Feeling spurned and exploited, I lamented my lame camcorder bag for a few months. More googling, more phone calls, more dead ends. I literally had no idea what I was looking for except a small factory to make sample diaper bags. Then I reached out for more guidance from Rada, my aforementioned fashion unicorn.
She gave me a reliable contact and suggested I just show up at the workshop. This was exciting. I had no idea what I was getting into.
I found the address in Manhattan’s garment district. And lemme tell ya – when I stepped into this whole new world, I thought,
“Wait. This is definitely not a NYC sweatshop, is it?”
At dozens of sewing machines were dozens of Chinese women madly sewing who-knows-what. I was gobsmacked. I’d heard there are still sweat shops in New York, but I figured that was an urban legend.
But there, in front of me, was a room chock-full of humming sewing machines in an over-crowded factory floor in Midtown Manhattan.
I thought, “If this works out, I don’t want to know these workers’ salaries.”
Disclaimer for my future life: Rada told me they all make living wages. It was a skyscraper factory from another era, but that the fashion district of Manhattan has dozens and dozens of these high-ceilinged factories. This was definitely not a NYC sweatshop.
I met the daughter and son of the factory owners. It was exciting to meet, I dunno – factory owners. They were not excited to meet me.
I showed them the bag. They were unimpressed.
This wasn’t promising as I sat in an utterly chaotic office with soon-to-be toppling stacks of papers and fabric rolls.
But the daughter shrugged and said, “Sure. We can do it.”
“Okay, but I have some adjustments to make – like I’m going to change the hardware and the fabric.”
“Oh, good,” she said, “cuz our needles can’t pierce that fabric.”
Then why didn’t you say that a second ago? I grumbled under my breath.
Showing her the patterns for my bag, I pulled out a giant cluster of poster board puzzle pieces layered in a manila envelope. (It’s a mind-boggling 3-D puzzle for sure.)
“Sure, we can do it.”
Do you need anything more from me?
“No. We can do it.”
“Can I explain some more of the bag’s functionality?”
“No. We can figure it out from pattern.”
Having a very productive day (I was on the clock, after all…paying a sitter to be with my younger kid), I walked directly to another contact of Rada’s: a nylon fabric supplier. We sat down at a desk with a woman who laid out nylon fabric swatches for me.
I picked out some navy blues and the salesperson told me, “Those are used by the military.”
“Yes. Those are military grade.”
“Wow. Um…cool? Or not. Not so sure about that. But where’s it made?”
“What’s that mean?”
“Well, I know that, but like…where?”
Suddenly, I didn’t want to know anymore.
And as with so many elements of this process, I either needed to order 10,000 yards, or see what “they” had in their “stockroom”.
“Where’s the stockroom?”
“Oh, but where?”
I waited a few weeks and a 50-pound roll of fabric was delivered to my apartment. It held 35 square yards of navy blue nylon fabric.
Do you know how big a 75-pound roll of fabric is? Taller than 6’2”, I tell you what.
So I cut three square yards of fabric, took the new hardware I’d scouted at buckles ‘n buttons stores in Manhattan’s fashion district, and took them back to the definitely-not-a-sweatshop.
The factory owner’s kids were there – the son scrolling through Facebook (I saw it with my own eyes) and his sister in a flop sweat running around managing sewers and some other client.
“Here’s the fabric! Isn’t it great? Can you get started, soon?”
“Yes. But next week is Chinese New Year.”
“Oh. Um…what does that mean?”
“We will be closed for a month.”
(Insert wide-eyed, stunned emoji, here.)
More waiting. Always the waiting. Enough with the waiting.
I suppose it was par-for-the-course when you’re a tiny startup dealing with definitely not a NYC sweatshop.