The mid-price company car tailspins into a u-turn and speeds off back up the long, dangerous road to the South London sinkhole. A good half-mile from the ferry I take a second by the roadside to run through my ritual checklist of professional working equipment: Handheld, diet/supplement pills, porthole-cut flak-jacket in garish pink, declaring in no uncertain terms that I’m a non-combatant and that neither my scalp nor any other body parts are redeemable for company scrip. Despite assurances to my editor and stylist, I double-check I’m only carrying Avsaknad products. The jacket is a nice token, but I’m not counting on it to save me if I’m caught alone in the swamps. Feral middle-classes patrol these waters, and they don’t like outsiders.
I’m here, so far from the cosy inner city this week to investigate how the callcenter-towns of Twickenham, Lolyp and the recently-built Damascus have weathered the last five years of nonstop feudalistic warfare, and hopefully get a real human insight into how their struggle and suffering goes into putting the products you love into your greasy little hands.
The gun emplacements on the roof of Avsak North are just visible nosing their way into the clouds as I crest the hill and begin the descent into the Damascus wetlands. There are no housing estates on this side. I’ve read that they dismantle and move the flatpack homes round the building with the seasons; Sheltering in the winter, and drawing solar power from the giant glass broad side in the summer. Can’t be much of a commute!
Hey hey! The “ferry” turns out to be a smooth-running Wravetrampler 5000 with a swimming pool and wet bar. The pool is only painted on and all the bottles are made out of solid plastic but hey! I can get crunk at home, I’m here for you, and they work better for the photos I need for the society pages anyway. The pilot (Or “ferryman” as he has daubed in a childish fashion on his otherwise immaculate overalls. I hope for hygiene’s sake it’s animal blood!) works quickly and methodically casting us off and deftly navigating us through the swamps, clearly uncomfortable with being in the open so far from home. I ask to be directed to my seat and he cheerfully points to the bow of the ship, where “Guests of Lord TanTan (HR) ONLY!” is scrawled on the deck in the same flake-brown calligraphy.
The town itself is a stone bummer but, once inside the thousand-foot, mile-wide corporate womb, you could be in any VIP reception area in the world. Tiny drinks and microwaved burgers dance before my eyes like a thousand fatty stars and I pop a diet just to steady myself. This is all beautiful stuff, but I’m here for the REAL story on the factory floor. Like, what are these guys wearing? Do they pluck or wax? Some say they don’t need to shave at all!
Timothy “Lord Tantan” Hatton was awarded the right to choose his own company name after years of dedication in carving out and stabilising this region as the main centre of production for socks, jeans and caps in the Northern hemisphere, and has been a reclusive but impactful behind-the-scenes dealmaker in the fashion world ever since. Just the name summons the image of a fun guy to chat with and find out his story! So I’m excited when I’m beckoned away from the bewitching smorgasbord to head to the E17 lift and meet him in his office.
I’m surprised when the lift door opens onto a sea of desks, with a sea of boring guys and gals tapping away at their boring jobs. Duh-ull! But striding round a corner came a fashion assault and battery! TanTan is sporting a shredded mini-kilt and a leather snapback with bird-of-paradise feather head-dress. What a madman! The shirtless, painted chest makes the whole thing pop and I just have to kiss him on the cheek.
He explains faux-apologetically that he doesn’t actually have an office, and “roams among the worker bees” for a whole hour a day (This guy is dedicated, five minutes hanging out with these bozos and my street-cred would be through the floor!) and we wander through the drones into their communal changing areas where any inter-office squabbles from the previous day are being settled in the Brunchtime pit-fights. “A little blood on the floor is a good omen, and good for the team. People rarely get maimed.” he laughs “Some don’t even get hurt at all if they kill their colleague quickly.”
“I’m a lover, not a fighter. This pink jacket isn’t just a luxury accessory.” I cheekily remind the manufacturing wing’s unquestioned Lord and he looks at me with a searching glint in his eye for a moment. Woof! That guy can pose! “Of course, of course.” He leans in with a grin “You came all this way. What would like to see today?”
I want it all. I want the colours, I want the tones, I want the patterns and I want the fit. “Show me the fash!” I squeak out, my silk-smooth rap all but wilting in the gaze of this titan of texture, this Vizier of vogue, this Faizal of fads. He grins approvingly and we grab another catered VIP lift down to the machinery-only levels.
That sight, children. A guy would have to be ten times the poet that this guy isn’t to do it justice. Jumpers! Braces! Scarves! An endless tapestry of designer goods that, by sheer quantity alone, made the Turin Shroud look like a cheap cotton vest. I could’ve stared until my eyes turned to dust, but LT ushered me along, pointing out new cuts and newly-automated parts of the production line. Now, the latter may have made him a company golden-boy, but this fool only loved him for the sweetmeats I’ve draped on my frame.
As we came to the end of the moving walkway and Lord Tantan (He objected to my previous abbreviations of his name, but we were both chill about it from then on, after he’d put the knife away.) made his excuses as he was coming to the end of another backbreaking corporate day, I was invited to review the gift shop on my way out.
And I’ll tell you all about THAT in next weeks centre-spread!
– Sharkey Byron
(Picture Credits: Digitally editing by Lucius using the following Creative Commons images; Daravi by The Forum of Young Global Leaders, Rural Landscape image by freeimageslive.co.uk – photoeverywhere, and the Shinjuku Sumitomo Building image by photoeverywhere – stockarch.com)