Import/Export 101

Yesterday was a day filled with ideas and putting them into production, I think, because I met a man who makes a living doing just that (and then selling the products).

Before going to Chinatown, my friend Mook took me to the offices of another friend who lives around the corner. I never quite understood what we were doing there; we had lunch (noodles from the soi), Mook did a few office-type things (faxes and phone calls), but the friend I thought we were going to see wasn’t there, so I spent the better part of two hours, wandering and exploring three separate, but adjacent office/warehouse spaces crammed with thousands of different products: oversized-red-velvet-rubber duckies; handbags in every shape and color, made with laminated fabric; funky stylized imaginary animals; fabric-covered notebooks; baskets made with woven plastic tubing; computer bags made with custom-designed fabric. The show room, was hot and dusty and I was in there by myself. I picked up nearly every object in there and tried to process that one man, obviously of tremendous energy, had conceived, designed, and produced en masse, every item in the room.

The other two office spaces were filled with people running and operating the business. In the first room, several women were sitting at tables, running accounts on their own businesses, as collaborators and informal business partners, whom we greeted and then there were also a few women on the floor, sorting polka dotted carry-alls and packaging them neatly into larger clear plastic bags; they were getting ready for Chattachuk market today. Other towering plastic bags were filled with computer cases imprinted with Moody characters, still waiting to be individually bagged. The second half of that same room was clearly the bosses’ office – very informal and filled with sample products, but with a large sofa covered in laminated red Hawaiian print, TV, and design books by the hundred lining the white cubicle shelving.

The third room had more of an office feel – with a few men and women at tables with computers, and answering phones. This room too, had a trio of people (a family?) on the floor, assembling and sorting miniature Moody character phone charms.

So, is it any wonder that the rest of the day in Chinatown was inflected with brainstorming possibilities?

We first stopped at a “hardware” store, where there was every kind of metal fastening, bracket, attachment piece imaginable. The long narrow store had metal shelving twelve feet high, and every shelf was stacked with small cardboard boxes. You could ask for the piece you needed by pointing to the sample boards along the wall in the front of the store. We were there looking for the metal rings used in making baby slings (look to the far right of the picture on the green).

but it was the over-sized purse clasps in the top left hand corner that caught our imagination.

This is what I ended up buying: enough hardware for ten slings, five purse clasps, and a plastic snap for Sue.

Then we went down this street to look for fabric.

to find the shop where we bought our fabric Most of the fabric cost 60 or 80 baht per meter, and each sling needs 3 meters. I bought enough for ten slings. The fabric may look rumpled and cheap in this picture, but we were able to find lovely fine cotton from Japan – and in the back was extra-wide cotton for making bed sheets.

At the end of the day, Mook took all my fabric and hardware to have them made into slings for 50 baht a piece (less than $2 each).

We also met up with Sue and Joss to have a delicious meal at the hotel Reflections,  which happens to be owned (and conceived by) the same guy whose offices we had visited, Nong. After the meal, Mook and I explained our design ideas to Nong, because he’s the one with a pattern maker and factories at his disposal. We told him if he likes the ideas, he can keep them for himself – maybe he’ll charge me less than the 500 baht sample-making fee?

Both concepts involve the laminated fabric and the purse clasps: the first I want to be big, round, and to sit flat on the floor like Dagwood’s ice pack – to be used as a knitting bag – in green polka dots. The second is shaped more like a traditional brown paper grocery bag, but closing with that same purse clasp, and made in black or red Hawaiian print. We sketched them out, made measurements and, explained everything to the pattern maker. I can’t wait to see how they turn out!

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