So I called Ben Liberty.
A brief phone conversation revealed a super friendly man who seemed far-from-pretentious when he listed the companies for whom he creates samples: Gucci, Coach, J.Crew.
Once again, I was talking to a behind-the-scenes fashion mover-and-shaker who voiced full enthusiasm for my project.
Spoiler alert: throughout the entirety of my research and building this company, everyone everyone EVERYONE has been nothing but helpful and enthusiastic. I expected Project Runway attitude and fashion snobbery. Nothing could be further from the truth.
(Well, actually, Howard with the Italian fabrics was condescending and unimpressed, but then again, I didn’t actually tell him what I was making.)
So, in person, Ben ended up being a blue-collar Bostonian with a fantastic small factory on the far Lower East Side of Manhattan.
“I used to be one of hundreds. But 9/11 destroyed our business. No one could get to us. Everything south of Chambers was closed off for months. We couldn’t do business. That’s why I’m the only one left.”
His factory was about 1,000 square feet of leather cutting, piercing, treating machines, rolls of extra fabric, and drafting tables with chemicals and dyes.
This felt so authentically cool.
He ruminated: “So anyway. Men’s fashion. It’s much more interesting than women’s. Women’s is cyclical. It’s all been done. There’s not much new. But men are just catching on and becoming more fashionable. That said, it’s tough. Men’s bags are really, really tough. What’s your idea, again?”
“A stylish men’s diaper bag,” I responded.
He stared at the ground with arms folded for a pondering moment and then said, “Oh,” dramatic pause “Now that’s a good idea.”
I smirked. “I know.”
So we (James and I) showed him our initial designs and told him we were waiting for our fabric to arrive from Italy, but could he build for us in the spring? (It was February, now.)
“Um…I think so. I mean, I gotta do some work in my getaway house and I think I’m outta town in a few weeks for a client, and then my wife has forced me to take a vacation and then I have some work to accomplish. But my wife keeps track of all that. But I think I can.”
He took a dramatic pause.
“BUT, if Mrs. Herrera calls, I drop everything for her.”
“Okay, sounds good. Well, we’ll be in touch as soon as possible, get our fabrics, hardware, lining fabric and the like and we will be in touch.”
James and I walked out. Even though this was a research-based initial interview, I was in love. “He’s the guy. I don’t even care if other people are cheaper or easier or anything. He’s just so nice and seems so calm and competent and kind. I wanna use him. But…who was that Japanese-sounding woman he referred to?”
James was aghast and closed his eyes with a smirk. “Somewhere in the world Carolina Herrerra just gagged because someone doesn’t know her name.”
We laughed. Hard. But seriously – I’d never heard of this woman. In my defense, she hardly makes any clothing for men. Now I recognize her as one of the most hoity-toity of all Upper Ease Side women’s designers.
But I hope somewhere in the world, Ms. Hererra was humbled just a little bit…by an entrepreneur fashion wannabe.
You’re ok with being humbled as “Jenny from the block”, Carolina, aren’t you?
And I set out to round out my cache of fabrics and hardware.