New York City | September, 2003
I returned to the States in mid-August, and days later, so did the shipment from Kabul. Good little things had happened to bolster confidence, such as having the customs duties turn out to be almost exactly what I estimated they would be. Not an amazing feat if you’re importing from China, but believe me, when folks at the US ports are telling you that Afghanistan is a Category II country because their paperwork still says that the Taliban are in charge and duties are 97%, you have to wonder if you’re shipment will ever get home. So things were good…so far.
I had plenty of reason to be apprehensive about the Western markets, but also reasons to be confident. Afterall, hordes of thin, pretty, fashion-consuming females had streamed into the Kabul workshop and bought generously while spewing emphatic compliments about the clothes. And the stuff really had come out beautiful….
Over the course of the month, I also had to face some realities about the identity of Tarsian & Blinkley. Whereas the clothes had a sweet and universally feminine beauty to them, the American market demanded that I be one thing or another – hip, “edgy”, and young, or in obvious pursuit of the older market and totally out of the game. The stores we approached kept saying that the stuff was “really beautiful” and “like nothing else out there”, but they weren’t necessarily sure how to fit it in. According to a magazine editor friend, that could be a very good thing or a very bad thing. We still ended up with a handful of orders from good boutiques in the Bay Area, but I was shaken by the incredible pavement beating that had to go with it. One shop in Marin County was a classic case of how luck and momentum work in this business. The owner, a jaded old retailer, could hardly refrain from expressing his displeasure at seeing me show up for the appointment. But his friend, who was at the store at that very moment, squealed in delight when she saw the samples and said, “Oh my God, I love everything. You should buy everything”. He remained cranky, but placed an admirably large order with us.
The trunk shows were also a bit jarring of an experience. I hadn’t quite registered that trunk shows are almost exclusively the domain of the “older woman” and she is really a size 12 50-something with hips who gets quite cranky to discover that she can’t fit into anything. This became a recurring problem that would continue to haunt us throughout the season and I think marked the beginning of Takesh’s soon-to-be rapid hair loss. And there was some debate as to pricing, with me being quick to want to price low and T, the former debutante and SF socialite, not understanding how someone would not want to pay $165 for a shirt. Surprisingly, the business plan had predicted many of our issues – I had just been something of a misfit in not following its tenets more carefully.
B, observing that I was quite worn out from our marketing adventures in San Francisco, suggested that we do a trade show in New York, of which several good ones were coming up at the end of the month. After some masterful last minute cajoling and wrestling, we got into one run by a French company with a relatively prestigious list of exhibitors. So off we were to NYC, schlepping all the samples with us and once again experiencing the joyously manual labor side of this so-called glamourous business. Of all the people willing to take two houseguests at once, it turned out to be Gigi, my NYC pal from my early 20’s when I fancied myself some kind of creative type and could actually keep my eyelids open past midnight. She had just been promoted to 2nd in command at Lucky Magazine, the bible of the retail scene in the US, and it was too lucky to have her with her famously critical eye there to tell me what I was doing possibly right or wrong. She claimed to genuinely like the stuff and told me to stand tight and not indulge in an identity crisis because it would take a breath or two to find our following. But I knew I hadn’t dazzled her because afterall, dazzling is big business in the mauled world of fashion editors, who in the process of aesthetic inundation, have to develop bristly protective hairs on their sensory surfaces. Anyway, the clothes were not strictly meant to dazzle fashion people – they were not even my own personal style of dress, since I preferred minimalist wearing art-house northern European designers!
If you ever thought visiting Kabul or wrestling the bazaars of India is a scary thing, try doing a New York trade show and experiencing the terrifying spectre of human jadedness. It comes in its most pure and frightening state when there is sticky and longstanding slump in the economy, an absurdly saturated market based on hype and mimicry, and hordes of talented desperados wanting to get famous and willing to sell their mothers for it. It makes for an interesting brew of possibilities, or impossibilities, rather. There was a suspicious absence of foot traffic at the New York show, making the gazes and glances of those buyers who did come to the show all the more emphasized and painful. Many would walk by, flash their eyes across the setting, and move on without a word – and that happened enough times to start grating the nerves of a novice like me. But it wasn’t just us -- many smaller labels that lacked an established following came away with hardly any orders, thereby prompting them to stage a mutiny at the end. But B and I thought it best to move on - we had landed two orders from two well-known and respected stores (Gigi approved enthusiastically), and left it at that.
The Paris show was almost not worth mentioning because after the fatigue of sitting through an unattended show in New York, I was now the jaded one and highly cynical about results. This show was very strange – a bizarre mixture of attendees, some good, but many not, and I spent a lot of my time analyzing the differences between the various shows going on all over the city so that I would choose more carefully in the future. Anyway, my sister was getting married in London smack in the middle of the whole episode, so my attentions were further limited. On the last day, a women ran up to us and bought the entire collection for her store, saying that it was exactly her “taste”.
It’s a strange and confusing business. I’ve heard that all along, but the only way to know is to live it. The ultimate message from those few weeks was…you have a great product, but good luck figuring out how you’re going to sell it. Aaah, the joys of entrepreneurship…