Honesty is the best policy and it’s my policy. I’ve said it before: I’m not clever enough to lie. If you asked me if you had a booger on your face, I’d tell you. I might even tell you if you didn’t ask. That’s the kind of guy I am.
This is why it really pisses me off when someone says to me, “Every step of the way you’ve been deceptive and lying.”
Pat is an executive with Deckers and he’s talking to me from somewhere in California. Pat doesn’t like me because I showed up at the factory, the factory that someone at Pat’s company gave me the address to, which makes Teva, UGG, and Simple shoes, all owned by Deckers.
PAT: “Who gave you the address of the factory?”
ME: “Your Teva office did. I called them last week and the guy who answered the phone asked his manager and they gave it to me.”
PAT: “Give me a name.”
ME: “I don’t know his name. I’ve talked to no less than 8 people at Teva and Deckers in the last week.”
PAT: “No one would give out that information. It’s not supposed to be public.”
ME: “Well, they gave it to me. All of the other companies I’ve been working with have their factories’ addresses public. I don’t see why visiting the factory is such a big deal.”
(NOTE: Few apparel brands actually own their own factories. Like Deckers, most of the brands contract with a factory that makes shoes for many different brands.)
PAT: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard all day, not caring if some tourist shows up at a factory. We don’t cater to tourists. We don’t make our factories’ info public.”
ME: “I’m not a tourist.”
That’s all I can say. I want to explain to him that visiting factories isn’t much of a vacation. Neither is staying in modern Chinese cities with metros and McDonald’s, no beach, no mountains, nothing but hot weather and smog.
PAT: “I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I’ve seen a lot of things. I know when I’m being lied to.”
I try to walk Pat through the events of the past few months (below the cut I’ve pasted an email to Pat that explains all of my interactions with Deckers), but Pat will have none of it. He doesn’t let me get in the first sentence,
PAT: “I’m the one asking the questions?”
What follows aren’t questions but accusations about how I cleverly manipulated and deceived everybody. As if I had used Jedi mind tricks on the employees of Deckers and the people who received me at the factory.
Everyone at Deckers had been pleasant to work with, not incredibly helpful, but pleasant. I believe they helped me as best as they could. Pat, on the other hand, was skeptical of my purpose from the start and I respect that. The quest is weird. But if you don’t want anything to do with me, just say so. Don’t string me along.
I get the feeling that they were just waiting for me to disappear. I didn’t come all of this way to disappear. I don’t work for The New York Times, hell I don’t work for anybody, and no one takes me seriously until I show up on their doorstep. When I acted on the information they gave me, they weren’t happy. Even with my being completely transparent, I was in a no-win situation.
My presence and my purpose annoyed Pat from the first time I spoke with him. I was a nuisance and probably up to no good.
The realities of the shoe business aren’t pretty and Pat doesn’t want us to think about them. This is why Pat doesn’t like me. But there is one thing Pat should know: I like wearing shoes. I like not having sharp objects poke my feet. I like having a little arch support.
Pretty much every bit of footwear I own was made in China. I’m guessing yours was too. Who am I to damn the brands and the factories who make my shoes?
Sure, if the workers at the factory were having their fingers lopped off as I watched, or they were being whipped, or 10-year-old kids were slaving away, I would write about it. But I guess, and Pat knows, that this isn’t the case. I’m sure the working conditions are acceptable.
Still, Pat doesn’t want us to think about our shoes. He wants us to buy them, wear them out, and buy another pair. Pat doesn’t want us to think about the people who make our shoes and what their lives are like. How they often work 15-17 hour days and sometimes don’t get a day off per week. How the man and wife that I met live a costly 13-hour train ride away from their 14-year-old son. How they live on a few dollars/day.
Pat doesn’t want us thinking. I don’t blame him.
I Googled Pat and up popped his contract with Deckers. I felt bad for looking at it. I wanted to call Pat and say, “Dude, do you know your contract is online? You should really get that taken off.” Now, I don’t know a whole lot about big business, but I’m guessing that as a public company, Deckers has to make public the contracts of their executives. But to show up through a google search?! That seems a bit too public.
Not really, I know how much Pat gets paid, kind of. I know his base salary, but nothing about his incentives. I won’t reveal Pat’s salary, but I will say that Pat ain’t hurting. If we just take Pat’s base salary, in 3.2-days he earns what the workers who make his products earn in an entire year. And Pat, if you are reading this, I don’t have a problem with that.
Pat lives in California where life is expensive. I’m sure he has nice things. He lives the life that he is used to. He makes what he needs to make to maintain that life. I’m sure that Pat’s life isn’t that much different than my own. He probably knows how to surf and I don’t, his car is probably nicer and newer than mine, his air conditioning probably isn’t broke and if it did he could pay cash for a new one, and his television likely has a few inches on mine.
I can’t damn Pat’s lifestyle without damning what my own is about to become. And I think I’m really going to like my new life with Annie in our house with our precious little kitty, Oreo.
I believe that Pat earns every cent he’s given. Without Pat, and people like Pat, the workers who make my sandals may not have a job at all. A job that the workers sacrifice being with their only son to have.
