Chapter 3 – International Color Cartel

So I called the fabric guy. It was just before Christmas and he said, “I can’t meet until the new year. I’ll be in Italy making decisions about colors and textures.”

I had it in my mind he was one of the international color cartel that decides what the rest of us poor consumerist schlubs will be force-fed for the next year.

A few weeks later, my design partner (James) and I were ushered into a conference room lined with 4 rows of 12×12 fabric swatches.

Fabric guy (Howard) knew he was dealing with newbies.

His eyes-half-mast behind the glasses demeanor gave away nothing. He wasn’t a shark ready to take advantage of us, but I could see the sigh behind his Elliott-Gould-in-Ocean’s-Eleven glasses that said, “this is such a waste of time.”

Before meeting Howard, I told James I wanted the bag to be leather – like Louis Vuitton bags, but dyed deep navy blue.

“Ok, well Louis Vuitton isn’t leather, first off.”


“It’s coated canvas.”

“Coated with what?”


“You mean, these rich people are just carrying around Chuck Taylors coated in melted Fisher Price toys? How ridiculous.”

Luckily, I didn’t need to expose my low-brow condescension to pompous fabric dude.

When I told him, “We’re looking for deep navy blue coated canvas,” he asked, “What are you making again?”

Julia’s words rang in my head. “Don’t tell him what you’re making.”

“Um…a messenger bag for men.”

He smelled my obfuscation. I smelled his disdain.

“Well, do you want PU or PVC?”

“He-heh. What do those stand for?”

“Polyeurethane and PVC.”

“Like PVC pipes?”


* Amend my previous assertion about rich people carrying canvas grocery bags covered in melted plastic pipes.

“Um…what’s the difference?”

“It’s preference.”

“OK. What would you recommend?”

“I’ll show you both.”

He brought us a few hangers with indistinguishable squares of deep navy blue melted plastic on canvas.

I stared in that quickly-mind-numbing way when you contemplate the difference between paint chips labeled “delft” and “bashful delft.”

Finally, Howard said, “I mean, one thing is: you can’t have PVC with kids. It’s toxic.”

OMG. Was he reading my mind? Thank goodness he was doing so.

“Oh, OK. Um…we want PU.”

Phew. Dodged a PR nightmare, there.

We settled on a fabric that cost 23 euros/square meter.

(Yet another time I think the US absolutely needs to get its act together and adopt the metric system. Seriously, my fellow Americans, what are we doing?)

Howard’s company was NOT converting to inches, let alone dollars.

The height of pretension. Sorta.

To further the sting, I wasn’t ordering in bulk. I just needed a little bit, which doubled the price. So we ordered 3 square meters of this fabric for 46 euros/sq meter.

As we were filling out the paperwork, Howard mentioned, “You know, I really think you should be considering nylon. It’s the future.”

I had my chance – “Wait. Are you part of that international fashion cartel that decides what colors and textures we will be wearing for the next four years? Is that why you had to be in Italy over New Year’s?”

He didn’t even smirk.

“No. That was just for factory meetings. No, I’m telling you that nylon is the future. It’s the 80’s, again.”

“Heh-heh,” I nervously giggled. “What does that mean, actually?”

“Those ‘LeSport’ bags and ‘Members Only’ windbreakers?”

I made an “ew” face.

“Yeah. They’re back. You’re gonna come back here asking for nylon, I’m telling you.”

And then, as an afterghought, I asked, “Do you know any prototype bag makers?”

Before this moment, I’d always assumed I was going to ask some of my costuming/wardrobe contacts in the Broadway community to somehow manufacture a bag for me. I didn’t know if they would or what the result would be, but that was my only brainstorm.

“Nope. They’re all gone. That whole industry is overseas. And what few remain are all schisters and dupes. They’re awful. You can’t trust anyone, anymore.”

Shoot. That was deflating.

“Except this guy I heard about, Ben Liberty. I don’t know him. I don’t know anything about him. Except I hear he’s good.”

“Ok. Ben Liberty. Do you have his number?”


This guy.

I walked out the office door, looked at James and rolled my eyes. “That was a trip.”

“Without a doubt,” he said.

We high-fived.

I’d now put money on the line. This was becoming real.

And then I called Ben Liberty…


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