Thankfully, there are no actual tornadoes in this story.

Thankfully, there are no actual tornadoes in this story.

Have you heard the one about the torrential downpour that crushed people’s tents overnight as they slept?  Or the passerby who stood and watched calmly as her dog peed on a stunning handmade women’s dress on display, and then just shrugged and walked away? How about the sudden wind that took out so much hand blown glass, dozens of people nearby froze in horror?

It’s not all fun and games at a summer craft show. In those pretty rows of tents, populated by smiling artists, there are a lot of stories to be told.

My first summer at the Muskoka Arts and Crafts Show (coming up this year from July 19-21), I drove right up to my allotted space and excitedly began unpacking my tent. First I slowly expanded its metal frame, a process that takes less than a minute with two people but eons with only one, preparing to spread the nylon roof fabric on top so that the tent could be raised to its full height. I was thrilled to be there and happy to work at my own pace, as usual.

Then the sun disappeared and the skies opened up. A sudden slamming of rain fell upon us, the kind of rain that slaps against your forced-closed eyelids and makes them burn. The few people who were around quickly scurried into their cars to take cover until it passed. But I could not, for I was holding on to the corner of a 10’x10’ tent frame that was not yet secured to the ground, and that would surely be carried away to god-knows-where if I let go of my grip for a moment. I stood immobile, with closed eyes, feet planted wide for stability, as the rain soaked through to my bones. I held on with all my might as the wind lifted the other legs of the tent frame off the ground, and I waited.

How did this story end? Successfully, of course, as do most small calamities. The downpour soon stopped and the work of setting up was finished for the day. I secured my tent to the ground as though my life depended on it, and went to a friend’s house to enjoy the evening, trying to ignore the rainy night. I arrived the next morning at the park to find a still-standing tent, and enjoyed three beautiful days of meeting new customers, selling summer dresses, chatting with other exhibitors, and drinking lemonade.

And as for those other exhibitors I told you about, for whom things did not go so well? They were fine too. At the Cabbagetown Show last year when the rain destroyed numerous tents overnight, people rallied to help those who’d lost their tents to “rebuild,” many in impressively creative ways, and the show went on. The glassblower recovered quickly too, as all glass artists do.  And as for the dog pee? Well, life isn’t perfect. But it’s pretty damn close, when you’re strolling around at a summer craft show, enjoying beautiful things and of course, drinking lemonade.

I hope you’re soaking up all that summer has to offer.

All the best,

Devorah
Red Thread Design

p.s. Have you ever experienced a craft show calamity? Please share your story with us!

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You might laugh at me when you hear this (my children think it’s hilarious), but I sometimes get choked up by O Canada. A tear has even been spotted once or twice. This patriotic emotion dates back to a powerful moment I experienced ten years ago, and I don’t expect it to ever change.

It was a cold wintry Monday morning, and I was rushing my sweet four-year-old to her kindergarten class, in a daze of exhaustion but eager to show off my new baby daughter in my arms. It was more challenging getting ready with two, but we made it just in time, well bundled against the wind.

After leaving Izzy at her classroom door with a kiss, I was caught in the hallway when the national anthem began to play. I froze and listened, gazing at little Samantha as she gazed back at me.

We had come home just two days earlier from an almost unspeakably wonderful adoption trip to China. Samantha was 9 months old, curious and beautiful, and unbeknownst to her, had just become Canadian. I couldn’t help but wonder how this new identity would take shape for her.

My new Canadian posing for her first Canadian passport photo a few days before leaving China

My new Canadian posing for her first Canadian passport photo a few days before leaving China

I don’t know if it was the exhaustion, the jetlag, or the thought of having just transplanted a child to a new country, but I felt a very strong and unexpected wave of emotion in that frozen moment. Ever since then, I have been unable to listen to O Canada from start to finish without choking up (and singing it with a straight face is still impossible), when I am with my Samantha. That feeling stuck. Nowadays when we’re together and the anthem starts to play, she squeezes my hand and sneaks a curious glance at my face, just to check.

