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THE WAY BACK - To Be the Company We Cannot Find

June 26, 2017

THE WAY BACK - To Be the Company We Cannot Find

THE WAY BACK

 

The cost of knowledge is high.” 

—Paul Keller (my Dad)

 

On the other hand, the cost of ignorance is even higher

—(a minute later)

 

One August night nearly ten years ago I came out of the Indira Gandhi International Airport and stepped into the blasting heat of New Delhi.  It was one in the morning, the sun had been down for hours, but the city was an oven.  Luckily, there was a car waiting there to take me to Jaipur.

 

The capitol of the nation, New Delhi, was linked to the capitol of Rajasthan, Jaipur, by a single lane highway at that time, which was shared by ox and camel carts, bicycles, trucks, buses, cars, and two wheelers.  The night drive was always tense.  A lot of vehicles didn’t bother with the luxury of head or tail lights.  Camel carts, of course, were exempt altogether, and they are amazingly hard to see at night.

 

If you get tired, it can be dangerous to stop and rest.  A few years later, Shari’s car was rammed by a truck on that road, while it idled on the shoulder.  She escaped death and permanent injury, but you won’t catch us on that road at night anymore, even though it is now a modern four lane highway.

 

It was an all night ride, and I not good at sleeping in cars, even after nearly forty hours of travel.  After awhile I entered that state that some of you probably know about, if you have to travel a lot and cross time zones for your work, where your mind spins slowly, and you’re saying to yourself, “What was it, again, that I’m supposed to be doing?”

 

I was on a mission.  Mehera Shaw needed to find a new company to produce our line.  We’d begun to have trouble with the folks we’d been working with for the past five years.  Prices were jumping drastically and inexplicably; defects in the dying were leaving us with too many unsalable pieces.  And finally, we had been told that our minimums were going to have to rise to a level we simply could not afford.

 

I didn’t know it at the time, but the textile export boom in India had just crested.  Everyone had been jumping into the game with the hope of making quick money.  The first twinge of a decline was already spreading ripples.  Companies that had grown too fast and expanded too far were suddenly facing shortfalls.  The first reaction from a lot of them was to come down on their customers, demanding bigger orders while giving poorer service and cutting back on quality.

 

But all I knew at that point was that we had invested ourselves very heavily in our work, in our line, and were now finding it impossible to work with the people we had come to depend on.

 

We had tried to find other producers, on earlier trips.  But everywhere we went we encountered arrogance and suspicion:  we were either taken as small fry unworthy of attention, or seen as potential corporate spies out to steal business secrets.

 

We tried teaming up with some old friends, interviewed potential pattern masters, managers, stitchers, without any luck.  No one was skilled enough.  It was crazy.  We were in a town with some of the most expert textile workers in the world, but the only people we could seem to meet were completely incompetent.

 

What was going on?

 

If we didn’t find an answer to this problem we knew that Mehera Shaw was finished, and all our efforts up to that point would have been for nothing.

 

But where was the answer?

 

So while the car was heading for Jaipur, I felt, myself, that I was heading for a wall.

 

After about four hours on the road, the driver pulled off by a dabbha, a roadside, open air restaurant.  Jaipur was now close enough that the driver felt it was safe for him to eat.  Otherwise, he would have worried that the food would make him drowsy.

 

You sit, sometimes, on plastic chairs at these places.  Other times on overturned buckets, or whatever else is handy.  The food is cooking out in the open, and the places that are good are well known.  I got a cup of chai and wandered off a little ways and found myself staring down into a pit edged by some crude foundation.

 

And I started reviewing the many steps that had brought Shari and me to this place we were now in.  Steps and mis-steps, trials and errors.   Trade shows, agents, wholesale, retail, payroll, landlords and rent.  Promises made, promises broken. 

 

What was wrong with this industry?

 

Years earlier, when I’d been in the gem and jewelry business, I had been dealing, for the most part, with rational and ethical adults.  But in the garment industry I was meeting up with whatever the opposite of that would be, all the time.

 

There was no one you could trust.  No one you could believe.  No one you could count on.

 

And now we’d reached a dead end.

 

A Buddhist friend once told me that a dead end is a very creative place to be, because that is the place where you are most likely to see a new possibility.

 

And suddenly, I had the answer, I saw the possibility, staring down into that pit.

 

We would start our own production company.

 

We would be the company we couldn’t get anybody else to be.

