A Pretty Blouse and Business

First Published in the Burlington Free Press - July 2008

A Pretty Blouse and Business:

I was at a business conference recently and at the end of this rather inconclusive symposium somebody said ‘business needs to do a better job of telling its story’

I had to agree we have a story and it is time to tell it.

I am in the clothing business, the textile business and the design business.

And the story I want to tell is the story of a blouse. A blouse that sells for forty nine dollars. At full price.

A pretty blouse that makes the wearer feel good about herself and brings a smile to her face when she looks in the mirror and when somebody offers her a compliment about how great she looks.

This is the story of that blouse, that blouse and its journey to her hands, that blouse and its circle of employment, that blouse and its industry of creativity, that blouse and its unseen values.

That blouse is born on the sketch sheet of a designer, that designer has done her research, buying trade publications, attending industry fairs, shopping the market, in my case using vintage and antique references, she has conducted surveys with her staff and customers, run reports and drawn on her own vision to make that first sketch. The details of the fabrics and trims, tailoring and accessories, embroidery and print are all on that sketch, this sketch holds all of the information that the blouse will need to start its journey. The designer’s counterpart today is half a world away, let’s call her Anita, she’s a merchandiser; she has the skills that will take that sketch and breakdown its ingredients and deliver them to each of the trades needed to make it. She will use experts to source the fabric, a cotton voile. This soft and fine cotton comes from Southern India, in Southern India it is grown and in Southern India it is woven. A tradition as old as cloth continues in the weaving mills of the south. That first yard of cotton, the unrefined greige goods already comes with its own record of employment.

I think of the labor that goes into picking that cotton. I think of the families living from those wages. I think of the cotton popping out of its pod, warmed by the sun, and then carded and woven to make a cloth that cannot be mimicked by man made fibers, a cloth that is both strong and durable, and light and breathable. A cloth that can be dyed and printed be embroidered or left plain. I think – ‘now that is a cloth that deserves respect’- that is a cloth whose provenance is known by its’ unique touch and is immeasurably fine.

Then that cotton is dyed, color is its’ essence, its hue matched with a combination of science and a trained eye, after dying comes processing, a vital step- to remove stiffness and shrinkage- I will have my fabric washed in large tubs and hang it to dry, letting the natural air and climate enter its fiber, letting the fabric rest so the cutting of it will be straight. I think of the families supported by the washing of this blouse. The work its own specialty of know how and skill.

Before the fabric is ready, the pattern is in process. The expert in the spec department has lined up the measurements with the design; a combination of grading rules and computer programs assures that the fit is fine. The pattern master with sketch and specs in hand, cuts the first pattern, marking all of the pleats and tucks and darts that both the cutting master and tailor will need to guide them. And so it is to that cutting master next, and then the skilled tailor, there’s tucks and the tailoring, and many fine lines of stitches to complete the style.

We must add the hand- work, the embroidery is perfected, an accomplished craftswoman re - worked the pattern, and reworked it again, until it was perfect. And the yarns, those embroidery yarns, each color dyed just for this motif: each matching perfectly to spec and design. These experts are called masters and that’s what they do they master their craft and take pride in their work.

I think of the families that live from these jobs.

And buttons, small buttons a leitmotif of mine, they are made from shells, they are mother of pearl, they glisten like ivory, they carry the sea, those tiny buttons, like a vintage find, are something special, sewable only by hand they put the smile on the blouse the delicate closure, they are both grace and design yet something so seemingly simple and fine. Those buttons too are manufactured just for you.

And there is a label and a hangtag – more work for designers, and the label manufacturer too, and printing the hangtag, and attaching it now, and pressing the blouses, and removing all stains, and thread cutting, and button hole making, that’s an entire specialization with its own operators too, and quality checking that delicate blouse, and packing it carefully and folding it well. Anita, the merchandiser, gives her last final test. The blouse now takes a journey that involves boats or planes, freight forwarding companies, and employment at ports, it takes a journey that engages another world of endeavor, that kowtows to customs and pays its dues, that moves to delivery and receiving of goods, that arrives at a warehouse that houses systems created by IT, the recording and accounting of every sale, it works with a budget, a financial plan, that has its own merchandisers, not Anita now but Amanda creates the map, that encompasses statistics and models and photo shoots, and marketing and locations and travels to trade shows and builds websites to sell it. It employs copywriters and call centers and product managers too. This pretty voile blouse, keeps working hard.

It links sales reps and customers, retailers and consumers, analysts and accountants and window dressers with promotions and store managers and supervisors and part timers and landlords and advertisers too, needing graphics and printed brochures, and store design and carpentry and electricians and floorers and painters and builders - this little blouse has pulled on its journey hundreds of people and a multiplicity of skills, from fabric to finish its employment circle is large, it ripples and contributes and creates ladders for success, this blouse in its industry, its accessible industry where talent is welcomed, where women and men can reach for the top, this industry that employs so many, this industry rides on the back of that pretty blouse.

And that pretty blouse in the soft color of a rose, with the delicate embroidery that captures the breathe of a flower, that pretty blouse in the softest of cottons, with fine lines of pintucks, that pretty blouse whose neckline flatters the face, that pretty blouse that today gave your life a little more grace, that pretty blouse that made you smile, that pretty blouse is business my friend.

That pretty blouse has a story to tell. For forty nine dollars. That little blouse should be treated well.

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