Chapter 9: Definitely Not a Sweat Shop
She put me in touch with a contact she’d used frequently, a factory manager. I met her at a set address on 38th Street in NYC.
And lemme tell ya – I stepped into a whole new world.
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.”
I met the factory owners, two siblings, both in their 30's. The brother barely looked up from his Facebook feed, the sister was in a flop sweat managing and sewing and organizing and fielding questions from workers.
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.
I showed her the patterns to the bag, a giant cluster of poster board puzzle pieces layered in a manila envelope.
(I tell you, Dear Reader: the 3-D puzzle that is this bag boggles the mind.)
“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.”
That same day, Rada hooked me up with the info of another fabric company. I needed to find lightweight, durable nylon. Conveniently, I walked a few blocks through midtown Manhattan to a supplier. I 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 managing siblings were there – the son scrolling through Facebook (just like when I met him) 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.