I know that things are far from perfect here, in a number of ways. But everything in life is relative. And anthems aside, on this Canada Day weekend I feel very grateful, as always, to call Canada home. Here’s why:

1. Kindness rules. There are few nations on earth, if any, where racism, ableism and homophobia are less tolerated than in Canada. Yes, we have bigots, but their voices are far from dominant. My children know about racism because they learn about it in school, not because they witness it in their daily lives.

2. Canada is a good place to be a woman. As the mother of three daughters, I know that even though they will face challenges, they live in a society that values them. They have the freedom to contribute and to shape their own futures. And having experienced the end of my marriage just last year, it’s baffling for me to imagine living in a place where women do not have the right to make fundamental choices that will shape their own lives.

3. It’s boring. Clichés aside, it’s true, in a good way. We rarely make the international news headlines. And as my now ten-year-old daughter Samantha replied when I asked her what she liked most about Canada, “there’s no war.” Nuf said.

As a Canadian designer, I’m very proud to make my clothing line here in Toronto where I live, contributing to the local economy, and I’m grateful to have fantastic, supportive customers across the country and beyond. I have met so many other designers and entrepreneurs on a similar path, keeping their production Canadian despite the higher costs, because it just feels right. Thank you for helping make this possible.

A very happy Canada Day to you and yours!
Devorah Miller
http://www.redthreaddesign.ca/

p.s. What do you appreciate about Canada? I would love to hear your thoughts, hope you’ll share.

Do you have a calm, compliant child who’s always in the mood for whatever needs to be done? Congratulations! The rest of us hate you. Go read something else! If not, I hope you find this helpful. Just click on the graphic to view it full-size.

How to buy clothes for you 3-year-old without losing your mind

Please share! Brought to you by http://www.redthreaddesign.ca/

SONP2013-pantsoff-250x250It’s just as exciting as it sounds, depending on your perspective. I’ve joined Summer of No Pants 2013, a special summer challenge in which the participants commit to making four skirts or dresses in the four weeks leading up to the first day of summer (May 27-June 21). Everyone posts their creations online, and pledges to not wear pants all summer long. I practically live in jeans, so this will be an interesting change.

I love to design and sew, but it’s always for Red Thread. I’ve designed dozens of women’s skirts and dresses in my head, but until now most of them have stayed there. No longer!

For week one I created a pleated skirt from a pair of jeans, and if this interests you, you can check out some images and an online tutorial here.  I’m also posting images of skirts and dresses I love on Pinterest, where I always share my colour and design inspiration. You can follow me there if you like what you see. I’ll be posting my four creations, and my inspiration along the way.

I’m looking forward to taking my pants off, and to sharing my projects with you!

Happy summer,

Devorah
Red Thread Design
Studio Fabric Shop

On April 24, we all heard about a factory building collapsing in Bangladesh. Dozens of people were declared dead, and it was horrifying to hear about this tragedy unfolding from afar. Photos of the scene showed a garment labelled Joe Fresh, and Canadian consumers suddenly felt they had played a part in this tragic event.

Now twelve days later, the death toll tops 600. Terrible grief has come to countless people in Bangladesh, and journalists around the world have grappled with the questions raised – some searching for solutions, others laying blame. Many shoppers have been questioning their role. Major retail players whose clothing was known to have been made in the building, namely Joe Fresh in Canada and Primark in the U.K. (with overlapping corporate ownership), have announced plans to compensate the victims and to change the way they work in Bangladesh. In this they were recently joined by a few other clothing retailers whose garments were also found in the rubble. Would they be doing so if their connection to the building had not been exposed? We have no way of knowing.

What next? The scale of this tragedy is enormous – I hope it will turn out to be a defining moment that changes the way we all think about where our clothing is made, and under what conditions. The Facebook page for Joe Fresh is packed with comments expressing outrage at the company’s abuses, and vowing to shop elsewhere. But where?

