I met Avraham several years before I moved to New York City. He’s a Leo. Avraham has an Intuitive hand shape with rectangular palms and short stiff fingers and thumbs. His headline and lifeline are joined at his thumb. Avraham grew up on a busy commercial street in a wealthy Jewish community. His father died when he was four. His mother was obese and in poor health. She loved Avraham, but unfortunately for him, she remarried a horrible man who became his evil stepfather. I had no idea who he was, but I used to see this creepy guy at funerals. He was a professional mourner, hired by the local funeral home to lament the dead at funerals. He was a mean spirited man and treated Avraham as an unwanted stepchild in his own home, which was a tiny shabby apartment located above a smelly local butcher shop. While other kids wore monogrammed shirts, English Leather cologne, and drove fancy cars, Avraham looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching as he climbed the dingy stairs to his impoverished depressing world.
Avraham’s short index finger and crooked pinkie and middle fingers make for an interesting tale. Despite low self-esteem and his depressing circumstances, Avraham decided at an early age that he would not be poor when he grew up. His bible became ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill. John Lennon was his favorite hero. Avraham studied diligently to become a lawyer. I’ve read many hands of lawyers with crooked pinkies. It’s very easy for them to bend the law. Avraham was as clever as the best of them, however; he chose to embrace rather than twist the law. “We’re all guilty until proven innocent”, he’d say.
Other lawyers, who didn’t know Avraham, saw him as another greedy ‘ambulance chaser’ with questionable ethics. Avraham was the first lawyer in town to post billboards at the scene of regular car accidents and to advertise on local TV. There was nothing illegal about what he did. Avraham was actually a pioneer and a very clever marketing person who put his clients’ needs and interests first. He eventually became very wealthy. Avraham would say, “It doesn’t take too many good cases to make a decent living”.
At the time Avraham and I met, I was designing and subcontract manufacturing mushroom lamps and a variety of other plastic widgets and fighting with my business partner over his gambling addiction. Ready for change, I viewed Avraham as an opportunity for me to make a lot of money ‘the easy way’ (or so I thought). At the time, large manufacturers of plain white roll-up vinyl window shades were competing with each other for pennies (still are). Avraham became my partner and our attorney in the window shade business.
We created the ‘stained glass window shade’ and applied for a patent on a clear vinyl roll-up shade that looked like real stained glass when daylight passed through it. We hoped to license Tiffany’s designs, but Tiffany didn’t want any part of cheapening their image with plastic. We should have known better. Instead, we retained a stained glass artisan and made exquisite prototypes of our own. When we presented them to the ultra-conservative buyers at Sears, J.C. Penney’s, Montgomery Ward, and other retail chains, they told us, “Stained glass is for churches, consumers won’t buy them”. We weren’t about to give up.
There were mainly cheap plain white vinyl shades on the market. We figured that there were more than enough ugly views from windows to make a fabulous living. Our primary challenge was to pay for expensive materials, tooling, setup charges, and minimum production runs. We traveled all over the USA, trying to license our stained glass window shade concept to the shade industry. There were seven major players at the time. We heard ‘NO’ seven times for a variety of reasons. We had gotten a fascinating education, but could no longer afford to speculate on our idea. We hadn’t sold enough shades in two years to meet our minimum financial requirements. Our patent was still good for another 15 years. Frustrated, but hopeful, we waited for a sign from the Cosmos. Our beloved Stained Glass Window Shade was on a back burner.
Avraham and I strolled in the woods, which was our office at the time. Why weren’t decorative window shades everywhere? Our pondering led us to a variety of challenges. Window shades were dirt cheap. Our concept was to increase the value of the plain white shade with fashion. We figured that producing more elegant translucent shade materials and utilizing inexpensive beautiful printing methods would appeal to consumers, buyers, and the logic of shade manufacturers. We’d say, “You get more money for fashion”. They’d reply, “You have to make a lot of shades to pay for your mistakes”.
Window Shade departments were the most mundane utilitarian department in the home furnishings industry. They were nearly as bad as trying to locate palmistry books in bookstores. If you looked for the drabbest, remotest, most inconvenient corner of the bargain basement, you’d find plain white shades in different lengths stacked in vertical bins under cutting machines. Many little plastic bags of shade hardware hung above.
