figured, long-sleeved T-shirts are now available in two sleeve lengths.  Not that anyone needs them now, but fall in truly just around the corner and before you know it, the leaves will be falling.
The large size teen girl style jeans will be on a boat July 20th and arrive at our shop around August 22nd.  The factory did us a huge favor and made one of each size for us to take to the conference next week so we’ll be able to take preorders for those.  We have decided to only concentrate on the larger sizes for now.  What we have seen in the smaller girls and boys is that shopping is a little easier for them and being self-funded for this entire business, I’m just focusing now on the hardest to fit sizes.  We’ll get to those smaller sizes later on.
The large men styles jeans will be following shortly behind the large teen girl styles.  We’ll let you know as soon as they are available.  The large teen boy samples are almost complete and when they are, they will send them on so we can test them on our model.  If the fit is good, we’ll start production on those soon too.
We’re headed to the NDSC Conference this week with a whole new look.  We have really pumped up our display area and now have two dressing rooms as well.  We hope to meet lots of new people and visit with some we have met in the past.  Since we have no model for our last size, the youth sizes, Jill has made some muslin samples for both boys and girls.  We hope to have some volunteers stop by our booth and test the sizing.  We’re hoping that it will be a good fit and we won’t need too many changes.  We’ll have to wait and see about this way of testing our sizing.  But with no models here at home, we don’t know what else to do.
I’m keeping this posting short and will make another posting after the conference.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

June 2012

June, 2012
June is an exciting month for Downs Designs.  Finally our children’s jeans arrived in our shop.  Due to all the problems I’ve had with Andy’s factory and all the delays he caused me, it took five months for me to finally get them in my hands.
They arrived a few days after I got back from China and when the boxes came in they barely survived the trip.  One of the boxes was completely ripped open and I was surprised I lost nothing from its contents.  The other shocking factor was the jeans themselves.
In all the samples he had sent us, he used a fabric that was much different, but the waistband fabric was the biggest disappointment.  It was nothing like what we had ordered.  I’m not sure why he chose the color, but I wasn’t happy.  The entire day I was so upset, I was beside myself.
We called our little girl model (Jessica) right away and her mother was able to bring her in the very next day to try them on.  I showed them to her mother and she felt like I did, that the color of waistband could have been better.  But, the moment her daughter put them on, all those bad feelings I had felt went right out the window. 
She looked fantastic and they fit her perfectly.  The transformation was amazing!  It was an exciting day for me after that.  I realized that all our hard work and all the delays had been worth it.  Even the color of waistband seemed a minimal problem.  I managed to find a shirt sample from last year that fit her perfectly, so I was able to photograph her in both our jeans and our shirt.  What a doll she is and she loves to pose.
Next we called our little boy model (Danny) and I set up an appointment to try on the little boy jeans.  A few days later we were able to photograph him in another sample shirt of ours that fit him well and our jeans that were just perfect on him also.  His mother was so happy and she didn’t care what color the waistband was, she loved them!
Now our website needed to be updated and I have also been making some improvements and changes.  It’s really started to shape up and I’m feeling very good about how it looks.  I even added a printable tape measure on the “How to Measure” page so if someone doesn’t have a tape measure, they can just print one out.  Since our sizes are unique, measuring the hip is crucial.  Also, since we hem every pair to order, the inseam also needs to be measured.  We’re trying to make the website as user friendly as possible and I think adding the printable tape measure will be helpful.
Now, all I need is for people to start to place orders.  It may be the wrong season for jeans right now though, so I’m hoping that by school time, we will get busier.  I need to start making sales.   Every month my expenses are high, but income is low.  It’s got to start turning around soon.  I’m sure people don’t realize the overhead costs I have and the debt that’s I’ve incurred.  So I’m hoping as I gradually get more products to sell that more and more people will start trying them out. 
I know our ladies jeans are working out very well because almost everyone who purchased their first pair has reordered more than once.  To me, that’s the greatest compliment of all.  Many have even had us cut them into shorts or capris.  I know they were not designed for that, but most are so happy with how they fit, they want us to hem them at these different lengths.
The new factory is working on one last experiment on the waistband.  Once we determine what fabric we will use in the waistband then we’ll be ready to start production on two styles of teen girls.  They also have the men’s patterns and we’ll see how those samples fit; I should have them by next week.   We’re also sending them two styles of the teen boys.  Getting samples always takes a while, but I’m hoping we can get these in production soon as well. 
