It’s serendipity, baby!
You know it was just a matter of time before I squeezed a Duke basketball reference into a blog post, and ACC-hoops lover Dick Vitale’s classic quote perfectly sums up our June.
Let’s back up: during our initial prototyping last year, I sifted through a multitude of sample swatches, sent in from fabric suppliers all over the country. But I always came back this standout: KenDor Textile’s stretch bamboo jersey.
We created our first samples with this gorgeous material and never looked back.
Cut to: all summer long, Mamachic headquarters are situated in Western Canada, while our co-founder Michael Hollick performs with The Lion King in British Columbia and Alberta. Serendipitously, KenDor Textile’s headquarters are located in Delta, BC, so one sunny Friday morning in June, I drove 30 minutes from our perch in Yaletown, Vancouver to meet with KenDor’s president Paul King.
Paul couldn’t have been nicer as I peppered him with questions about KenDor’s processes, as well as how my own specific fabric was made. He was completely transparent about his experiences visiting his partner mills outside of Shanghai (“They’re surrounded by these amazing rice paddies!”) and proudly explained how the grey water from the bamboo knitting process was filtered and used in local agriculture, so there is very little waste. I was glad to learn that the bamboo is organically grown and Oeko-Tex 100 certified, my fabrics are dyed using low-impact fiber-reactive dyestuffs, and perhaps most importantly, the workers in the mills are paid a living wage and treated well. He sees that with his own eyes.
Paul is awesome, just like Duke Basketball is awesome. He’s also 6′ 7″, so he totally could have balled. Read on!
You are a KenDor lifer — your first job ever was right here in the warehouse. Now you are president! Tell us about your ascent.
I actually was hired in 1983, on my 21st birthday! It was a very physical job back then, and they needed a big guy to handle the denim and other heavy fabrics KenDor sold at the time. We were selling denim to Levi in those days. As far as career, it was a warehouse job — I did not really realize where it would lead.
All my youth, I was dragged around to fabric stores by my Mom, who was quite a sewer! I used to grumble about it all the time. Little did I know, it was setting the groundwork for my future career. After 2-3 years in the warehouse, where I had become warehouse manager, I was given the opportunity to become a sales person. KenDor was making the change from being a predominantly retail fabric store supplier to supplying garment manufacturing, and this was my area of concentration. When the recession hit in 2008 and KenDor was looking for buyers, I decided to partner with a colleague in China and purchase the company I had worked for all my life.
What’s your favorite part of working with fabric manufacturing and supply?
Working with up-and-coming designers and start-ups like Mamachic is still my favourite part of this business. We are blessed in the fashion world, as each season brings new styles, colors and innovations. As a result, this job never gets boring!
What are the best parts of your visits to partner mills in China?
I think the best part of those trips are getting to meet the people that help make our materials. We have always wanted to know that all our supply partners are producing our fabrics as ethically and with consideration for the environment as possible. As a result, I go to our mills twice a year, and enjoy being able to spend a day or two watching the processing of our orders, and ensuring that the staff at the mills are being treated with respect and being paid a fair, living wage.
As a tall Caucasian man, you must get a ton of attention while traveling in Asia. What’s that experience like?
As a large (6 ft. 7 in.) Canadian, traveling in rural China can be interesting. When we stop at gas stations, I draw quite a crowd of curious locals. The folks I get to talk with through my interpreter are very kind and invariably want to come stand beside me to measure themselves or take a picture! I also enjoy the chance when possible to have a meal in local restaurant to sample each region’s specialities, which requires me to be brave sometimes. I do love the sense of family and community that is prevalent in China, something we here in North America could learn from.
What are you most proud of with your company?
I am most proud that our company still embodies the vision that its founders, Ken and Dorothy Gregson, established in 1953. Quality fabrics, with quality service. Our staff is fantastic and we strive to do the best for our customers on every order. I am also proud that we have been able to grow our Eco-Business along the way. When my daughter was born in 1992, I vowed to try and reduce the impact of my personal impact on the environment by moving more of our business to organic and sustainable fabrics. She is now 23 and it is still a battle, convincing the retail public of the benefits of buying low-impact fabrics.
What’s been your biggest challenge running KenDor, to date?
Keeping our supply chain flowing well. Between last summer’s Los Angeles Port strike, to our own Trucking Union striking every couple of years, then adding in other intangibles, like brown outs (power losses due to extreme weather in China), there is always something out of your control in this business. We strive to stay on top of these things, but it can be frustrating sometimes.
You’ve got an insider’s perspective on the future of fashion eco-manufacturing. What is your take?
We have one planet, with finite natural resources. We here in Vancouver have had serious climate change in the last few years, with hardly any snowpack in our local mountains that supply our water, and now unusually warm weather since April this year. I have lived in this beautiful part of the world all my life and have never seen such drought like conditions as we are experiencing here. Combining this with other such issues around North America and the entire world makes me realize we can’t continue on the path we are on. The textile industry is one of the world’s biggest users of water and also one of the biggest polluters. I am attending the Planet Textiles Eco Forum this fall in Shanghai. This is a great event that links the Chinese government, large producers in China, and the big and small companies all over the world that buy fabric and garments from China, in an effort to find better methods of textile production. Innovations such as wind-powered factories, waterless dyestuffs, and many more have come from past Forums. I look forward to this years and hopefully seeing more progress.