The true colors of Todd's lunacy were about to blossom.
I took my camera to work with me a few times, so I was able to capture some of the madness that was brewing at the Minnow sewing shop. I remember saying to Todd, when I first started, "you should get some video cameras in the building to document the company being built". A few weeks later, I said to Geoff, the graphic designer, that I felt like I Minnow was like a reality TV show, "a cross between the classic movie, Office Space and TV show, The Office. Although this place was even crazier, because this was real. I was ready for the camera crew to come out of the woodwork and tell us all we were on a spoof TV show. This place turned out to be even crazier than make believe and I didn't know anything yet. Once Josh, the fashion designer started working, the place really began to take shape.
From what I thought, Josh and I were going to head around to different designers around the country and be somewhat of a traveling roadshow, preaching the virtues of the Minnow sewing machine to all who would listen. It didn't work out that way.
Todd had Josh laid up in a dark room, creating designs and sketches for clothing, one day it was jeans, the next, chiffon blouses and tee shirts. I'm thinking- o.k. this is fine, now let's get some sewing machines set up, so we can get this party started!!!
The Minnow machines created a purported 1000's of different stitches with their over 300 different sewing machines, but after working there for about a month, I had yet to really see one of these sewing machines sew anything. This vision for a design studio was to have a model of the most popular machines set up for research and development, probably 10 in all.
For some reason, Todd kept stalling with the machines. "Josh doesn't need any machine right now", he would say. I'm thinking, how do you hire a clothing designer and not have a sewing machine for him to work on. That's like hiring a logger and not giving him a saw. After a weeks worth of badgering, I wrestled out the real reason why Josh didn't have a sewing machine., there was none for him to have.
I'm thinking, how can there not be any machines, I see hundreds of them downstairs in the manufacturing space. What I didn't know was that all those machines I saw, stacked on shelving throughout the manufacturing plant, were either used or made in China. They weren't making sewing machines down there, they were buying Chinese knockoffs, putting a Minnow badge on it and shipping it out the door. But these Chinese made machines were only the slow speed 1950's technology machines, used in textile finishing.
The speed demon machines, capable of sewing in excess of 5000 stitches per minute, like the PK-5X, PK-5DRZ-1 and the rest of the PK family were in fact, not made in China. These glorious machines were actually used machines bought from dealers and bankrupt American garment/textile manufacturers, repainted and sold as new. And these were the machines that were in high demand, selling for $2500- $5000 a piece.
The place was a sham and Todd, a snake oil salesman.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I don't know if anyone is reading this "series"and I don't really know why i'm writing it. The whole story to me is hilarious. Basically, it's another story of the American Dream, not really though. More like a curtain of deceit and lies being sewn under our noses. Although writing about it is self gratifying, I think the best medium to tell this saga is through film. I am going to keep writing it, but I am going to touch on other topics in between.
Around my fifth day working, Rick, the computer programmer started. He had just moved to Providence and found this job on craigslist, too. Rick is a great guy, he was hired to build a new website to showcase the new company. The Minnow communications department had sprouted up in about 2 weeks and was starting to take shape. We now had 4 members: Geoff, Lolly, Rick and Myself. The office was abuzz in activity, we would all spend at least 2+ hours in Todd's office in meetings, each day.
Todd was very involved with everything that went on our our side of the building, it was like his little fiefdom. On his wall was a big Turkish flag, which at first led me to believe he was of Turkish descent. I laughed when I found out the real meaning. It was actually because Todd thought of himself as a Young Turk- a revolutionary. He was a maverick that didn't follow anyone's path, and at first I was down with it. Flip-flops, hats and Macs not to mention dogs running around, it seemed pretty cool...
I later learned that this was only a facade to lure unsuspecting 20 somethings into a seemingly fun company.