 

I called Shari once I reached Jaipur and told her I’d had this hit.  And right away she said, “That’s right, that’s it.”

 

This revelation was followed, in the ensuing months and years by many instructive catastrophes, each followed by further realizations and new undertakings, as we worked our way down toward the basics, the fundamentals, of what this business is.  At each step, we took on a broader, deeper role.

 

This is the introduction to a series of blogs called “The Way Back.”  It will tell the story of a small business facing all the problems small businesses face, and a number of problems big businesses face as well.  It is the story of our attempts to solve these problems in ways that line up with our values and with the realities that have confronted us along the way.

 

The series is called “The Way Back” because we have often found that the way forward, for us, has been to turn back, to look to basics, to get down as close to the ground as we can.

 

Hopefully, as this series continues, our instructive catastrophes leading to knowledge will be of value to others as well as ourselves.

 

More to come.

 

--from the desk of Mark Keller




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Fit/Sizing/Care
FIT

Our styles are meant to give room to breath and move.  We use fine tailoring coupled with a relaxed, comfortable fit.

We use a fit guide for each of our styles to provide more information about the fit that was intended.

Slim Fit: a close fit to the body. Regular Fit: a comfortable, relaxed fit with room around the body. Generous Fit: a very loose fit (such as in our oversized blouses) with lots of room around the body for ease of movement.

 

SIZING

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XS/ 36

S/ 38

M/40

L/ 42

XL/44

 

 

chest

35.5 inches/ 90 cm

37.5 inches/95 cm

39.5 inches/ 100 cm

41.5 inches/ 105 cm

44.5 inches. 113 cm

4cm extra from body

waist

26 inches/ 66 cm

28 inches/ 71 cm

30 inches/ 76 cm

32 inches/ 81 cm

35 inches/ 89 cm

fitted

 

low waist

28 inches/71 cm

30 inches/76 cm

32 inches/ 81 cm

34 inches/ 86 cm

37 inches/ 94 cm

fitted

 

hip

37 inches/ 94 cm

39 inches/ 99 cm

41 inches/ 104 cm

43 inches/ 109 cm

46 inches/ 1

4cm extra from body

 

 

WASHCARE

All garments have been washed several times during the printing/dyeing and manufacturing process.  

CARE for 100% cotton

We recommend cold water machine wash (up to 30 degrees celsius) with a bio detergent and either tumble dry on low heat or line dry in shade for all of our 100% cotton garments/homewares (except for quilts).  

Iron on reverse side of garment following fabric settings.  

Do not use bleach or stain remover.

Cold water wash and low heat drying or line drying in the shade will increase the life of the garment, prolong the vibrancy of the colors and reduce energy use. Shrinkage on all cottons is minimal, approximately 3%.

Garments/homewares are dyed or printed using AZO free, low-impact, pigment or reactive dyes unless otherwise noted.  These dyes are color-fast, but care should still be taken to wash with like colors to retain the vibrancy of the colors.

CARE for 100% cotton quilts

For quilts with cotton fill, we recommend spot or light surface cleaning only with a damp cloth and mild detergent.  Eco-friendly dry cleaning is also recommended. 

CARE for herbal/vegetable dye items

Vegetable dyes are not colorfast and are specifically marked in the product description.  We strongly recommend that all vegetable dye products be washed once before use in a cold water wash with minimal detergent.  Wash separately. Tumble dry on low heat or line dry in shade.  Iron on reverse side.  Do not use bleach or stain remover.

Please keep in mind that indigo dye does continually fade over time.  This is the nature of true indigo dye and is not a defect, but rather a sign of the 'living' nature of the dye.

CARE for silk and cotton/silk

For our silk and cotton silk garments/homewares, we also recommend gentle cycle machine wash cold water (up to 30 degrees celsius) or delicate hand washing to increase the life of the garment and reduce the environmental footprint from energy use, detergents and water wastage.  

Tumble dry on low heat or line dry in shade.  

Iron on reverse side of garment following fabric settings.

Do not use bleach or stain remover.

Dry cleaning using an eco-friendly service is also recommended.

CARE for linen and cotton/linen

For our linen and cotton linen garments/homewares, we also recommend gentle cycle machine wash cold water (up to 30 degrees celsius) or delicate hand washing to increase the life of the garment and reduce the environmental footprint from energy use, detergents and water wastage.  

Tumble dry on low heat or line dry in shade.  

Iron on reverse side of garment following fabric settings.

Do not use bleach or stain remover.