If You Build It (Right), They Will Come

For the past several months I’ve been impatiently watching our new factory come into shape, step by step, one day at a time. When you watch it every day up close, it seems impossibly slow. The electrician went where? The tile guys can’t do anything until the plumber finishes? The printer installation tech had to cancel his trip because of the hurricane? The lighting guy is out of the country again?? Really??? Patience is a virtue they say, and in this sense I’m as sinful as they come.

But something different finally happened this week, shaking me from my myopic state: we had visitors, and they were IMPRESSED.

If you’ve ever seen a new house being built, it looks like it’s barely half done for the vast majority of construction time. Then all of a sudden, in a matter of days, it goes from a ragged construction site to a beautiful new home, without any warning. That’s what is happening to our factory right now, and I’ve been too close to even notice it. Fortunately, those who came to visit this week changed my perspective, enabling me to see it through fresh eyes. And it’s awesome.

During the last few days, we set up our first team sewing module, began our fabric cutting operations, started training new operators, and finally got power wired throughout the entire building. The employee offices, lunch room and medical clinic are virtually complete. The printing systems are alive and kicking. The building looks great, inside and out, and we are ready for business. Lights, camera, action.

The visitors we had this week included a delegation from Brazil exploring Haiti for textile operations, some neighboring factory owners, prospective customers, potential partners, and a whole host of people who work in the surrounding community. To my great pleasure, everyone was extremely impressed, and more than once I heard someone call our factory the new standard for garment production, and not just for Haiti. A neighboring factory owner (whom I’ve become friendly with during the last few months) said to me, “I’m now ashamed of my plant. I have a lot of work to do.” And that’s great to hear. It proves that what we are doing will raise the bar. The more factories that improve their standards, the more the entire industry will begin to adjust antiquated thought processes. This is how paradigm shifts begin. Cue the dominos!

Of all the visitors we had this week, today’s visitors were the best. As workers from neighboring factories were walking home for the day, they passed by an open door on the side of our building. What they saw inside immediately piqued their curiosity, and about 25 of them snuck through the door to have a look around. They were drawn to our shiny new equipment, the comfortable chairs, the bright lighting, and the clean new floors. But they were absolutely AMAZED at how nice our new bathrooms are, and they kept waving each other over, taking turns to have a closer look inside. When I finally walked out from my office onto the factory floor to talk to them, they had two questions: when does the company start production and how do they apply for a job?

New clean bathrooms. That was the hook. Imagine that. You know why? Because people are all the same, no matter where they are, and everyone just wants to be treated with dignity and respect. Something as simple as a nice clean bathroom affords workers some basic dignity that is sadly not the norm.

But we’re gonna change all that.

One of the most enlightened factory managers I’ve met during my short time in this business told me something both profound and incredibly obvious the other night: “Take care of your workers, and they will take care of your business.”

We’ll find out, but I’m betting everything that he’s right. The race to the bottom is ending, and the revolution is just beginning. You know what to do at the beep.

–RMB

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