Image was big with Todd. Gucci loafers, tales of gallivanting in NYC with Dov, from American Apparel. The guy has his own Wikipedia page, that he created (although he vehemently denies). He was more interested to what fashion designers I'd talked to, than how many machines Jerry, our sole salesman, was selling.
While the stitch book was beginning to take shape and we were developing our stitch branding strategy to designers and apparel brands, Todd decided that he needed to hire a fashion designer to create unique stitches with the Minnow Machines. This new designer and I were going to work together to search out and befriend designers and fashion labels to help our branding initiative. We would show them how their unique designs could benefit from using a Minnow sewing machine.
"I hired a fashion designer from RISD"- Todd proclaimed one day. Great, I'm thinking. We, the fashion designer and me can get to work using the sewing machines and start to see these incredible stitches that I'd heard so much about. The only time I saw the Minnow machines in use, was when the machine assemblers would sew off fabric for final adjustments before shipping.
One thing that stood out from day one, was how the Todd kept saying they made over 300 types of sewing machines, and I was like: "they all look the same", because, to me they did look the same. Some of them were painted blue, some green and some white, but they all shared the same shape and characteristics. All in all, they all looked identical in my eyes.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
I brought my laptop with me on my first day of work, it just so figured that there wasn't an available computer. I met up with the chief, Todd and he gave me an overview of his branding strategy again: we were going to- brand a stitch.
Minnow sewing machines produce some of the most precise, consistent sewing stitches in the world. Apparel makers all over the world, use these machines to stitch everything from sandals to sequin seams. One of the most impressive sewing machines was the PK-5X, the green machine. This puppy is for sewing the edge around patches (over edge stitch)- at a rate of 32 stitches per inch.
I was all for the idea of branding the stitches- my first task was to track down anyone using our name without a trademark. Many product descriptions, rightly or wrongly will advertise that they have a Minnow edge.
I developed a list of trademark violators and contacted, stating that Minnow was a registered trademark and if used, must also bear a registered trademark symbol (tm). I spent about a week tracking down all the people using the Minnow name inappropriately. After I exhausted my list, my next mission was to befriend fashion designers and help promote The Minnow Machines as a way to create unique designs. I talked with some big designers and got a good overview of the over edge stitching business between talking with the designers, but when time came to meet up with the designers, it we were onto the new stitch book that Geoff and Lolly (our new marketing assistant) were creating. I didn't really know what was going on, but Todd seemed to have a divine plan and I was running with it.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
I show up to work on my first day at Minnow Sewing Machines and take my post at a green sewing machine table, my desk. I was in a little room adjacent to a large multi-station office area which is part of a large open office area with large cubicle desks. The president's office was across the room, his desk positioned so as to have the optimal view out his door into the office. Our office was located on the south side of the warehouse, which was about 50 feet wide and 300 feet long. The building was pretty unassuming, just another warehouse in Wareham.
There were was purchasing, shipping and parts department on on the north side of building, with a loading dock, offices and supplies. This was also the heart of the building, with the makeshift employee break room and kitchen. The middle of the building was manufacturing, where the machines were built. Sewing machines in various states of completion were being assembled at several work stations. Other machines were stacked high on industrial shelving. It was impressive to see hundreds of these little machines all over the place in different stages of completion. There were other rooms filled with parts, machines and file cabinets scattered throughout the building.
There were five people working in our "department", at this point.
Stephen (job unknown)- He had been working at the company for over a year and was always doing random assignments, at the command of the president.
Jerry (sales)- Musician and resident Mac buff, a funny guy with a dry sense of humor. He graduated from UMass, Dartmouth a few years ago and was working for the company for about a year. He lived a few towns away in New Bedford, about 15 miles away.
Geoff (graphic design)- Geoff just started a few days ago and is working with Steven cataloging digital pictures of stitch samples created by the machines.
Todd Minnow(president)- A 29 year old, self proclaimed magnate, who runs the company with his little brother, Teddy.
I was hired as a branding and marketing specialist to help build build the Minnow brand.