Threads of Arrow Street, Anjali’s tailoring business, came together like the bodice, cuffs and facings of a garment. In a little time the flow of alterations and adjustments, stitching and repair, became enough to ensure the immediate future of the business; and even to require occasional assistance from one of her uncle’s employees; her own time being worn threadbare with the growing workload.
Anjali was torn by her uncle’s regular visits to Threads of Arrow Street. Design is about an independence of thought. She greatly valued her uncle’s support, but his doctrine was always that of firm conformity to the structured business of repair and alteration of valued garments. ‘You will wear yourself out if you continue just to work hard,’ said her uncle on one of these visits.
‘You need to work clever, not just hard. The difficulty, for a tailor, is in finding and serving a customer. That is always hard. The opportunity is to get each returning customer to spend more and more, that is clever.’
Anjali was sewing on a button with a bobbin of black cotton for the twentieth time that week, when suddenly her thoughts broke loose and began to run around in front of her.
‘I am in my soul a designer,’ said her thoughts, ‘who sees this grey town and its grey people and longs to bring form, colour and texture to every square and side street.’
She wound the thread tightly around the black button and tied the end firmly beneath the shirt collar.
‘My uncle has the strength and resistance of Herdwick wool. But this wool of the sheep from the fells with its sturdy fibres becomes softer when it is spun with the wool of the alpaca. I must find that soft alpaca wool and spin it with my uncle’s firm and resilient business sense.’
It was one of those thoughts that was impossible to brush away. It was also a determination thick with consequence.
The hard wind of that winter, being no invitation to the customer to return quickly to the street from beneath the heater over the shop counter, was her accomplice in this endeavour. When the February wind blew another customer through the shop door, she found the time to warm that person with comforting words. All this warmth caused the client to remain a little longer and give a little of herself in return. When there was no other customer waiting, Anjali went further, and wove her warm words into the fabric of profit by gently questioning what alterations the client really wanted.
She discovered how to unravel a customer’s firm resolution. The client, with an established idea of what he or she needed, came confidently into the shop and ran straight into Anjali’s ability to sew just a little doubt into the tightest seam of confidence. Once the client’s vision of the ‘right-thing-to-do’ had become as clouded as the peaks of the northern mountains that February, it was easy to suggest more extensive and expensive improvements for a garment.
‘Every customer, of course, is different,’ said Anjali to her uncle over a cup of masala chai in the shop’s tiny kitchenette. ‘Yet there is a common thread that runs through every one of them.’
She sipped deeply from her cup and found another thought dissolved in the chai.
‘In the humblest person, I often find there is a need for progression and change. The belief that life is a succession of alterations and improvements runs deep beneath the damp skin of many of the purchasers who rush into my shop in the middle of another winter storm.’
It was in these discussions with her uncle that Anjali first began to see the colour and form of her ambition appear, like the twill woven through the traditional worsted that her uncle wore when, fresh from his own work, he would make them both a pan of masala chai in the kitchenette of Threads.
When you believe that your destination is just around the corner, it is often the case that there is, in truth, yet another bend in the river to navigate.
‘The time has come to find you an assistant,’ said Anjali’s uncle. ‘I have someone in mind that can help you. She is very capable and has proven herself to be dedicated and hardworking.’
Her uncle looked down at the delicate stitches that encircled the calf leather toe caps of his shoes. There was a long pause that Anjali chose not to fill. Without any reaction to fasten on to, her uncle was compelled to proceed without being able to tailor his edict in any of the many ways he had rehearsed that morning.
‘She is like that brooch I bought for your mother that never gets worn, as she claims it is too valuable to lose.’
He inspected the leather of his shoes again and then, finding himself provoked, continued without his normal elegance.
‘We need to attach this woman securely into the weave of your company. You can give her twenty percent of the profits of Threads. That is fair and she will not let you down. She has held fast in the roughest of times in my business. With her help, you will be able to find the time to think of accessories; those things that will make Thread’s customers return more often.’
He paused, and then added like a final sequin sewn at the end of a ribbon of lace, ‘And spend more money when they do return.’