I am a huge advocate for buying local, but I know that Canadians cannot live on Canadian-made products alone. Our manufacturing sector is simply too small. Trade barriers are one challenge: Canadian manufacturers pay high duties on raw materials (such as cotton, which needs to be imported), while clothing made in Bangladesh arrives in Canada duty-free. And as we all know, vast wage differences have changed the geography of manufacturing, with clothing production often relegated to the poorest countries. We don’t want people to be harmed making products for us, but we don’t want to pay dramatically higher prices.

What is a conscientious consumer to do?

If you are concerned about the people making products for you being treated with respect and human dignity, you may wish to support an organization that’s committed to improving labour conditions overseas, or petition for stronger regulation of imports to Canada. You may choose to pay closer attention to where the products you buy come from. Many companies describe their policies on their websites, and some only use certified factories. But be aware that unless there is direct oversight in the producing country (not just occasional inspection visits), there is a great deal of subcontracting — and standards are difficult to control. Boycotting a company that has not adhered to decent labour standards will send a message, but be aware that others may be worse offenders. And if a garment is dirt cheap, you can be reasonably certain that that the person who made it is dirt poor. If this matters to you, pay closer attention to your buying habits. The cheapest, most exploited labour is often used for the cheapest garments. A higher quality garment will last longer and may save you money and effort in the long run, regardless of where it is made.

If you want to buy Canadian, there are a lot of excellent Canadian-made products available if you know where to look. Websites such as www.buycanadianfirst.ca, www.livinglocal.ca, and www.farmersmarketonline.ca  list thousands of products that are made in Canada. Retail craft shows such as the One of a Kind Show and smaller shows across Canada showcase Canadian-made products (both functional and decorative) and list them on their websites. And some independently-owned stores across Canada search for Canadian-made goods for their customers. If you want more local products, let your local retail businesses know, so that you can influence their buying decisions.

Have the garment factory tragedies in Bangladesh, and the recent discussions about worker safety and exploitation encouraged you to change your shopping habits? Do you feel empowered to influence the way our clothing is made, or overwhelmed? I’d love to know how this rising awareness has affected your decision-making, as well as the strategies you employ to shop with a clear conscience.

Devorah Miller
Red Thread Design

As a student of arts administration several years ago, I learned about a survey in which the vast majority of urban residents said they were very happy to have a ballet company located in their city, but only a small percentage actually attended ballet performances.  As we have all learned from Facebook, it’s far easier to like something than to do something.

A few years ago I received an order from an independent children’s boutique in a small Ontario city. This beautiful shop had existed for many years, and featured many Canadian-made products. When I visited to meet the owner, I noticed a large Loblaws store just a few steps away, with enormous Joe Fresh banners featuring children’s clothing.

“What’s that like, being virtually next door?” I asked the owner. “The price competition must be a challenge.” Indeed it was.  A few months later, she decided to close up shop.

I don’t know precisely what went into making that decision, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that the choices of local shoppers had something to do with it. It’s hard to resist a great bargain – why buy adorable locally-made clothing when you can buy adorable cheap clothing?

I’ll tell you why. And I’m telling you this not just as a person who runs a small business with local production (honest!) but also as a mother on a tight budget. Today we heard of a catastrophic building collapse in Bangladesh, a factory that was allegedly making clothing for Joe Fresh and The Children’s Place, for Canadian consumers. Those tragedies happen because demand for low prices pushes down wages and safety standards. That’s the price paid for our fantastic bargains.

iStock_000023879590Small_Window Shopping

Thinking appreciative thoughts as you pass those cute independently-owned shops on your way to a big chain store doesn’t help to keep those businesses alive. But patronizing them does! The way I see it, buying local creates three big impacts:

  • It connects us to the people who make and sell the things we eat, use and wear every day. I don’t know about you, but I think that makes everyday life sweeter.
  • It keeps our local communities vibrant, busy, and interesting. Vive la différence! And perhaps most of all…
  • It ensures that we always have lots of choices about where to spend our money, and what products are available to us to bring into our homes and our lives. Local industry requires local participation, and it’s worth the effort.

