10 Minutes with: Theresa Nguyen
I am the Production Manager for a clothing manufacturer. The four main divisions of my role are supervising, liaising, pattern-making and training.
I work with the clients, understand their requirements, work out what we have and what we need, what we can do and what we need to readjust to get the best product. I then plan the timeline and coordinate the work. The challenging part is the delegation of work and always having to be multiple steps ahead of the flow to be able to carry out the rest of my role.
There isn't really a typical day in manufacturing. Working in India means it’s manufacturing with a dash of spices which can make things a little unpredictable. I start the day with dusting my work bench. It’s Bangalore and thanks to the ever expanding, ever constructing and reconstructing neighbourhoods, we do a lot of dusting! I then write a list of what I aim to get done on the day. However, I am not really able to say “This is what I need done by the end of the day.” and actually expect the work to be done by then.
The people I work with are not your regular factory workers. They are women trained from NGO initiatives and subsequently employed as tailors.
What makes this different is that they have never worked at a larger unit with clearly defined targets. These women work when there’s work, take leave if they feel like it, arrive late if they couldn’t get their morning chores done on time and once they get in, they have their little morning chat rather than getting on with their work.
I believe that in our case this is may be a cultural thing.
Most women in their position are not expected to work, let alone take pride in their work. Work is always secondary to the priorities of their family life. They were not encouraged to bring their minds to work and definitely would never bring their work home in their minds!
However, the best part of my job is seeing the sparks burn into flames within these women. To see the only man, once grumpy and untrusting of the women’s work, help teach and laugh with them.
I am filled with pride when I overhear someone echoing what I have taught them to another; when a mistake has been made and while staring in my hopeless eyes, one would suggest an ingenious way to overcome the problem; when I suddenly realise that I had forgotten to give a piece of very important note to the tailor and rush over only to realise that she had noticed it herself and done it correctly.
My proudest moment so far was when we had to do everyone's appraisal recently and Ruth, one of our women, said "I want to be a sample tailor like Girish in two years!". Girish is our sample tailor who is very skilled and experienced. Of course I had always known that she can do it but what overwhelmed me with pride was her self-realisation that she CAN achieve it and that she WANTS to achieve it!
The worst part of my job is the struggle as an intermediator between my management and my team. "I aspire to be a pigeon rather than a dressmaker!" is not what 7-year old Theresa would say.
In general, the most misunderstood part of the process is how much time is needed for sampling. As for my unit in particular, it’s the assumption that we are a systematic and well-oiled factory.
The most annoying myth people believe about manufacturing in India is that the country has better English than China and you can expect better communication!
In this day and age, I believe that we have a shortage of young people aspiring to work in manufacturing. I have realised that my role is so important to the client as well as the factory. I am able to see what needs to move and what must be stopped. I represent more than the product. The glass wall of overseas manufacturing is foggy and I function as the translator and the assurer. Being a person in my mid-twenties, I have little experience but I have seen manufacturing from both sides of the table and my technical skills are valuable to the discussion because I can both learn and advise. I understand expectations on the client’s end but now I see the struggles on the manufacturer’s end as well.
This may seem unconventional but if someone wanted to get into this field, I would suggest doing a backpacking trip to a place with little resources, where you don't speak the language and people’s body language makes you nervous. It teaches you to be both be alert and aware but also, ironically, to trust and to allow the flow of events run through the day. When you can get through 3 months of that kind of experience, you get a really good understanding of what manufacturing is like. Nothing that I know can’t be learnt by doing and observing others and using my problem solving skills. When something doesn’t work, it teaches you to be more creative through design. Murphy’s Law quickly becomes your mantra but the reminder of Sartre’s “to do is to be” rhythm plays like a good funky beat to keep your mood up and get you out of bed the next day.
My biggest advice is to have a purpose. My purpose here is to educate the women and elevate the importance of this lacklustre job that is garment work.
If I didn't do this, I’d like to have a travel business where instead of paying a lot of money for a spiritual healer or a shrink, the person can take me on a trip for a week and I’d help not to solve his/her problem but to see past it. I think we need to learn to first be kind to ourselves to be able to be fair to others.
I have analytical and interpersonal strengths and apparently am very good as a one-to-one cheerleader, according to my friends. My deep interest in society as a humanist and a minimalist hedonist allows me to be present with myself and my upbringing which spawned my advocacy for mindful living. Ethical fashion is a means for me to work with women and hope to inspire the kind of greatness in them that will rub off on their children.