Welcome to the Real World
The best way to describe this section is as an orientation to the real garment industry. As you already know, or are beginning to suspect, the industry is very different from what you may have supposed. The purpose here is to explain the game rules from an insider’s perspective.
In order to win at any game, you have to know the rules first. It’s very hard to play and win at a game if you don’t know the game plan that others are using. Of course, you don’t have to like the rules and I certainly hope you don’t like all of them. The point of this section is to help you understand that to win the game, you have to conform on some level. You might not like their game, but you do want their game pieces.
Hands down, the person who can hurt you the worst is yourself. It may not seem that way since you’ve been struggling and looking for others to help you, but no one will. There is a reason for this and if I explain it, this will make things much easier for you and you will find many people who are happy to assist you. Just remember a few things.
The number one complaint of industry people is paranoia. This is the first roadblock for a newcomer because many people don’t realize that paranoia is an insult to our basic integrity. Being paranoid means a DE tacitly assumes that we will steal their ideas at the first opportunity.
Paranoia is misplaced because suppliers sell products and services, not ideas. We aren’t ‘ideas’ people. If we were, we’d be designers ourselves and not suppliers. We’re in a tough spot because our customers are competitors and will try to use us to spy on each other. If we were to sell your ideas, no client would trust us and we would have gone broke a long time ago. Your idea thieves are closer to you than we are.
By the way, there is a direct correlation between paranoia and industry experience: the newer the designer, the more paranoid they are. With the Paranoia Index, a supplier doesn’t need to ask how long someone’s been in business because it’s obvious.
Suppliers and service providers are ‘safe’ for several reasons. We see so many ideas that ideas become a blur and we can’t remember them, much less take time from our paying occupations to make secret phone calls to potential buyers. Secondly, some ideas just aren’t that great, but we can help you improve upon them if we know what they are.
Suppliers have a personal stake in the success of your venture. We are only successful if you are. We want you to grow and become financially successful so that you’ll be able to buy more of our products and services. It’s in our best interest to help you. We won’t sell your ideas; that’s like killing the golden goose.
Just as often, many designers are justifiably paranoid because industry people ask questions that seem ‘threatening’. This is mostly due to miscommunication. DEs may not understand the frame of reference. If a supplier asks what you’re making, they want to know generalities, whether it’s bridal gowns, kitchen aprons or bedspreads. They need to know in order to sell you the correct products. They don’t want the lowdown on your concept, your detailed design plans, or anything else that’s sensitive to your business.
Just like any other industry, many suppliers need to invest in customer service training. Many industry suppliers need to be more sensitive and helpful and improve their social skills. Some suppliers use screening methods that are more appropriate in the interrogation cells of military dictatorships. (Suppliers will not be happy that I’ve described them this way, but this is a wake up call to them.) This is no way to treat a customer.
In short, let us be paranoid on your behalf because we’re protecting ourselves as well as you. Since all of my clients are competitors, I am very aware that designers try to use me to get the goods on each other. Fabric and sales reps complain about the very same things.
If you needed back surgery, you’d search for the best back surgeon in the business. You wouldn’t go to a dermatologist. To succeed, you’ll have to hire and use the sources of your competitors. You’ll have to get past this eventually because to have the edge, you will need to hire service providers that your competitors use and buy from the same sources.
Like anyone who is new to a business, a designer may be intimidated by the prospect, because it is scary. The problem isn’t being afraid; the problem is letting fear drive you. When people are fearful, they don’t think clearly and they just react emotionally. Keeping a level head is a huge advantage.
Everyone reacts differently to fear; in most circumstances, people run from it. In business, you can’t run away because you’re sticking your neck out and running right into it (which is brave). The problem is how people compensate for their fears.
Most people use what I call ‘cloaking devices’, which are little emotional tricks they use to hide their fears and insecurities from themselves. Everybody else knows you’re fearful because you’d have to be when starting a new business. It’s normal to be intimidated. Not being fearful is not natural. Using cloaking devices to hide your fears from other people doesn’t help at all. It just shows other people that you’re not in control because insecurity and fear are driving you.
The most common cloaking device is the Prima Donna complex. Prima Donnas are common in the fashion, music, art, and acting fields. For example, Prima Donna musicians make silly pointless demands, like removing all of the green M&Ms from the candy dish.
Demanding the equivalent of green M&M removal does not convince anyone of superior aesthetics or talent; it screams bad breeding and alienates people whose help you may need to succeed. Being successful means using kindness and graciousness in interactions with others.
The second and perhaps equally destructive cloaking device is the I-Know-Everything-Attitude. This says exactly the opposite (methinks thou dost protest too much).
This is a problem for two reasons. First, you can go broke over it because someone else is trying to explain a problem that you think is unimportant. Second, you could miss some excellent education opportunities because many people will educate you for free.
It’s very easy to determine who has this problem. People who know a lot, ask a lot of questions because they’ve learned enough to ask the right questions. People who don’t know anything, don’t ask any questions. They don’t even know what they don’t know. It takes many companies at least fifteen years to figure out that they don’t have the first clue as to what they’re doing.
I’ve found it easiest to work with companies that are either very new (fewer than three years in business) or over fifteen years in business. The most difficult companies are in the six to twelve year ranges. Notoriously difficult are those near the tenth year of business. They are hardest because they’re starting to get an inkling of what they don’t know, but may prefer to use the denial strategy since it worked for them in the past. Once they just ‘give up’ and open themselves to re-learning, they’re fine.
I mention this for one critical reason. People rarely go broke quickly in this business. They tend to go broke very slowly because this business is relatively inexpensive to start in and it takes awhile for the foundations of poor planning to catch up and destroy the company.
That’s why this book uses the term “go broke quickly”. I figure that if your real goal is to go broke, you should just do it quickly and get it over with and then go on to something else. In other words, don’t go broke slowly like so many companies.
So, instead of using these cloaking devices, just give yourself permission and time to learn. Just learn how the machine works and grow slow and smart. Don’t be in too much of a hurry.
This also means to read everything in this book because companies of all sizes have these problems. Don’t think that certain sections don’t apply to you. If third and fourth generation companies have these problems, it’s likely that your company could, too.