I hope by year end that we’ll start to see our store have more products available.  But I am realizing now, that we may not be able to complete all of the 27 styles we have patterns for.  We’re going to focus primarily on those body shapes that are the most difficult to fit into standard clothing sizes.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

China May 2012

China May 2012
The trip:
Well, I headed off for another trip to China.  This time I have a very big agenda.  I am meeting with two new factories, plus spending time with my friend Andy.  As usual I had to get up about 2:30 am on Saturday morning to catch a 6:30 am flight.  The first plane takes me to Toronto, Canada, where I catch a huge 777 to Hong Kong. 
I arrive in Hong Kong Sunday afternoon about 1:15.  Then the crowds begin.  First I must go through customs and there are hundreds and hundreds in lines.  When I get through that line I head for the line at the taxi station.  I catch a taxi to the train station, hoping to make the 2:30 train to Guangzhou in time. 
I’m not able to sleep much on the plane, so I’m exhausted by this time.  When I get to the ticket booth at the train station, the 2:30 train if full.  OMG!  I can’t believe it.  Now I have to wait two more hours until the next train leaves.  I’m barely able to function so I find a place to sit down.  The train station is like a shopping mall but I’m too tired to walk around.  I try reading, but I can’t focus at all, so I wait.
Well, at last the train is boarding and I call Andy to tell him what time I’ll be arriving in Guangzhou.  He promises not to be late this time.  The trip should take only two hours, but for some reason, it’s running slower than usual and it takes two and half hours.  Go figure!  Then there are more lines at the customs entry in Guangzhou.  Once I get through all the processing, I finally head for the door.  To my relief, Andy is there waiting for me … on time!
So now we have to stand in another long line to catch a cab.  This ride takes an hour so I don’t get to the hotel until after 8:00 PM, maybe it was even closer to 9:00.  I’m so tired I can barely see straight.  After Andy and I have dinner, he heads home and I finally get some well needed rest.
Day 1
Well, the first order of business is to meet with Tim, the sales representative from one of the factories that made us a sample.  The picture he sent me of the sample before I left looked good.   I’m not completely comfortable with him as he seems pushy and I’m not sure if he is trustworthy.  So we agree to meet in the hotel lobby and he will give me the sample that he made for us.  This is the guy that charged me $120.00 for the sample, and then wanted me to pay another $55.00 to ship it to me.  I refused to pay the shipping fees and told him he could delivery it personally to me when I arrived in China. 
He arrived at the hotel about 10:00 am and the sample looked good and he seemed much nicer in person.  The owner of factory is with him and he asked if I wanted to go to the see the factory.  It’s wasn’t far from the hotel so I agreed to go; I don’t make any decisions without a full investigation.
So we drive to the factory and it’s really in a bad area; I’m not impressed at all.  We walk into their showroom and it’s just a disaster.  I know these factories are usually in disarray, but this one is really bad.  He asked if I wanted to see the factory itself and I told him no thanks.  I wanted to go back to the hotel right away.  After this visit, I had made up my mind I didn’t want to work with these people.
Later that afternoon, Andy came by to pick me up for lunch and brought his sister and brother-in-law along to join us.  Well, now is the time to test my Chinese that I have been studying for 6 months.  Neither of them speaks any English.  I manage to scrape out a little conversation but it’s really a struggle.  We enjoy a delicious lunch together and then we head back to my hotel.  I introduced them to some games on the IPad and IPhone and they’re all immediately engrossed.
Later that evening we head out to another restaurant for dinner.  We go to my favorite restaurant this time which is just around the corner from my hotel and have another delicious meal.  It’s hard to describe the food in China.  It’s nothing like we get in the United States.  I took pictures this time to show how different it is.  Each dish has a different taste and, it’s by far, the most delicious food I have eaten.  I have learned to love the food here.  It’s beyond my imagination how they come up with so many different flavors and ways to prepare different meats and vegetables. 
We head back to my hotel and I say good night.  I have plans to meet another representative the next day.
Day 2
My next appointment on Day 2 (Tuesday) is with a young man named Joey.  We had been communicating a lot and I had a good sense that this was the person I wanted to do business.  The first sample he sent me was perfect.  It looked and fit the model just like it was supposed to.   I was really excited to meet with him.   He also had another sample waiting for me. 
