When I see the crumpled face of our production manager, Jamie, I know we've hit a brick wall. Around her are piles of scarlet tunics hemorrhaging all over our studio. A large shipment we've awaited for two years has arrived. An ensemble conceived by Charlotte Moss: champagne bubbles rising from the hem of a long jacket, cami and tunic in brilliant natural dyes, intricately executed kantha stitching by hand in lines and circles, perfectly fitted pants we've edited multiple times, the matching shawls, the whole of it . . . ruined.
Pen marks, says Jamie. Yep, in the final stages - after women of Bangladesh have poured over these garments with the utmost finesse for two years - from the silk growing and spinning to the weaving and dyeing to the stitching - then, then, the pieces are carried to a tailor's shop for the final construction. And all over this artfully ornamented silk, the tailors have left clumsy pen marks.
Two dry-cleaners cannot budge the marks. We begin to try on pieces and find the final sizing totally wrong. Jamie counts and recounts to see what possible skeletal pieces we could save from this catastrophe. It is impossible. The pieces are too compromised, the size runs utterly skewed, the whole 2 year endeavor, failed.
My heart breaks for the women, their countless hours doomed by the random carelessness of the tailors; not to mention the months of work by our design team. My heart breaks because I love this group in Bangladesh and their leader who I call a friend. I spend countless hours with the numbers, the analysis, counting the cost. We are a business, and in any other clothing business, these would be sent back without a further thought. But we have invested in these women and their work. I want the resolution to be honest and fair to them. I work out a plan with the group; it is fair, but painful.
Months later, I finally have the courage to pull some of the pieces out again and ask how a phoenix rises from these ashes. Our design team begins to lay out the tunics; they cut here from one to finish another into a dress. We add beads. We get to work, and what we have, after hours of clever manipulation, is a classically gorgeous ensemble . . . in a very few sizes.
The women who craft these pieces are from the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh. They banded together not only to stitch and dye and make remarkable beauty, but to bring clean water to their community and schools for their children. They have formed their cooperatives and govern them in a remarkable overturning of the oppression into which they were born. They are the essence of Ibu.
No one said it was going to be easy. I lay this down as I would a very poor hand at poker - this is what we got dealt this time around. But the women who made these beauties are winners, and that is the end we care about. Aces, in fact.
For all of the many hands that went into this work, I must praise. This is some of the best work we've ever seen, and if you are one of our few sizes, you may have won the lottery. For the rest of us, I would ask you to hang tight and know that we will try again, always always on the side of the phoenix. And on the side of the women whose hands still fly with needles toward a larger, fairer, more colorful world.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker