In some ways, DEs are disadvantaged because they assume that industry suppliers and service providers will act rationally. That’s a silly idea. The industry has its own marvelous compendium of self-destructive policies. I’ll discuss some of them so that you’ll have a better idea of how to structure your relationships with others in order to get what you need.
The first thing to realize, is that despite the popular culture depictions, this industry is not very progressive, but that’s where DEs can change things. I didn’t realize there was a problem myself until hearing the repeated comments of “Why do I have to do it that way,” or “Why do they use those words, ” or “What century is this anyway?”
Were I a sociologist, I would have lots of citations and proofs of the following, but I’m not, and I don’t, yet no one will disagree with these commonly noted concepts of human behavior. I will share, in brief, why basic human nature explains irrational human behaviors.
This accomplishes two things. You will understand your colleagues better, and hopefully you can stave off the social behavior beasts a little longer, provided you understand why and how they work.
Fear of Change
Fear is a great motivator. We do many things because of our fear; that’s why we buy insurance, go for check-ups, and wear seat belts. Fear is also the reason why we will not change. We stick to the known and safe unless absolutely forced to act. The garment industry is no different from any other in this respect. There is one critical difference: fear of change.
Suppose for a moment you are in an industry that is characterized by change. Change is the most critical requirement for success. Human nature resists this, and selectively compensates. This over-compensating explains why an industry that produces new products each market, compensates and maintains inner control by not changing anything other than the designs.
Think of it this way. Your neighbor paints his house five times a year. He not only paints, but re-designs the landscaping as well. With all this expenditure of time, planning and money, do you think he re-decorates his home’s interior as well? Hardly. Manufacturers are forced into constant change and react by sticking to old formulas of operations and methods. Change is effort and a lot of work. Innovation is not welcomed in the factory.
Knowing this about industry can help in many ways. It explains why manufacturers as an aggregate don’t have computers. Some don’t even have faxes! The fear paralysis extends to suppliers too. Most of them don’t have catalogs, and they don’t advertise. Rather, they stick to the tried and true, such as marketing their products at industry shows.
It is easy for those outside the mainstream to see how counterproductive this is. Typically, it is frustrating, since many would like to purchase products, yet if we don’t attend shows, we don’t know about product availability.
Typically, new companies are successful because of their innovation. They ride the wave, they define a new look, embody progressive, bold forward thinking, and they define fashion. But after awhile, they grow fearful. This doesn’t happen overnight. Slowly they constrict their own movements, choking the innovation that made them famous to begin with. Nearly everyone does this.
So the question is how to fight fear, yet remain progressive? I can’t tell you that, but I do know that you can’t be afraid to fail. You absolutely, most certainly will fail from time to time. But there is a critical difference between failing and being a Failure. A Failure gives up, doesn’t try new things, and doesn’t try again.
How their fear makes your life difficult
Other people’s fears can make your life difficult too. For example, calling a supplier and requesting a catalog can be perceived as threatening. Just asking about the variety of products they have for sale can be interpreted as a hostile act because you may be a competitor-supplier, who wants a look at their product offerings, so you can sell the products too. In fact, this is one of the reasons that nearly no one even prints a catalog.
Industry booksellers can be legendary in this regard. They very rarely have catalogs for just that reason. To get anything at all, you have to ask if they have titles on “———”, and you must be very specific.
Suppliers have things to sell but they won’t tell you what they have! It’s an incredible guessing game. No wonder big companies hire people whose only job is to call suppliers to see what they have for sale (they are called ‘Sourcing Managers’). One can only imagine how much money and time is wasted by paranoid policies.
Suppliers want to know who you really are and what you do before they’ll tell you what they sell. If you don’t have a referral and you don’t pass the interrogation screening, they’ll end the call. Some suppliers are more tactful (they won’t hang up on you), but they won’t send the brochures, samples or information you requested either.
The reason is that everybody keeps secrets from everybody else. First, they’re worried you may be a competitor. Second, they’re worried that you are trying to use them to get the goods on your competitor. This is why you can’t ask a supplier if they sell a trim or item used by another manufacturer. If they told everybody whom they sold to or worked for, they would be in deep trouble. They’d lose those customers.
This is why designers don’t have to be paranoid; it’s a waste of energy and worry. Other people will do that for you and save you the bother.
How to order products
Call and ask for a specific product. Describe it as precisely as possible. Get the price and arrange for purchase (be advised that many suppliers don’t take credit cards). At the close of business, casually ask if they have a catalog or a product list.
Don’t ruin your chances at this stage by asking for their price list. Hopefully they’ll volunteer to send one. If not, you’ll have to wait to receive the brochure and then go through the gauntlet again (but it’s easier the second time).
Write it down. Mail the party a letter or send a fax if they have a fax machine. Use company letterhead. Make sure all the necessary phone numbers and contact information are present.
Referrals. Use someone’s name as entry. Most business is conducted by referral. You should always ask for referrals if someone couldn’t help you. Unlike retail, asking for the name of a competitor isn’t a problem. Then call the second party and be very sure to mention who sent you. This creates goodwill among competitors.