He arrived at the hotel about 10:00 AM and brought me the newest sample.  We measured it and it was spot on.  We talked for about 2 hours and agreed to meet again the next day.  Then he would take me to the factory that his family owned.  He told me his father had been in this industry since he was 14 years old.  He became a patterner at a young age and, in China, this is the highest position in the clothing business.  Then about ten years ago, his father started his own jeans factory and it has become a very successful business.  His wife and daughter-in-law are the sample makers and his older son is in charge of production.  So Joey and I say our goodbye’s and agree to meet again the next day when he will take me to meet his father and tour their factory.
Later in the afternoon, Andy came by and our plans are to go to the denim stores and the accessory stores.  I have to pick fabric for our teen styles and I also want to look at some heavy duty elastic for the waistbands.  The weather is very hot and muggy and we walk everywhere.  So off we go to that part of town.  Because we are in the jeans capital of the world, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of denim shops, there is an entire district just designated for denim.  Then there is another district, just for accessories.  All of these shops are within walking distance, but the heat is unbearable.  This is not my favorite part for sure.  But we accomplish our goals and head back to the hotel.
He’s invited me to dinner with his family tonight, so this will be my first home-cooked meal.  I’m not sure what to expect, so I’m a little nervous.  Andy now has his own apartment and his sister, brother-in-law and father are now living with him. 
So we catch a taxi about 7:00 pm and head to his apartment.  I’m immediately surprised at the location.  He’s living in a beautiful high-rise, gated apartment complex.  The grounds are covered in trees and shrubs and it’s very beautiful.  This is not what I am used to seeing at all.  I’m so happy to see him living in a nice environment.
Once inside his apartment, I find it very austere.  He lives a very simple life and seems so happy.  I meet his father for the first time.  He’s a small man that looks like he has had a hard life, but when he smiles I like him immediately.  No one, of course, speaks any English and my Chinese is a struggle.  But we manage to communicate is some small way.
We sit down for dinner and I’m really surprised.  It’s delicious and I really enjoy the food.  It looks nothing like the food I have eaten in the restaurants, but the flavors are very tasty.  After dinner we sit out on his balcony and enjoy the cool breeze.  His apartment overlooks a very busy street, so the traffic noise seems a bit loud, but it doesn’t seem to bother them at all.  About 11:00 pm, he calls a taxi for me so I can return to the hotel, and, of course, the gentlemen that he is, he rides back with me and makes sure I get to my hotel safe and sound.  Today was a really good day and I got a lot accomplished.

Day 3
Joey shows up about 10:00 AM.  Our plans today are to meet with his father and tour his factory.  It’s about a 15 minute ride and I am immediately impressed.  It’s so far the nicest looking factory yet.  He takes me to his father’s office which was well decorated and Joey introduces me to everyone.  None of them speak English but Joey, so Joey must interpret every word.  I show his father photos of people with Down syndrome and explain the difficulties they have finding clothes that fit them.  I tell him of my plans to create a clothing line for these people and after a good talk, he sees my intentions very clearly.   I show him pictures of people with Down syndrome and what a problem finding clothes is for them.  I explain that I cannot give him large quantity orders right now and that I will need his cooperation to make small minimum orders.   I explain that because we are not sure how our styles will fit the population until we begin to sell them, I cannot order larger amounts to start.  Most factories will not make small orders so this is one of the difficulties in finding a factory to cooperate.
To my joy, he sees my situation and says he will help me out and work with me any way he can.  I asked him to please feel free to make suggestions if he sees a better way to make something.  I tell him how much I respect his experience would appreciate any input from him.  So he agrees to make a minimum order of 250 pcs per style (which is unheard of) and help me with our patterns if he can.
I can’t believe this, what luck to have met Joey and his family and their willingness to cooperate with me.  I know they see the potential in Downs Designs as well, and realize that if they work with me now, then larger orders will come later.  If I had not been there personally to talk with this man, I know the outcome would not have been good.  These trips to China are crucial and meeting these people face-to-face is so important.  For me, seeing what the factories look like is vital.  I don’t want to assume anything or base my opinion on rumors.  I like knowing firsthand where our clothes are being made and who is making them. 
A trip to the mountains
For the next two days, Andy thought it would be nice to have a little downtime, so he made plans to take me to a beautiful park in the mountains.  He makes arrangements for us to get a hotel as it may take two days to cover the grounds.  He invites his family as well and we’re off for a little site seeing.  The heat is overwhelming and we all pile into one small taxi for a two and half hour ride.  Well, guess what?  The taxi’s air conditioner was broken!  Phew, it was a long ride.  But I must admit, once we got out of the city, the scenery was beautiful and the air was clean.
