“Classey-Lady” and Other Global Travels at the Mall

by Sally Applin

Last week, my friend and I went to check out the Giant Mall in Milpitas. We thought we’d take in the bargains and see what there was. The stores range from high end (Neiman Marcus Last Call and Saks Fifth Off) to low end–Steve & Barry’s, where everything was $8.98.

The first experience we had was at Steve & Barry’s. Steve & Barry’s has just filed for bankruptcy and the store really showed it. Many items weren’t where they were supposed to be. It was as if the store had suffered from some sort of wave that had pushed all the merchandise to a giant pile outside of the fitting room and swept the rest to the floor or the lower shelves. Most garments weren’t that well made, but there were a few things that were surprising. The womens’ jeans were cut superbly and had a great fit, the right amount of stretch and a nice dark wash. Everyone had figured this out who was under a size 14 because the smaller sizes were missing–except for those that had washed up by the dressing rooms, which is where I had found a pair in my size to try on.

I purchased a pair of extremely well made and durable Khaki shorts. The tag said that they were made in Kenya.  After flagging down a clerk to pay for the shorts, we left the shop.

As we traversed the mall, we noticed that there seemed to be a lot of those little carts that are in the middle of the walkways. The carts are rented out for a smaller sum than a retail floor space and have flourished in the past decade. They are a halfway point between brick & mortar and an online presence and are very common at malls these days.

We stopped at one cart because it featured a long plastic pad with fake rocks embedded in it, resembling a river bottom. (I could really diverge here and talk about that the environment is wrecked so badly that portable river bottoms are now being manufactured, but I’ll save that.) The New York Times had an article on these fake river bottoms recently and one of the things it had mentioned was that for older people, stone walking helped build balancing skills. I asked the woman who was minding the cart if she had read the article in the New York Times. She did not understand me. She nodded, but could not reply. My friend noticed that she sold cupping glasses, which are used for a type of massage therapy style treatment. My friend asked her how the cups work. The woman pointed to a sign in a foreign language with an English sentence that said something like “Cups for healthy lifesyle.”  I realized that it was no different from being overseas. The general language of commerce, minus the questions, is all that is necessary for a transaction. One doesn’t need to speak the language, if one can initiate and repeat the pattern. This cart reminded me of an online cart–for an online transaction. The system was the same, and just like online, there was no phone number to call or email address for questions. This fascinated me. Live, but virtual–all in one!

We continued to walk the perimeter of the mall. We came upon a shop called “Classey Lady” that had a large “50% OFF!!” sign displayed prominently in the doorway. My friend thought it was an ironic joke that the proprietors were in on. It wasn’t likely. It is more likely that as the cart was, the store was owned by someone without English skills, but who understood and had good connections with cheap manufacturing and could offer the clothes at a substantial discount.  Spelling didn’t matter–why not “Classey Lady,” indeed.

When I got home, I showed my husband, who has a background in supply-chain and manufacturing, that the shorts I’d purchased were from Kenya. He said something to the effect that it was interesting, and that he suspected it was still Asian/Indian manufacturing because they are so entrenched in the garment trade and that they have begun to purchase land and trade into Africa. He offered that it was purely a speculation on his part, but in a few hours, he’d mailed me an article that Steve & Barry’s clothing was made by Rising Sun (K) Epz. Ltd. 

I cannot source this company. Is “rising sun” a common term in Kenya? Is it part of the Indian garment manfacturing company called “Rising Sun Garments Pvt. Ltd.” or one of the nine or so Rising Suns sourced in China?

It just doesn’t seem that Kenya would develop this industry–one of the big garment manufacturers has not got to be “offshoring” to Kenya.

I have no evidence of this, but it makes sense. As countries that the US has “offshored” to, become prosperous–it becomes too expensive for them to do their own labor, so they are subcontracting to Kenya, to Thailand, to Korea, to Vietnam, etc…

Maybe this isn’t news.

Trend: The countries we offshore to must make so much money now that they have to offshore. What happens after Africa? Will people ever offshore back to us because we’ve become such a bargain?

©2008-2014 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.

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