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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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Moving On

After a frustrating start to 2012, I have made a major decision.  I am now on the hunt for new factories to make our jeans.   This year has been a complete bust!   The disappointment from the jeans factory that I have been working with for over two years has led me to look elsewhere. 
It’s now the end of March and I still don’t have any jeans produced.   The children’s jeans have been in production since the end of last of year so I was told.  And they are still not done!  This is unbelievable to say the least.  Excuse after excuse why they are not finished is more than I can take.  Of course, they had the Spring Festival which closes down the whole country for weeks, but after that they should have been completed.  I only ordered 500 pair. 
I think I waited too long to make this decision.  I should have made this decision months ago. Now I’m going to take what I’ve learned and move on.  I’ve already been communicating with several jeans factories and Jillian has been preparing new samples to send to them.  Once they get our sample, they will follow our instructions and make a denim pair according to our pattern.  Once we see how they turn out, we can make a decision about starting to manufacture. 
I have learned a lot about this industry from my friend Andy, but since he opened his own jeans factory, he has let me down.  I think the pressure of being a new business owner has been a bit too much and he is overwhelmed with work.  My little order of 500 pieces just doesn’t seem to be important enough to complete in a timely manner. 
Our waistbands have been a problem for him because they must be put on one by one.  If they were made of denim, they could use a special machine to sew on the waistbands, but our soft ribbed material is too delicate for this method.  I asked him how many people were working on them and he told me two.   No wonder they are not finished.
So, with a sad heart I decided that I must look for other factories.  With what I have learned about manufacturing, I am more confident and experienced and not afraid to venture out into this industry.  I have chosen factories that are in the same area so when I visit China in May, I can go to these factories myself and check them out.  Now I'm looking for factories that are much bigger with more years of experience. 
I would never abandon my friend Andy either.  He has been an enormous part of Downs Designs.  He has taught me so much about this industry and the way of Chinese manufacturers and I value our relationship.  But, I think I must, for the sake of my business, find other factories to help with our development.  I’m ready to take what I’ve learned and start negotiations elsewhere.
The true test will be when I get the samples back from these various other factories.  I can’t wait to see how they look.  Our pants are so unusual that we just won’t know until they get here.  So again, I wait.  It will be about a month before I actually have them.  By the time I mail the package to them, they pretest the fabric, make the sample, then ship it back to me, it takes about a month.  There’s just no faster way.  The year is speeding by and I still have nothing new to sell.
Our ladies jeans are selling slowly and so far everyone who buys them is very happy and excited to have found something that fits their daughter or family member.  Most everyone reorders a few more pairs, but they are really waiting for more styles.  One customer bought 8 pairs of the same pants.  She asked Jill if she could make 4 of them into capris and she did.  They turned out fine but our jeans were not made or styled to be capris.  One day we will offer that style as well but probably in other fabrics.
I started learning Chinese this year and I find I really enjoy the language.  I think it’s important for me learn some basic Chinese if I am going to work with the Chinese people.  When I go there, I’m like a fish out of water.  No one speaks English accept my friend Andy and if he’s not with me, I’m lost.  I can’t walk down the street or go to a store because not one person speaks English.   So making the decision to learn their language (in some small way) was a good one I think. 
As with any foreign language, their sentence structure is completely different and that’s one thing I find complicating.  But the words themselves are not that hard.  They use the same words for many different meanings, but by changing the tone of the word, the meaning changes.  So that part of the language can be a bit confusing.  I might easily say that the meal tasted very “newspaper” because I didn’t use the correct tone. 
I’m sure once I get there I will feel completely lost.  My vocabulary will be limited and they talk very fast.  But my hopes are to at least have some sense of the language and be able to have small, simple conversations.    Even now as I communicate with representatives from these new factories through Skype, I am able to share a few words of Chinese.  Communication with the factory representative is usually done through typed conversation and I have learned to write the language in Pinyin.  Pinyin is writing Chinese with letters from our alphabet, not their drawings.  Once I learned the letter combinations and sounds of the letters, it has gotten fairly easy to type the words.  I just need to build my vocabulary and that will take time and practice.
I have hopes that my next writing will be good news.  I hope our children’s jeans will be finished soon and on their way to our shop.  I hope that these new factories will successfully duplicate our patterns.  And I hope I continue to stay focused and positive.  Sometimes it’s not easy, but my strong belief in what I am doing keeps me going through the disappointments that I have experienced over these months.  I look forward to the future and the new direction that I am headed.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It’s March Already!

I haven’t posted since the end of last year.  You know why?  THERE’S BEEN NOTHING TO POST!!!!  I am so frustrated and disappointed in the progress made in China I could just scream.

I was supposed to have the children’s jeans completed by mid-January before they closed down for an entire month to celebrate their Chinese New Year’s.  The samples of the teen and youth sizes were also supposed to be completed by that time as well.  IT DIDN’T HAPPEN!!!  I got nothing.  They were so busy with all the year-end orders, that they didn’t complete ours.
So the country closed down about the middle of January, they didn’t complete my order and now I have nothing to start the New Year 2012.  They didn’t actually get back to working full force until near the end of February.  Even though their holiday was over, all the workers didn’t return for almost two weeks.  So because I didn’t get the children’s jeans in January, I hope to get them sometime in March…so 3 months have been lost already and the year has just begun.
It’s now the beginning of March and they are still working on our children’s jeans.  The waistbands apparently are much more difficult to manufacture because they cannot use their waistband machines.  They must be done carefully one by one.  So I’m still waiting for their completion.  I probably won’t have the children’s jeans till the end of March if I’m lucky.
The samples of the youth and teen sizes arrived last week and we were expecting them to be as we ordered.  THEY WEREN’T.  We managed to get all the fittings completed the week they arrived but the samples were a disaster.  Why can’t they make our jeans correctly?  This company is an excellent manufacturing company and they make beautiful jeans for typical people, but their sample makers did a terrible job with this first round of samples for the youth and teen sizes.  It’s not because they are inexperienced, because they are not; but making these unusually shaped jeans must be very difficult for them.  They are certainly unlike anything they have every made before.
So working with the owner of the jeans factory, we’ve made some decisions of how to proceed.  Instead of them trying to make all the styles at once, they’re going to start with just one style at a time, get it right, then start manufacturing that one style, then make another style and so on.  I’m hoping that this will solve the problem and we can perfect these samples.  I started my third year in business this year and feel I have made very little progress although I’m told that something of this magnitude cannot be done quickly.   
I know Jillian and I have learned so much since we began and have improved so many things since our first order.   So I don’t want to complain about how slow this process has been.  But frustration builds and so does the debt.  I need to start having some significant sales soon.  Once I have product to sell and start showing sales, I can qualify for a small business loan.  I will feel so much better when I can borrow money for working capital against the business.  As it is now, I have used our home and our medical practice as collateral.   
The DSAIA conference was last week and I had to attend it with nothing but a sample of our children’s jeans.  I thought I would have the youth and teen size samples with me as well, but I just couldn’t display them.  But it was a good conference nonetheless.  I met lots of nice people from all over the United States from many different Down syndrome organizations.  I enjoyed seeing familiar faces too.  Many of the same exhibitors attend these conferences as well and we have become acquaintances.
So for the start of 2012, so far, not so good!