Experience trumps youth every time

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As I was perched in a very precarious position on an ancient, rusted and very wobbly ladder this weekend, I couldn’t help BUT eavesdrop on the other designers in my favourite warehouse as they were making their fabric selections, discussing their design plans, and attempting to convince each other that there is a viable market for a $200 cotton crop top “as long as it were really well constructed”…

Their silent rationalization and head-nodding to that statement was absolutely deafening.

How did I get here again?!

Suddenly, and feeling as though I had been somehow caught in the act, my breath of fresh air appeared from below to assess my rather odd position (no doubt in an attempt to get away from this strange group) and communicated his lack of patience with the fashion students through a very obvious eye roll. As he helped me down from the unstable pile of bolts that I somehow managed to find myself on yet again, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as my feet were planted firmly back on the ground – both literally and figuratively – simply because of his presence.

“What have you hidden for me today?” I asked him sweetly (score 1 point here for experience) and his eyes lit up with excitement as he whisked me off to show me the best of the best tucked away only for his favourite clients (N.B. I am not THAT naive to think that I am his only one). And despite his previous display of impatience, he is a man who clearly adores his work. I appreciate his candour. His no-nonsense approach. And most recently, our apparent bonding over blatant ageism…

It got me thinking. Despite our rather obvious difference in age (their grunge attire is reminiscent of my own youth when it was popular the first time around circa 1991), I am really no different from these young students – for they are testing their skills and limits just as I am. Yet for some reason, I still feel like I am out-of-place amongst this uber-trendy, hat-wearing crowd as they make their selections for end of semester projects. No, I do not know how to put together a coherent croquis for my professors or potential buyers. I cannot make a dress in an hour to fill a last-minute space missing in my runway show for finals. Nor do I seem to have a backpack-carrying entourage to accompany me on these strangely comforting sourcing trips…

But we do both seek to express our ideas through the same medium. We follow the same steps and framework. My path for getting here may have been very different and not as direct as theirs but here we are, both in the exact same space, trying to solve the exact same problems, faced with the exact same barriers.

“OMG – where did you find that?!” she squealed with a mix of adolescence, competition and envy as my purchases were being tabulated. And I matched her interest, excitement and obvious hand gestures perfectly and with utter ease, all while secretly thanking him with only my eyes.

Maybe we really aren’t all that different after all…

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Would you walk into a place like this?

I had to climb a rusted ladder in heels...

I had to climb a rusted ladder in heels…

At first glance, I never imagined that a legitimate business would ever exist within these walls. I checked my addresses three times to make sure that I was in the right place and not being lured to my death. “Meet so-and-so by the freight elevators at this abandoned building…”

FYI – I’ve watched all the cheesy horror movies so I know that the pretty girl who wanders into the abandoned building/house/forest alone always dies. I happen to be missing the platinum blond hair and massive breasts yet things seemed eerily similar. Even so, ignoring all obvious warning bells, I still wandered in.

And what I found was astounding. A thriving industry of fabric suppliers teeming with life! Rooms packed to the ceiling with bolts of fabric in every colour and style imaginable. All surrounded by thick concrete, under a haze of light that filtered through the mismatched archaic windows (which may or may not have ever been cleaned). Fans were blowing a breeze in all directions. Sturdy yet ancient machinery was turning steadily, measuring massive amounts of fabric, working exactly as it should – no “modern” innovation required. Tables were overflowing with samples. And customers were leaving with dozens of bolts piled precariously on dollies down big freight elevators.

And also a little overwhelming.

I think he noticed the mild panic in my eyes and introduced himself. I immediately felt a sense of relief. I proceeded to spend the next three hours touring the spaces, digging through piles and getting excited at all the possibilities that were presented in front of me. I did enter into this scenario with a plan – to create leggings that make me excited to walk down the street. And with all the fabric choices in front of me, I am certain to find what I am looking for.

Leather and studs anyone?