See Pat, I’m not so bad. I’ll still wear my Teva flip-flops. It’s not like there’s a pair of sandals out there being made by middle-class Americans.
But I was thinking…
The world is really screwed up.
(Note: The Deckers’ corporate office in California didn’t respond to the email below the cut nor any other correspondence I’ve sent their way since Pat and I last talked. The China office was polite enough to invite me back into their office, but they said that is all the access they were allowed to give.)
I apologize for the mix up and I am sorry if I have added any stress during this already busy time. Please know that it no point in time have I lied. I respect Deckers as a company and, in fact, used to work for Townsend, Bertram, and Company in Carrboro, North Carolina where I sold Teva, Uggs, and Simple shoes. I found out while working there that Uggs was named appropriately because all of the girls from the University of North Carolina would come in to buy some and we would never have them and they were always backordered for weeks. To which my response was “ugg.” That’s my only complaint. I’ve worn Teva for years.
Here’s a quick outline of my interaction with Deckers during which I have always been more than forthcoming:
January 2007 – Made multiple phone calls to try and reach the right person. Eventually, talked with Brice **** at Teva. Told him about my quest and asked where the factory was located so I could arrange my itinerary. At that time I was only told Guangzhou, which was enough for me to make my travel plans. I was not given any other contact information about who I should contact at Deckers or in China. But again, it was enough info then.
June 1st – Call Teva office in CA. Brice **** no longer with the company. Talk with a girl (can’t remember her name) and ask her if I can have the address of the factory and the contact info of who I should contact to visit the factory. Tells me she’ll ask her manager. We are cut-off. Call back. ***** answers. I explain to him my quest and that the manager was tracking down some information for me. I’m put on hold while he asks his manager. Then I’m given the address of the factory and transferred to the Deckers Corporate office where I’m sent to Jaime. Jaime is at the Teva Mountain Games. I call back and given to Steven ****. Steve says that he’ll pass on my info to Jaime.
June 2nd and 3rd – The weekend.
June 4th – Try calling Jaime. No response yet from Steven. Send Jaime email and leave voice message.
June 5th – Finally reach Jaime. After at least no less than 10 phone calls to Teva/Deckers I am given your information. I try calling you. I believe I left a voicemail.
June 6th – In morning no response from you as of yet. I email you early in the morning my time hoping to get a response. My time in China is slipping away and I have yet to get any Decker local contact. I read this on your website: “Our on-site supervisory office in Pan Yu City, China serves as a local link to our independent manufacturers in the Far East…” I’m led to believe that your office in Pan Yu is on-site at the Xingtaiy factory (at that time I never knew you worked with 5 factories). I decide to go there and see if I can speak with the appropriate person.
At the Xingtaiy factory via my translator (a college-student heading for Oxford!) we ask if Deckers has an office inside. They say they’ve never heard of Deckers, but a lady passing by says she works for Deckers. She asks the nature of my business. I tell her what I’ve told everyone all along. I’m a writer from the USA and I came here because my sandals were made here. She asks me whose permission I have. I tell her that I do not have an invitation (again through my translator), but Deckers did give me the address. I also tell her that I’ve been in contact with Steven ****, Jaime ****, and that I’ve been trying to contact Pat. She calls her boss and we are shown in. As we walk in I ask my translator if the lady knew any of the people I mentioned. She tells me that she knows you to which I remark, “Great the only person who I haven’t spoken with.”
We talk with Kevin Huang. He asks me again about my invitation and I again say that I have not been invited, but I am trying to reach the appropriate Deckers contact in Pan Yu. And again, I confirm that I have NOT spoken with you nor was I under your invitation. At first I think he is the person I’ve been looking for all along, but his card doesn’t say Deckers. He makes some phone calls and comes back with Dindo’s name and phone number. He tells me that since we are not invited here that he can’t give us their address. We would have to call them ourselves. At no point in time do we ask to see the factory or claim to be under anyone’s invitation. We leave the factory happy that we finally have the appropriate contact in Pan Yu.
June 6th (My pm your am) – After several calls I reach you, finally. You’ve never heard of me. You say that you’ll get back with me.
June 7th – No emails in the morning from you. I have Angel setup a meeting with Dindo. I don’t receive your email pasted below (removed) until after my meeting with Dindo and our discussion on his phone.
Sorry if I took offense towards the “lying deception” thing, but as you can tell it’s been a long haul for me through the Deckers corporate phone chain. I feel that I’ve made the effort every step of the way to do the right thing and it rubbed me the wrong way to be told differently. I hope this email clarifies things.
I know that you all have better things to do than deal with me and my odd quest around the world and I appreciate your assistance. I completely understand your frustration with me. At some point in time at the factory my intentions must have been misunderstood. I never claimed to have been invited by you. I did say that I was trying to reach you. Did your name get me in the door? It sounds like it. I apologize.
I hope this bridge hasn’t been burnt. Dindo answered many of my footwear questions, but I’m sure I’ll have more about the product and the industry in the future. It would be great if I could contact you with these questions.
Whew! That’s a lot.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. My Chinese Mobile # is: ****** and I check my email regularly.
Again, you can learn more about me and my work at www.travelin-light.com and more about my quest at www.whereamIwearing.com.