Have you found ways to buy local more often, or more meaningfully? Is it a challenge? I would love to know your thoughts about this subject that’s literally close to home for so many of us.

Cheers,
Devorah
www.redthreaddesign.ca

When you’re slipping your jeans on in the morning, do you ever wonder about the people who made those jeans? I often do, even though it’s an uncomfortable thing to think about.  I’m certain that many factory workers overseas also wonder about the buyers of the things they make. I recently had the privilege of hearing the life story of one Chinese factory worker, and I was riveted.  I’d like to share it with you.

Garment Factory Workers

Garment Factory Workers in SE Asia

One of my sewers, I’ll call her Jean, recently told me about her childhood as a factory worker in Hong Kong.  Jean is 60, and has been living in Canada for 23 years, but she told her story with great animation and vivid detail, as though it was just yesterday that she occupied those factory floors.

Jean is a gifted seamstress, carries around a confidence clearly earned from decades of experience, and she expresses opinions with impressive conviction considering her discomfort with the English language. But it didn’t start out that way.

Born in Hong Kong in 1952 to a very poor family, she was sent to school for only five years. This education ended at age 13. She was small for her age, still looking very much like a child, and she was obsessed with fashion — her big dream was to sew fashionable clothing. A local woman taught sewing classes, but Jean’s mother would not part with the paltry fee. She begged and begged, but to no avail. There was no sewing machine at home, so she collected fabric scraps that were being thrown away, and sewed dresses for herself by hand.

At thirteen Jean landed her first job with the help of a family friend. The job was at a thread factory where huge machines spun and whirred overhead. At first she had the lowliest job, gently pulling the fibre from its fluffy state with her fingers and feeding it into a machine. Later she graduated to the big machines that twisted and wound the thread, a job that involved pulling on big levers overhead.   She says that she loved it, and enjoyed being exposed to the various tasks within the factory, even though she worked very long hours for a meager salary.

Not only was the wage miniscule, it was normal then for factory employers to hold back half of a worker’s pay for a full year. If at the end of the year you had done a good job, and continued to work at the factory, the retroactive pay would come; if not, you were out of luck.

At fifteen, Jean went to work in a wig factory. Her job? Brushing hair. She says she was curious about every job in the factory, and was lucky to have employers who let her experience many of them, keeping her stimulated.  Still, the work she dreamed of was sewing.

Jean’s brother married when she was 16, and her new sister-in-law took her under her wing, teaching her how to sew and allowing her to practice using her old foot-pedal machine. When the couple moved to Kowloon to work as sewers in a clothing factory, Jean went too. They helped her get work there, and they sewed side by side, helping her along. At first the long rows of workers intimidated her, and the speed of the machines was overwhelming, but she was quick to learn and adapt. Finally her dream of sewing clothing was becoming a reality.

Still a teenager when she met her husband, she enthusiastically taught him all the skills she had learned. They continued to work together in garment manufacturing, sometimes from home and sometimes at factories. Despite the long hours, she says she loved it. They followed their son to Canada after he came here to attend university, and she has spent many years in Toronto sewing for local designers, including Red Thread. We’re lucky to have her.

*****

As this vibrant and intelligent woman told me her story, I wondered how different her early experiences might have been if she had been born into different circumstances, and what opportunities she might have grasped. And by extension, it reminded me (as we should often be reminded) that the only thing that separates us from the impoverished, the exploited, and the oppressed, including many of the people who make our clothing under conditions that we would never tolerate for ourselves, is the luck of our birth.

Devorah Miller
Red Thread Design