“Lost In Translation”
Though I wanted to keep Nikke Horrigan 100% Australian-made, finding a reliable and helpful manufacturer right here at home was more than difficult. It was nearly impossible. So I made the decision to head to China in search of factories that could help bring my designs to life. It was a trip that ultimately helped me get on the right track in fashion but not without some challenges first. If you’ve ever seen the movie Lost In Translation, my trip to China was equally frustrating. But in the end, a bizarre twist changed everything.
Over the course of a few months, I’d dealt with three different factories who were reluctant to take on my project. After passing my designs and fabrics amongst themselves, the Australian factories left me with nothing but wasted time. As you can imagine, this was beyond frustrating for me. I was anxious to get my label off the ground, but without an established reputation, I didn’t rank as a top priority with the local factories. A couple days after the third factory declined to help me, I decided to make the trek to China. I spent a great deal of time researching China’s manufacturing industry and key cities to visit that promised the highest probability of success. Through my network, I was able to secure a lead to a potential factory. But prior to my trip, I was unable to get in touch with anyone. Despite this, I set my sights on Guangzhou, and a week later, I landed in China.
“I was anxious to get my label off the ground, but without an established reputation, I didn’t rank as a top priority with the local factories.”
Without any real knowledge of the Chinese culture or language, I landed in China around 1 a.m. Immediately, I faced my first obstacle as a tourist in a foreign land. An unofficial, shady taxi driver at the airport promised to take me to my hotel, but he kept leading me further and further away from the airport to get to his vehicle. This seemed like a classic case of a local trying to hustle a tourist. So I declined his service and headed back to the airport. Before I could get away, the driver even tried to keep my map. Luckily I was able to get it back.
I’d booked a room at The Rich Hotel, but it was anything but that. After an hour-long taxi ride, I arrived in a seedy part of town. The buildings were decaying and abandoned. The area was filthy. Rats were running through the streets. And the interior of the hotel wasn’t much different. Consistent with just about everyone I’d encountered at this point, the front desk attendant didn’t speak any English. In order to get checked in, I had to rely on Google Translator. But not so I could speak Chinese. I literally had to type into my phone and show it to the attendant. After a playful back and forth, I was able to get to my room. Upon entering the room, I was uneasy because of the room’s overpowering stench and the sound of rats running through the walls. It wasn’t the arrival I expected. Laying in bed I had no idea how hard this trip was going to be.
“In order to get checked in, I had to rely on Google Translator. But not so I could speak Chinese. I literally had to type into my phone and show it to the attendant.”
The next day, I took a taxi to an area that was home to massive shopping malls. But these weren’t the types of shopping malls I was used to. Most of the malls were half-empty and filled with merchants and manufacturers who’d set up unofficial camp. As I walked through the shopping centers with a suitcase full of hopes and dreams, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed. I never saw another foreigner. I was now surrounded by potential manufacturers. But not a single one of them spoke English. With an intense language barrier in place, I spent two days taxing around the city with no results.
I still hadn’t heard back from the lead I’d attempted to contact before arriving in China. But I decided to go for it. It was either sink or swim, and I was determined to swim. While trying to get to the physical location of my factory lead, I ran into a similar language barrier with a new taxi driver. I had to enlist the service of a local girl at a bus stop to help me communicate. At first, the driver refused to take me to the factory because it was approximately two hours away from my hotel. But eventually, the girl was able to help me. Like the neighborhood where my hotel was located, the area where the factory was located seemed abandoned and unsafe. It was home to multiple industrial factories. It was getting dark, and the taxi driver assured me I was in the right place. But once I got out and spoke to the security guard at the entrance of the factory, he wasn't sure. Despite this, he let me in.
"It was either sink or swim, and I was determined to swim."
I walked around the factories on my own for a half hour before a factory worker approached me. He spoke enough English for me to explain what I was looking for. After another 20 minutes of searching, I saw the factory name! I was fearful that the entire trip had been a waste until that moment. But there it was. I told the receptionist, who spoke English, that I was there to meet with her boss. She let me in to see him without any problem. It turns out her boss, James, was Australian. But not only was he Australian-he’d attended the same school as me (St. Edmund’s) and his parents lived in the same suburb as me. I remember him saying "you've come all this way. You're sure as hell determined. Not many people would do that.” I’d traveled all the way to China only to land in a factory run by an Australian native. I guess it was meant for me to keep Nikke Horrigan Australian made after all.
James and I hit it off. After sharing my business plans, designs, and experience in China, he helped me book a more suitable hotel room. His assistant drove me back to The Rich Hotel to collect my belongings. I ended up staying at a much better hotel in the heart of Guangzhou. It was close to public transportation and most of the factories. For the next week, I was able to focus on picking fabrics and visiting factories. I felt like I was actually achieving something. It's an amazing feeling to fly to a foreign country and meet other business people from all walks of time. And better yet, I’m still working with James and his factory. He and his team are like family now.
I would start my days off at a Starbucks or any cafe in the area. I’d grab a coffee and start mapping out my day. The markets are crazy! I got lost so many times. There were stairs that never seemed to end and underground tunnels full of markets that went in every direction. The streets were just as busy. There was something happening on every corner. It was an incredible experience.
“The saddest thing I have always found about traveling is saying good bye."
I have no regrets about the trip. Except maybe losing contact with Lucy, a local Chinese girl. I’d met during my time there. After sharing a table with her and a friend, I discovered that she spoke English and had attended uni in the United States (Boston). She was able to write down key Chinese phrases I would need to communicate with manufacturers. Thanks to Lucy, I was able to simply point to questions in my phone to navigate conversations with other locals. She even took me sightseeing, which was a welcome reprieve after spending a large majority of my days there alone. I plan on reconnecting with her soon. The saddest thing I have always found about traveling is saying good bye. It tears me up inside, knowing that you shared a special moment but you have to acknowledge the cruel reality of life. It’s the realization that we all have to leave on our journey, and we may never make it back together to share another.
I learned a lot about myself on that trip. Most people would’ve crumbled in a similar situation. I went to a foreign country blindly, but I kept going until I achieved what I’d set out to do. Regardless of how exhausted I was or how challenging it was, I’d get up and do it all over again each day. I’m not afraid to admit that I was scared. We all have moments that test our strength but it’s in those moments that we find strength. I’d sit on the balcony of my hotel room and think about how big the world was compared to me. I was just a person with a dream. Could I really make this happen? I found strength and comfort through self-belief. And I found strength in my successes. Without my trip to China, Nikke Horrigan wouldn’t be where it is today.
"Fashion imitates life" - Nikke Horrigan