We finally arrived at our destination and walk through the entrance of the park.  We stop for lunch at a restaurant just inside the park before we begin our adventure.  For our first stop, we take a short boat ride to an island full of peacocks.  I take a few photos and then the boat driver drops us back at the dock and we begin our walk through the park.  We walk for miles and miles enjoying the mountain paths along the way.  By evening we’re exhausted and decide to head for the hotel.
When we get back to entrance of park, we find that there is no taxi service available.  The hotel is not too far we’re told so we start walking.  OMG, we walk for miles.  I don’t mind the walk though because I get to see how people live in this part of the country.  It’s much different from the city dwellers.  The poverty is much worse and the housing is indescribable.  I’ve never seen this much poverty since I’ve been coming to China.  I want to take pictures but I felt I might insult someone.  Words could not describe what I saw, but I felt it best not to take my camera out.
At last, we arrive at the hotel.  I must admit, I’m a little nervous about the accommodations after the village we just walked through, but the entrance is quite beautiful.  Once inside my room though, I realize I’m not at the Holiday Inn.  The room is clean, but not at all what I am used to.  Needless to say, I’m a little concerned about the bug population.  I tear the bed apart, looking for any activity, but to my relief I see nothing.  I still don’t feel comfortable in my surroundings, so I sit in the chair for hours.  Andy and his family are across the hall and I hear them having a good time playing cards.
I’m lucky to have my computer with me and the hotel has Wi-Fi.  I make a few Skype calls to home and check my emails.  But the hours pass very slowly and I still feel too nervous to lie down.  About 2:00 AM, I make a trip to the bathroom and when I come out, I notice at the foot of the bed is a spider as big as a tarantula.  I can tell you this, I’ve never been so afraid in all my life.  I’m paralyzed with fear and don’t know what to do.  I sit in the chair with my feet up and keep my eye on this creature.  It eventually crawls back under the bed and after a while, it crawls out onto the floor.  It makes its way into the bathroom.  If you look at this photo, he is walking on a 4" tile.  It’s now about 3:00 AM I hear noises from across the hall…to my surprise they are still up playing cards.  I pound on the door and drag them to my room.  I show them this monster spider and they all start laughing.  Andy tells me it’s not poisonous, as if this makes me feel any better.  Andy’s dad heads to the bathroom and then I hear a thump, thump…he killed it.  I can barely speak.  They must have thought I was crazy to be so afraid but all I want to do is go back to the hotel in the city.
They all head back to their room and I’m still in shock over this experience.  I’m so exhausted but, of course, there’s not a change in Hell, I’m getting any sleep now.  I don’t know what else may be lurking under the bed.
Dawn finally comes and I feel a little better.  I get a shower and try to compose myself for the day.  The rest of the family is sound asleep, so I sit and wait for everyone to wake up.  About 10:00 AM I hear stirring across the hall and, at last, we’re ready to check out.  It’s been raining cats and dogs for hours so I joyfully assume we won’t be able to continue with our site seeing.  I just wanted to go back to my hotel.
Wrong again!  By the time Andy calls a taxi the weather clears up.  Our next stop is another mountain park, a mountain of flowers we’re told.  So another hour drive up a mountain side and we arrive at the entrance of another park.  The taxi driver agrees to drive us around the park thank God.  There would have been no way we could have walked.  We drive and drive around the side of the mountain and finally come to the flower gardens.  But there only a few flowers in bloom!  And besides that disappointment, the fog is so thick, we can barely see. 
We head back down the mountain now and the fog starts lifting.  At the base of the mountain, we stop at a a very scenic area along a riverbank.  Here, there are four wedding parties taking wedding photos.  It’s a beautiful place for photos and I really enjoyed this part of the park.  Seeing the different wedding outfits was very interesting as well.
So the day is over and our taxi heads back to the city with a carload of very tired passengers.  It’s about a 2 hours car ride and we haven’t eaten all day, so our first stop is dinner.  After an enjoyable meal, we say our good byes and I go to my room to pack for my trip back home the next day.  I am so glad to be back in my room, where I feel safe and free from any little “creatures” crawling around.
Heading Home
My trip home was a long one this time.  From the time I left the hotel, until I got to my home in Mentor, it took 35 hours.  Unfortunately, my regular flight was not available when I made the reservations so I had to take a different flight home which had a 7 hour layover in Vancouver.  But, I was so glad to be going home.
The trip was very productive and I was so glad I met the people from the new factory.  Even though they are exhausting, the time spent there is worth it.  My next trip is scheduled for September of this year.