On the 15th day of March, Anjali recalled, a middle-aged man arrived at the shop counter just as they were trying to shut. It was a Friday, and the needs of the coming weekend were bringing in the ‘after-work’ customers, anxious to recover their ironed and neatly folded clothing. The ladies kept the door of the shop open late on a Friday, but the week had been busy, and their fingers were sore and the crackle of a fire in a home hearth was beckoning.
The strained and bearded man introduced himself as the Weaving Factory Manager, whom Anjali felt she knew already from the descriptions Eileen had given. He spoke in a continuous unbroken drone, with few intervals between the sentences, sounding like a sewing machine fastening a hem in place. It was clear that, to him, this was just another difficult task on another difficult day. It was another difficult day of work and it must be endured.
It was late on a damp Friday and Anjali was tired, but the approaching deadline she had agreed with Panya was pressing. She escorted the Factory Manager behind the shop counter and through to the tailor’s consulting room.
She left him there for a moment to prepare the refreshments, which were part of the ritual that reshaped a routine business interaction into a warm discussion. When she returned, he was closely examining some garments which had been placed over mannequins in a corner of the room for the night. He turned quickly away, with the flavour of a boy caught with his hand in a jar of fashionable biscuits and took a seat at the table.
Anjali’s first question to the Factory Manager was like a gentle pressure on the foot pedal of a sewing machine, and he replied to the prompting of her question with the same mechanical intonation.
‘We sat around the table with our new owners. It is one of those meetings where it is essential to consider all possibilities. To challenge the new possibility, to suggest that the old ways, the old organisation, can still deliver, is the sign of the closed mind which is not capable of embracing the necessary change. We are introduced to the woman with red hair, who joins us at our roundtable discussion. She is newly appointed and currently on project work. She presents her ideas to the meeting, and her dress says, “believe this person, trust this person, put your support in this person”. It is their eyes and not their ears that reassure them. Seeing is believing, they think. Words are just sound, and sound is dishonest and twisted. What you see, you know to be true.’
He put the palm of his left hand beneath his chin and banged the table several times gently, but repeatedly, with one mechanical fist.
‘Every doubting Thomas, disbelieving what he hears, will believe what his eyes tell him. Every doubting Thomas is convinced by the statements made through the cut, colour and texture of premeditated dress.’
Again, he repeatedly beat the table; the frustration was still there as he continued.
‘You can put a thousand figures in front of an Investor. You can demonstrate a solid track record. But any investment is a leap of faith – but understand – it is a leap of faith insured by the impression, the gut feel. You put on a tailored suit with a hand-dyed tie, and you stand amongst twenty other people with tailored suits, their individuality, their distinction, expressed in just that tie. It is the same hammer that strikes in the same old way.
The Danish Directors have seen the confident look of a bespoke suit, a carefully ironed shirt and a tightly creased seam; and they have seen that fashion fail a hundred times already. This woman with the red hair is someone who strikes with a different hammer and from a very different direction.’
He paused and took a Duchy biscuit from its neat cardboard box. It was an oval ginger biscuit, and he pointed it at Anjali, marking the rhythm of his words with one blunt end.
‘I have people who have relied on me. They have put their trust in me. Now at the end of this cold winter the business – its purpose and its structure – unfreezes and everything is uncertain. I am responsible to these people whose loyalty has brought me the success I have savoured, before today.’
The biscuit paused reflectively. Anjali was just beginning to think that she should press him further. Then, and abruptly, the rattle of the factory manager started again with purpose.
‘I acknowledge the way you unzipped something assured and persuasive in my Personal Assistant. And I sense – and my Assistant is convinced – that you can help us.’
The Factory Manager stopped again, as if he had run to the end of this section of his address.
‘How do you want us to help you?’ asked Anjali eventually.
There was a moment’s pause whilst the Factory Manager looked up at the ceiling. There he found the material he needed, and started up again.
‘You can help me by increasing certainty. You can help me by stitching persuasion into presentation. You can help me by alteration, so that everything we wear radiates the message of confidence we need to transmit to this Danish audience; this audience that is already inclined to doubt that the Wetledale Weaving Mill is competent to achieve their expectation without their close control.’
