Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

If You Can Get It - 14

Just shy of 20,000 words total, which means that as of midnight (just a few minutes ago) I was only 2,500 words behind where I should be. Completion remains possible, so long as I don't slacken.


The expedition, when it left the next morning, was not without certain comic undertones. Eddy had not, it seemed, expected that he would have passengers other than Kristy, and so he had brought a young female assistant with him. Sue had arrived, as requested, and in addition Kristy had all of the prototype bags to bring with her: six designs, each in a variety of materials. Eddy’s S-series Mercedes was spacious, but it also came with a driver. There was some question of bringing a second car, but at last the prototype bags all went into the trunk, the three women into the back seat, and Eddy sat in front with the driver — the glassed-off front compartment gradually becoming opaquely fogged with cigarette smoke.

With traffic, the trip took nearly two hours, though it was only seventy miles to the smaller city in which the factory that was their destination was located. None of the car’s occupants were the more cheerful for their journey, nor was the guard who stopped them outside the chain-link-fence surrounding the factory visibly more happy to see them. He argued for a while with Eddy and the driver, then seemed to reach sufficient agreement for the three of them to stand around smoking together for some time while the car idled. At last, he opened the gate, Eddy and the driver returned to the car, and the guard waved them through.

The factory was a large, non-descript structure of corrugated metal. They were met outside by a middle-aged woman in a navy blue suit who assured them repeatedly that they could call her Tina. She led them into the factory itself, where perhaps a hundred workers were busy. At one end of the hanger-like building (brilliantly illuminated throughout by blue-white glow of fluorescent lights) was a bank of cutting tables at which a dozen workers were cutting out shapes from huge rolls of imitation leather. Most of the building was filled with sewing tables, at each of which a man or woman in an identical white uniform sat bent over a heavy duty sewing machine, assembling pieces.

Compared to the electronics factories she had visited while working on the PocketDJ Player, Kristy was surprised at the lack of complexity. To all appearances there were only four stages to the building of each bag: cutting, assembling the external pieces, inserting and attaching the lining, and attaching the straps, buckles, and other fittings. Nonetheless, progress seemed rapid and efficient.

After they had toured the production area, with perfunctory explanations of various points by Tina, they repaired to a back room which was dim in comparison to the brilliantly lit factory, and furnished in relative luxury with deeply piled carpet and over-stuffed leather couches. An assistant brought in a tea service, and Tina served it to them with some formality.

The tea was drunk, and some small talk was awkwardly attempted through the mediation of Sue’s translation. Then Tina summoned an assistant and a selection of production samples were brought in of the bag which this factory was making: a satchel-style design made to fit a 15” laptop and emblazoned with a brass-finish buckle in the form of the Courier brand’s “CR” logo.

Kristy retrieved the relevant prototype from the car and set it next to the production run samples.

Tina pointed proudly at the bags.

“She says that they look very good. You will sell a lot of them,” Sue translated.
Kristy pointed out that the strap on the production bag was not the same as that on the prototype. It was made of fabric rather than leather.

Tina considered the strap for some time, until Kristy began to think that she would refuse to respond. Finally she countered, explaining that the fabric strap was stronger.

Stronger or not, Katie objected, it was not what Aspire had requested. The exterior of the bag was to be entirely leather.

The bag was entirely leather. This was only the strap. A strap must be strong. Tina would not build a bag that did not have a strong strap.

They circled the topic and considered it from every angle repeatedly. Tina sang the praises of a fabric strap, she denied that the original design had specified the nature of the strap, she suggested that a leather strap would look ugly. When all this failed, she warned that the bags would cost more.

This, Kristy advised, was something she would have to take up with the Senior Vice President of Procurement when he arrived to sign the final purchase orders. Kristy’s job was to assure that the production bags were like the prototypes.

The production bags were like the prototypes.

Exactly like the prototypes.

Tina waved her hand in dismissal of this detail.

Nearly twenty minutes had now passed and Kristy was fully ready for the interview to be over. Unfortunately, the bag presented more sources of conflict.

Why had the piping been removed from the edges of the flap?

What piping?

Kristy pointed out the feature. Tina insisted that she could see no difference. Time passed, voices were raised. The piping at last was admitted.

There remained only the matter of a pocket. The prototype had four pockets on the inside of the flap: two sized for pens and two larger ones. The production sample had a single large pocket and two sized for pens. Kristy needed the missing pocket to be restored to the design.

Tina threw up her hands. Why so many pockets? Did she want her customers to lose things?

Kristy remained firm. The design had four pockets, the bag must have four pockets.
Would she not prefer three pockets? She would not. Would she prefer three pen pockets and one large one? People had many pens! No, even this generosity in regards to pens would not do. Very well. If what Kristy wanted was pockets, she would have pockets. Did this satisfy her? If it matched the prototype, it did.

This round of negotiation finished, Tina sat back and surveyed her customers with evident pleasure.

It was clear they worked well together. Would they like to see another bag her factory could produce? It would go well with their other bags.

No, Kristy explained, their line was already set. They had designers in the United States who created their bags. They only needed to have them manufactured exactly as designed.

Tina waved this away. They would like this bag. She was sure of it.

She called an assistant in, spoke briefly to him, and a moment later a leather satchel was brought in and presented to Kristy.

The first thing that Kristy noticed about it was the Coach logo on it. No, she could not buy this bag. This was a Coach bag.

That was not a problem, Tina assured. The Courier logo could easily be substituted for the Coach one. Did she like the bag? It was a very popular bag. People would like it.

Kristy turned on Eddy. Did this factory make pirated bags? He shrugged. Were Courier’s designs being shopped to other companies the way this Coach design was? He told her this was impossible. How was it impossible? Eddy shrugged.

Returning the Coach bag to Tina, Kristy suggested that it was time for them to go.
Did Kristy want to have the bag herself? As a gift?

She did not. She wanted only to get out, though she hesitated to express the feeling so bluntly. Sue, she noticed, was casting longing glances at the rejected Coach bag. Kristy considered briefly accepting it and giving it to her, but she was sure that any compromise on this point would result in problems later.

Hands were shaken all around and Kristy and her entourage gradually made its way out of the factory and to the car.


Brandon said...

My favorite section so far.

Darwin said...


I wasn't sure whether a section devoted entirely to manufacturing-in-China problems would be of much of any interest to anyone without my own particular fascinations, but to make it work (especially given the problem of a conversation that would necessarily be happening through a translator and would be tedious to recount as dialog anyway) I tried to have some fun with narration.

MrsDarwin said...

This is also the result of me hectoring, every time it looked like Darwin was flagging at the keyboard, "Have you got your narrative voice on? Don't lose the narrative voice!"

Brandon said...

I think the indirect-dialogue approach works very well here; it solves all the major problems of the scene and is very readable.

I seem to remember a novelist dedicating a book to his wife, "without whom this book would have been written much more painlessly".

Otepoti said...

The elliptical at-second-hand tone of the factory visit is just right!

(I am enjoying this, BTW.)

mandamum said...

I too enjoyed the tone "Would she...? She would not." It feels of translation, somehow. Perfect.

Also makes my small (today) homeschooling/parenting-small-children challenges seem easier :)