Our research revealed that seven major textile mills controlled upscale department store markets for sheets, comforters, blankets, towels, table cloths, curtains, draperies, and upholstery fabrics. JP Stevens & Co was the leader of the seven. We approached them with our coordinated shade idea and licensed their most successful patterns; polka dot, gingham, calico, and denim. Seemed like a lot of money for squares, squiggles and dots, but we were now married to a powerful octopus with many very long tentacles. Our plan was to purchase short production runs of printed cotton sheeting which we’d then coat with vinyl resin and convert into window shade cloth. We’d produce them by piggy backing production runs of their most popular patterns and tacking on a few thousand yards for our product at the end of their run. We needed to sell a lot of shades to break even, but assumed that JP Stevens’ retail customers would gratefully purchase our shades.
Our next challenge was finding the best way to approach retail shade buyers. It would take some serious alchemy to transform their dowdy merchandising to chic. We begged buyers and merchandise managers for ten square feet of floor space in the drapery department with electricity to illuminate our product. We provided JP Stevens and department store buyers with pictures of coordinated shades for bed and bath product merchandising, advertising, and promotion. I designed the display fixture below. The picket fence swung open to reveal narrower width shades which were stored inside. We convinced Bloomingdale’s and Federated Department Stores to take a chance on us.
We prototyped Wamsutta’s Ultracale fine cotton bedding collection.
We chose designs for kitchens, family rooms, and children’s rooms.
We converted upholstery fabrics to window shade cloth and designed shade housings.
We were feeling pretty good about the progress we were making, but realized that we were still at the starting line of our obstacle course. We cut the children’s patterns loose because the royalties and minimum guarantees were ridiculously exorbitant. The shades would have cost a small fortune before they even reached the consumer. We decided that we would negotiate a better deal later. We contracted with a large shade manufacturer who was willing to produce, package, and deliver shades made from our materials for a very reasonable price. They were selling utility. We were selling fashion. We figured that they’d buy our shade business from us when we proved ourselves.
We were chomping at the bit to get started. I collected a $50,000 initial purchase order from A&S Department Stores and another $10,000 order from Bloomingdale’s. That’s when Murphy’s Law galvanized like a lightning bolt from hell. When we contacted JP Stevens to purchase yard goods, we were told that there was a cotton crisis and they didn’t have enough sheeting to supply their own needs. We suggested that they print our product on muslin, but they still had the same problem. Meanwhile, A &S was getting nervous because they realized that the shade patterns would be visible from the outside of the windows, especially at night when shades were lit from the inside. We’d anticipated that some people wouldn’t buy the shade for that reason, but didn’t consider that to be a huge problem. We had looked into laminating a translucent white vinyl film onto the back of the shade cloth. It added substantially to the price of the finished shade. It also created a possibility that the shade might curl inward instead of hanging flat in the window. Both sides must be laminated to create proper lay flat. We considered printing the patterns on vinyl shade film, but it was cost prohibitive to purchase expensive rotogravure print rollers for minimum production runs.
We contacted the department stores, explaining that we were unable to deliver their orders on time. We let each other off the hook. Meanwhile, the Burlington Domestics Bedroom Scenic Collection had become the hottest selling patterns in the market place. With a burst of inspiration I thought, ‘Why not offer consumers natural sheets with real nature scenes?’ I rendered up a batch and showed them to department store buyers.
I also sketched some closet accessories to match and then met with the president of Burlington Industries domestics division. He told me that “they were unable to do a project of this nature at this time”. He told me that a person with my creativity should be working on “new ways for people to sleep”. That was a nice compliment, but it didn’t help me pay my rent.
Avraham let go of window shades to pursue more lucrative projects at that point, but not me. I was at my wit’s end when I came up with what I believe was my most brilliant window shade idea. If shade manufacturers, buyers, and consumers wanted plain white vinyl shades, I’d give them plain white vinyl shades. Elegant patterns could be illuminated when daylight passed through translucent shade materials that had been printed with an opaque white ink that matched the vinyl. I created prototypes and licensed the idea to Kenney Manufacturing Company. Dick Kenney was my favorite CEO in the shade and drapery hardware industry. It felt like a perfect match. I named my collection ‘Reflections’.
This is how the plain white shades looked when daylight passed through them.
I also created a unique collection of illuminated pattern designs which I called
New Early American Folk Art
Once again, we were all set to go when disaster struck. Hurricane Hugo hit Kenney’s shade manufacturing plant in Charleston, SC and completely destroyed it. Dick Kenney called and apologized to me while I offered him my sympathies. My most important project was once again reluctantly placed on a back burner. I was mind boggled. Every time I got close to what I wanted, it was ripped from my grasp by outside circumstances. Stay tuned for more of my physical and metaphysical misadventures.