Posted on July 11 2016
Trusst co-founder and Chief Product Officer Laura West is home from China, and she took some time to give us the inside scoop on her experiences abroad. Check out her Q&A below. If you missed our production update, take a look at our last blog post here.
Q: What is your favorite thing about China?
A: How nice the people are and how much they want to communicate. One day, I was riding the subway, sitting next to the kindest elderly woman who tried to talk to me. She couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Cantonese. But we managed to find a happy medium through drawing.
Q: What were you most homesick for?
A: Cheese. I didn’t realize just how addicted I was before I couldn’t eat it every day.
Q: What was it like living in a hostel?
A: It’s wonderful to meet travelers from all over the world and share stories. However, it is also like college again in that you don’t have any personal space.
Q: What is your favorite thing you ate in China? What is the one food you missed the most from home?
A: Favorite food: Red bean anything. I had red bean paste filled Bao that looked like pandas. It was a sweet treat at the end of my dim sum!
What I missed: see above – did I mention that I REALLY like cheese?
Q: What is your favorite thing you did/saw in China?
A: Karaoke! I took a side trip to visit some friends staying in Dongguan, and they invited me out to a KTV, which are giant buildings with lots of rooms to sing karaoke with your friends. Full disclaimer: I had never done Karaoke before in the US so singing for the first time abroad was very liberating.
Q: What are the factories like?
A: The factories that we’re using are very spacious and well run. There are specific rooms set up for fabric inspection, fabric cutting and sewing. The sewing room itself can be huge, separated by machine type and function.
When workers first come to the factory, they are assessed on their talents and then trained by the head of the production room so that they can sew up to the factory’s standards.
Q: How many people work on each bra?
A: Considering the specialty of each process, dozens of people could have worked on one bra. It all starts in the sample room with pattern makers decoding the tech pack to create paper patterns. They’ll then tweak the pattern so that it fits perfectly. After that, they’ll break down the construction into specific processes with different machines and machine operators so that the construction is very efficient. Our bras are a little different than most, and they have more than 30 components to piece together!
Q: What are some of the things that surprised you most about the factories?
A: The diversity! One might assume that the majority of people operating the sewing machines would be women, but the sewing line was about 50/50 men and women.
Its so fascinating to see the creativity in these factories. For instance, if they were using scissors that had a handle that was a little too hard, they would wrap the handle in a cushy fabric to protect their hands.
Q: What was a typical day like for you?
A: I’d get up around 8, throw some clothes on and go grab some breakfast. That usually entailed going to the local street vendor for a bubble waffle and a canned coffee. I’d then go back to the hostel, knock out some emails, and repeat the same trip for lunch and dinner. Around 8 or 9 in the evening I would call home to talk to the team.
On days that I’d head from Hong Kong to the factories in mainland China, I’d get up even earlier to catch the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) to the border. Next came customs. I don’t know how many times I’ve filled out the same paperwork and queued in the same lines. I would typically spend between 4-6 hours at the factories.
Q: Did you find the language barrier difficult? Did you have a translator, or do many people speak English?
A: The language barrier was very difficult. Because Mandarin and Cantonese are character based languages, you have to know what each symbol means. As a result, I got confused more than once!
In Hong Kong, a large number of people speak English, or at least enough English to get the main point across. I used the international art of mime quite a few times.
When it came to working with our factories, our liaisons spoke English very well.
Q: How did you typically get around China - cabs, trains, subway, etc?
A: The MTR – Hong Kong’s subway system is very efficient.
Cabs – some places in Hong Kong are just hard to access by train.
Lots of walking.
In mainland China, I tended to travel by train and then private cars.
Q: What is the biggest difference between living in the US and living in China?
A: The number of people! While Pittsburgh is technically a “city,” it’s much more suburban compared to Hong Kong and Shenzhen.