I have been working through the 4th book in a library of spiritual books my tailor, friend and spiritual mentor, Nighisti Selby lent me: “Working With the Law” by Raymond Holliwell. Last week the words of this book were particularly apt:
“…Note how the great river begins. It starts with a small stream or brook high up in the mountains where the ice and snow feed it in the springtime. You see the little stream of water run into a huge boulder, a fallen tree, or debris made up of bushes, decayed leaves, and the like. Does the little stream stop with the obstacle and wait for its force to build up so that it can push the opposition from its path? No, the little stream is not interested so much in the boulder or tree as it is in hurrying along and reaching a larger stream, a river, and the mighty ocean. It does not waste any time with the obstacle, but quietly works its way around the interference and hurries on. It is urged to meet a river and then to be a part of the mighty ocean. Thus, we see that little stream wind its way round and round many crooks and turns, but every turn takes it nearer its goal.”
These words resonated last week when we hit some bumps in the road on our way out to the facility that has the Gerber Paragon Cutter, the computerized cutter that is key to achieving the precision and efficiency that makes U.S. based production of custom-made womenswear possible. Last Monday’s travels were emblematic of the enormous challenge of creating something new and then the equally enormous satisfaction as we navigate the river of challenges and behold the opportunity and beauty that lies ahead. Just a few short hours into our 8-hour drive from Durham, North Carolina to Smithville, Tennessee the pattern makers said they would not yet be ready to send the digitally adapted patterns from our beta-clients to the cutter. (Yes, we are lucky to be working with the best group for this work, but we are learning the hard way that there is no road map and therefore predicting distance/time from one milestone to the next remains very challenging.)
This was the only window we had in the next few weeks to make the trip to Tennessee so we decided to proceed anyways and meet the group who would be handling this critical step of our work. I was disappointed and yet I knew something great was waiting for us at the end of the road. Omega Apparel, Inc. has been around for more than 50 years. They make the dress uniforms for the men and women who serve in the military. We got to see this beautiful facility and the 80 or so workers it employs. Omega trains sewers, providing them living wage jobs and an opportunity for advancement in the company. (Our guide and the Head of Operations, Connie Jolley, began as a sewer at the factory.) We got to walk among the rows of sewers and see the high quality, beautifully performing apparel produced in Smithville, Tennessee.
We then got to meet Juan Miranda, who proudly operates the Gerber Cutter, taking the time in his busy pre-holiday production schedule to carefully explain how each part of the machine works. For me, Juan Miranda embodies the awesome, inspired, detail oriented individual behind innovation in apparel production. I’ve talked before about how the media often narrowly discusses job creation. Either we talk about technology, entirely to the exclusion of the workers affected by the technology, or we talk about how technology threatens jobs.
And yet here we were, learning about an innovation that provided Juan a great job, but also provided a critical efficiency for major (untapped) growth in custom-made, domestically produced apparel: the cutting time for garment pieces adapted to an individual woman’s measurements is reduced from hours to minutes. Not only does this allow for efficient cutting of these pieces from individual measurements rather than standard sizes, but it allows for efficient cutting of complex pieces like the Riding Jacket, with old school pleats and other tailored features that we are seeing less of in the world of fast-fashion.
When the Gerber Cutter allows us to create much more value for women in a world where fit and quality is getting poorer and poorer, the demand for this work will provide many jobs for the sewers like those at Omega.
The ocean that I am moving towards is not just a beautifully curated line of wardrobe staples that makes the wearer feel powerfully feminine and ready to take on the challenges in her day, but to also change the rules of the apparel industry. Better quality, better fit, move value, with the price of a garment more equitability distributed to the sewers and fabric producers. The act of purchasing that customized piece, reverberates throughout the supply chain, positively affecting the workers, animals and environment that helped build that product. The value we create helps us grow an apparel line where body positive is the rule not the exception. The ocean we are moving towards is the power to change all of the stale, outdated rules for the better. We won’t build a better world by doing nothing, fearfully gazing out the window at our rapidly changing planet. We will do it by taking bold and positive action to a better future.
Thank you for your support to build this stream of positive action towards a better world.
P.S. - Keep an eye out for our video on the Gerber Cutter on our instagram feed or here on the blog next week.