I’m a little disoriented, so stick with me for a bit. I’ve been cloistered in my shop for a week, eating peanuts and avocados, working to finish my fall prototypes and I’m still not done. I’m tired, a little cranky, and even though it was my birthday this week, and I got a lot of wonderful messages from friends and family, I spent it in the shop breaking my fingers to get bags built. Okay, not totally cloistered, but seriously focused.
The few times that I have ventured out in to the daylight this week, have been to gather more supplies, such as coffee and an occasional taco. I’ve also needed to pick up some specialty pieces of hardware from different vendors here in town, and even though this is the leatherworking capitol of the world, I have spent most of my mornings wandering the streets like a crack addict, looking for a hookup from that one dealer who has the exact right brass-cast D-ring that I need for my bags. And, of course, I’m the only white dude in town, so I stick out like Indiana Jones in an Egyptian market, just waiting for some dudes with swords to round the corner.
Mexican industry is very unique, sometimes confusing, always changing, and often frustrating. I say that, because I’m still learning the language, and while it’s getting better every day, market people tend to talk very fast, and I’m still watching Sesame Street en Espanol. However, there’s an amazing sense of community in these parts, and everyone definitely adheres to a “shop local” mentality. There are a few zonas where some big-box shops like Wal-Mart or Home Depot have invaded, but for the most part, all the business are little carts and garages and everybody knows everybody.
The frustrating part, is that each of these little shops is so specialized, that it can take me a whole day to track down a few simple items I need in my shop. Consider this analogy: You want to get a set of silverware for your table – a knife, a spoon and a fork. Here in the industrial heart of Mexico, there’s no massive retailer that sells flatware sets, but rather small shops that specialize. You might go to the utensil district, only to find that one shop only sells spoons. The next shop sells forks, but none of them match any of the spoons you like. Two shops later, and you found a place that sells all of them, but they’re plastic. And then there’s a shop that only sells chopsticks. 3 hours later, and you’re still eating with your hands.
I like to think of it as a treasure hunt, and sometimes I find what I’m looking for. On one occasion, a dealer was completely perplexed with my inability to speak decent Spanish, so she just let me go into the warehouse and find was I needed, and I did! It was a good find. I also found myself wandering around the sketchy end of La Luz one morning, and found some incredible weathered leather for next to nothing, and some pieces of scrap that I am very glad to have picked up. It’s an adventure for sure, but sometimes I find treasures that I wasn’t expecting.
For my work stuff, however, I can’t just find a random dealer that might not be there the next day – I have to work on tracking down reputable suppliers, and suppliers that meet the quality standards that I put into my work. I’ve already mentioned some of my trips to tanneries and job shops, but there’s a lot more that goes into a leather bag than the hides. When it comes to all the little metal pieces that make up the clasps and rivets and rings on a bag, I’m particular that they must be solid brass cast, and I usually get them from a supplier in Boston. However, the cost of shipping is more than the gear, so I had to look elsewhere.
I asked around. I asked around a LOT, because I couldn’t find a single supplier of good quality hardware. To be honest, there’s not many of them in the states, either. People tend to cut costs where they can, and the good shit is like the holy grail. I finally got the name of a place that does big business work for companies that pride themselves on their quality goods, like Carhart and Triumph. I tried emailing, calling, but no response. So, fuck it, I just showed up at their door.
Every big industrial place here in MX has a boatload of security. I swear, every time I go to one of these spots, it’s exactly the scene from Return of the Jedi, where Artoo and Threepio knock on the door to Jabba’s palace, and some bizarre eyeball droid pops out, speaking a foreign language and you’re never sure if they’re going to open the gates and let you in or not. Well, I did just that, and the eyeball droid happened to be a security guard trying to talk to me through a Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru speaker. I was able to drop a couple names of people I’d met in town, and that they’d referred me over, and after a bit, the US rep came and met me at the door.
As it turns out, this company is HUGE, and supplies every major brand you could imagine. Their showroom was a who’s who of labels. The reason that they’re so difficult to get in touch with, is that they’re simply the best quality manufacturer on earth, and they make gold-plated pieces for the Dubai market, as well as belt buckles and fasteners for everybody else. If you’re wearing a nice pair of pants that cost more than $50, there’s a chance that these guys made the little metal bits. These guys are the big league.
I was lucky to even get in. I think my element of surprise in just knocking on the damn door confused them enough to give me the whole tour. We chatted about the types of hardware that I was looking for, pricing, etc. It was perfect, and that part of my worry was over. I found my supplier. They even emailed me back, and are ready to make my parts for me. (Did I mention that they can also stamp my logo onto all the metal pieces for very little cost? Yeah.)
That was definitely a lucky shot in the dark that seems to have paid off in spades. Some trips to try and find something as simple as 1″ aluminum flat stock have turned up fruitless, until 3 or 4 days later, and are certainly holding up my production schedule. However, on my birthday, coming home from the market with a little dinner, I hit the motherlode.
This mural is on my condo, FYI. With Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole? Fucking, yes!
I mentioned before that I fell in love the the typography work of a local graffiti artist, and was dying to track them down to maybe hire them to do some t-shirt work and logotyping for brand extension stuff. As I rounded the corner outside my place, low and behold, in the middle of the afternoon, I see two folks tagging the wall. Sure enough, one of them was Shady, who I’d been looking for. I struck up a conversation, and showed her that I’d been taking photos of all her stuff and I was a big fan. She liked the idea of working with me to put together some cool collaborative pieces, and we became friends on Facebook. Perfect timing.
The rest of the week has been a blur, really. Mostly shop work and hunting down parts and tools. The tanneries are all seeming to be ready to send over my new spec samples in a few days, so I’m so very close. Tonight, however, I’m finally going to take a break, do some beginner yoga to uncrunch my spine, after being hunched over a workbench for far too long, and check out the new Dave Chapelle special on Netflix. …And probably get some more stitch work done.