‘I have a little influence, which I have used to be allowed to pitch an alternative proposal to the Danish Chairman, whom they have already appointed to the holding company to oversee our weaving business. I need to make a case to him, to win the chance to present to all the Family members on the Board. This is now a clash of credibility. I need to win the right to convince through this presentation; but I can lose that right before I enter the room if I do not wear that confidence and belief – that is hidden inside me – on both of my sleeves.’
He sat back and folded his arms, rocking just slightly as if needing to comfort himself, yet being taken by surprise by that need.
‘I need to succeed in this pitch to the Danish Chairman on Wednesday afternoon. I have produced good figures – and the red-headed lady will have produced good figures. This is then a brawl in which confidence is the shield, and credibility becomes the battle-ax.’
He came to a halt. It was clear that the string of information that he wished to lay in front of Anjali was complete.
Anjali let a stretch of silence fall between them until she felt that he was more likely to listen.
‘Confidence and credibility are at the core of our designs,’ she said, as reassuringly as a flagging Friday would allow. ‘The movement of fabric, the capability that it possesses to accentuate every essential idea, is the mechanism.’
He was listening now. Anjali started on the detail that she needed him to understand, approve, and believe.
‘If I can understand what the garment needs to convey,’ she said slowly, allowing the pauses to underline the words, ‘I can help you.’
He looked relieved and very tired.
‘I can stitch together the messages that must be communicated. It is like striking certain notes on a piano with greater emphasis. These are the notes that will carry the composition. Clothing is the means by which we enhance the correct material, the required reality. A garment highlights certain notes and softens others. We want the right notes to come through.’
He nodded once and she continued. ‘But I must tell you that a message sent, and a message received are two very different things. I will study the trends in Danish design as comprehensively as I can in the time I have available to me. You must tell me as much as you can about the person we need to convince on Wednesday. And exactly what it is he needs to believe if this proposal – this presentation – is to be something that inspires confidence and conveys credibility.’
They talked over the history of the Danish investment company and the people behind it. They discussed what it was that the family business owners needed to believe. They talked over what the Family’s concerns might be. The cloth of emotion, the succession of stitches of emphasis or distraction, the reinforcement that these would require, all of this was formed and fashioned as Anjali made her notes.
They talked on until Anjali felt the exhaustion of the week causing all the colours of her thoughts to run into each other.
‘I think it wise that you accompany me to the presentation to the Chairman,’ the Factory Manager repeated to Anjali as she showed him out of the shop and into the dark street. ‘I will introduce you as an assistant, who has contributed much to the proposal, which is no more than the truth.
The next presentation to the full board must be completely convincing. If you are there, you will better understand what the Danish Family needs to see and – well – what statement every part of the design must convey.’
He pulled on his crumpled coat as he stepped into the street. The orange of the sodium streetlight was reflecting damp from the black pavement.
‘I will instruct my PA to send you any further documents that she thinks might help. We have just four days to pull something together, and to make sure that we are coordinated enough for your work to be effective.’
He sucked the cold street air through his closed teeth.
‘The coordination will be easier this time; easier than it will be the next time. Should this strategy with the Chairman succeed, the presentation to the Danish Family Board Members will be troublesome.’
This painful thought cut lines into his face. He turned and strode mechanically towards the end of Arrow Street.
The package that arrived on the desk of the Personal Assistant to the Factory Manager of the Wetledale Weaving Company consisted of notes, accompanying drawings and designs that would ensure a positive outcome to the imminent encounter with the Danish Chairman.
In the accompanying instructions Anjali had written, ‘There is no time to change what I am doing. I am sending this to you, at this time, so that you are prepared, rather than because we have the luxury of changing anything.’
‘What is your opinion of this?’ said the Factory Manager to his PA from behind his desk.
Instead of answering this question directly, his PA replied, ‘The alterations Anjali made to a two button jacket I wore to work. I was far from sure. It was you who informed me that the jacket served its purpose adequately. Not glowing praise per se, but quite a significant comment given these distracting times.’
She waited for a reaction. When none came, she added, ‘We have no choice but to go along with this, and no reason not to. I will ensure that everything is arranged and presented as she instructs.’