My family has been in the “rag trade” for 3 generations. My late grandfather, Charles Chan Kent was an uneducated but driven individual who didn’t throw in the towel. He had to support 14 of his children and founded Aero Garment Ltd. which became the largest clothing manufacturer in Western Canada in the 1970’s. I am one of his 60 grandchildren. You could say that fashion was in my “jeans”.
In elementary school I worked cutting the grass and trimming the edges around my grandfather’s building for $1.00 an hour – slave labor. My younger brother only got paid $.50/hour for cutting the edges with a manual hedge cutter – child labor. They managed to trim his pay in half and get him cheap. It took 4 hours for us to do the yard work as we had to crouch and hunch over to trim the edges along the building as there were no electric or gas trimmers back then.
In high school my brothers and I worked in the shipping department (aka – the concentration camp) every summer packing garments into boxes, counting inventory, and pulling orders under a strict slave driver who timed us for every task we did. I called him the taskmaster, as he camped out in his office ready to whip us into shape and punish us for making mistakes. There was no favoritism for the young offspring of the family. When I got older I was given a pardon and was transferred to the accounting department to do bookkeeping under my father who was the CFO of the company. In fact all the males in my family were accountants. My father and younger brother were CGAs, and my older brother was a CMA; but I was just an MIA – missing in action.
In 1985 I worked part-time selling the fabrics that were left over after every season. My grandfather had 5 sons who ran the business. There was Sonny and a Bunny; but there was no funny, honey or money. I cut swatches, pasted them onto black cardboard backing, created my own booklet and set off to sell to whoever was interested. I worked off a straight 10% commission basis and was given no salary, car allowance, or gas money. It was a matter of survival; – sink or swim, or do or die; as our family didn’t believe in giving any free handouts. The only thing they believed in was giving free advice.
At first they threw me a bunch of swatches and prices and told me to run with it, so I was left cold calling, developing my sales pitch and trying not to strike out. Yet I was fortunate to win a number of clients in the retail and wholesale industry, including local manufacturers and School Boards. In order to earn my commission for each sale, I was required to fulfill each order by measuring the fabric rolls, cutting to order, and packing the rolls separately in boxes. Back in the eighties acid wash jeans were the craze and the factory had two dedicated washing machines to create the wash effects. Fortunately I used some ingenuity to create more business by acid washing all our denim fabric ends and selling them in bulk by the pound to various fabric chains such as Fabricland, Fanny’s Fabrics and the Angel Merchandising Group. In addition I purchased scraps from other denim manufacturers and processed them for sale as well. You could say that I sold a ton and took my clients to the cleaners.
Since we had our own garment wash/dye facilities on site I was given the added challenge of generating extra revenue from other manufacturers. Eventually I received business from companies such as Please Mum stores, Levi jean sub-contractors, and other denim makers. I also learned how to drive a one ton truck and picked up jeans and garments from various garment manufacturers in town. Every day I would drive down narrow back alleys picking up jeans from various clients and trying to maneuver the beast without damaging it. One client of mine was Starboard Pant factory located in Vancouver Chinatown. I drove there so often that I nicknamed the vehicle – the “wonton” truck.
A year later I was offered the additional responsibility of overseeing the embroidery department and solicit extra contract work. I flew down to New Jersey to learn how to digitize, repair and operate our two 20 head multi-color embroidery machines and traveled to California to co-design a custom magnetic frame attachment to increase the efficiency of embroidering designs on denim back pockets. Some of the clients I worked with were local manufacturers such as Westbeach, corporate apparel companies, and businesses who had licenses to produce goods for companies such as Disney. By this time I was really reaping what I was sewing.
After graduating at Simon Fraser University in Finance in 1987 I worked full-time for the family business. In a year, I became part of the management team and took on the role of Purchasing Manager in charge of forecasting and MRP (material requirements planning). I sat in meetings with our designers as they reviewed the new fabric lines that were presented. I then corresponded with the sales agents once the fabrics were selected for the season. Learning about fabric construction and composition was a bit hard to digest at first, but I dreaded more about having to think about avenues of discarding the leftovers after the season.
Two years later once again I was moved to improve the efficiency of the Distribution department and help expedite orders in a timely fashion. I guess the family must have figured that the leadership style was outdated and needed to be re-designed to be more progressive. The company didn’t believe in being fashionably late.
After improving the efficiency of the Shipping and Distribution departments I was asked to oversee Operations from cutting, sewing, pressing, and trimming. The biggest challenge was to interact with all 300 workers who only spoke Chinese. So in order to communicate with them without looking foolish, I mastered the fine craft of nodding, and became very fluent in the art of Chinese sign language.
Aero Garment Ltd. eventually hired a new President outside of the family who started a Corporate Apparel division and I assisted in the purchasing and inventory management. The company eventually set up a new Screen Print division and purchased some manual and automatic screen print machines. The Corporate Apparel division became quite successful and we had contracts with Hooters restaurant chains worldwide, Alice Coopersville, Coast Mountain Bus Co., Westjet Airlines, Mr. Lube, and Speedy Glass. I helped negotiate and win contracts with the government and other large accounts, but didn’t have the side benefit of socializing with clients such as Hooters.
As time wore on, the onslaught of imports took its toll on local manufacturing and made it difficult for us to compete. In 2004, the 5 2nd generation family members decided to wind down the business, retire and to settle their estates, while the rest of us wound up having to settle on finding opportunities elsewhere.
During this time my wife and I had a son. I never imagined becoming a Mr. Mom, but I took on the challenge from being a Top Gun to a Pop Gun and was preparing for the big “change”. Two years later we had a daughter and I had the opportunity to be blessed with being a stay-at-home parent and loving it. While looking after my children I spent one year studying to obtain my Supply Chain designation. I formed a study group, flew out to Toronto for a week of residency, and then passed the grueling 2 day exam to acquire my SCMP (Supply Chain Management Professional) designation.
I have since established my own company and have focused on developing, designing and marketing innovative kitchenware products. I consider that it was time for another change in my life and begin the process of transforming from being a Mr. Mom to becoming a Pop-preneur. But change is good.
Glen Kent is a former business executive and current stay-at-home parent who designs and creates innovative kitchenware accessories. Visit my website to learn about my light-hearted journey from being a Mr. Mom to becoming a Pop-preneur.