This article is part 2 of the series about “Human” Rights
Janet had been in Albany for almost two years, preparing the workshop and taking her daughter to school. She knew she had the requisite skills to create high quality products and her business plan was simple, based on gradual growth. The work on the first signature design for the Hanson range was finally near completion. She had sent two prototype designs to friends back in New York, hoping for feedback on the comfort and any comments. Except what happened was a chance meeting that kicked Hanson Goods into the air before it was fully ready to fly. Janet’s friend had attended a party on the lower east side, a rooftop part run by Anton Fielding, curator of the Danzig Gallery. Her friend was leaving the party and noted that her handbag had been stolen, and only the handbag – she found her wallet keys and phone all dumped on the floor. Later that week, several photographs emerged in the tabloids of notorious socialite Rebecca Avelard leaving the Electric Room with Janet’s Hanson bag on her arm. Avelard was considered a ‘style-influencer’ at the time.
By the middle of the week, Janet’s inbox was flooded with inquiries about the availability of the bag. “…everyone wanted the same bag that Rebecca was carrying outside the club. All the stock I had were different designs and no one wanted them. It pissed me off. I started my own business to run it my way and then I get the most obvious of insights: I’m still serving customers; and customers say they want to be original, but they really just want to be like something they’ve already seen.” At the time, Janet needed a week and a half to make one of these designs. She had set up her business to be bespoke, so she did not account her prices to cover hiring any extra labor, so she tried to complete the orders herself. To compound the workload, she had multitudes of buyers, investors, brands and manufacturers approach her to appropriate the design. “I just wanted them to leave me the fuck alone. It was a f******g siege. Lawyers, business managers; slimy CEO’s throwing big money and it was, like, ‘I am just trying to do something by myself here!'”
With her mother helping with her daughter, she stayed in her workshop for three weeks – eventually passing out from exhaustion. “I broke out in hives. My thumbnail literally cracked in the middle.”
She needed help and it duly arrived; in an unexpected form. The bag started appearing on market stalls in every city centre. China, whatever that may be, had caught a whiff of the interest and counterfeit copies of the bag started shipping over. Contrary to expectations, Janet was relieved. People started pulling out of orders and she was glad to be rid of the mass of orders that were killing her. It wasn’t bad news for her, the bag was appearing everywhere and she didn’t have to do any of the work; and there was a further opportunity that Janet wanted to exploit. She hired a lawyer to sue for copyright infringement, and started chasing the press for coverage of her lawsuit. The coverage helped her image of the all-American independent business, and also allowed her to be clear about the pricing of her product. The fashion press wanted to back her, so the coverage focused on the bespoke aspect of Hanson Goods. The designs were one-off, they were not for mass consumption. Soon she began to receive the right kind of clients.
“It was the same with Louis Vuitton: the knock-off copies were everywhere, so the image of the brand itself was ubiquitous and familiar, but then there was this hunger to display a genuine article. I knew girls who prided themselves on spotting a genuine LV. Everyone had a fake one, and everyone had an eye on getting a real one. I just had to make my collection work on that scale.”
In order to keep the workload under control, she hiked up prices to maintain exclusivity., but the campaign was still too successful. By the start of Hanson Goods’ third year in business, Janet was 13 months behind on 80% of her orders. Her mother had passed away the previous year and Janet was taking her daughter to school and helping with homework. The design aspect of the job was doing fine, but she could not manage the manufacture without help. She wanted to hire two leather workers, to help with the cutting, instead she was approached by a sales rep from Gortan Robotics to hire one of their new models, Popcorn.
Based on the Baxter model, Popcorn was the latest in the industrial collaborative bots that could learn detailed movements. Gortan Robotics were desperate to get Popcorn on the market visibility and saw the Hanson Goods story as the ideal bandwagon.
Charlie Renton, the CEO of Gortan, explains: “the problem people had with robots was that they were going to take your job. So with Janet, we saw an opportunity to show that Popcorn isn’t going to take your job, he is going to build your business.”
Janet remains candid about the decision: “They offered Popcorn, plus a technician who could program it, for nothing. I was behind by almost 18 months by then. I didn’t have much to lose and they had a lot to gain by making it work for me.”