What changed? Well, everything changed.

A man hasn’t got a corner on virtue just because his shoes are shined.” – Ann Petry

All this talk of fashion reminds me of a wonderful tour I was given of the John Lobb workshop in Paris, prior to its move to the rue de Mogador. If you haven’t heard the name before, John Lobb has been making some of the world’s finest shoes and boots since 1866 (http://www.johnlobb.com/heritage/). John Lobb was acquired by the Hermès Group in 1974 and their bespoke creations are wearable works of art.

Prior to the industrial revolution, bespoke tailoring, boot and shoemaking was the norm. Every outfit and every pair used to be made to fit the individual, highlighting assets and downplaying liabilities. Then came the industrial revolution and its machines and factories transformed an industry filled with artisans and craftsman.

Powerloom, Image by Wikipedia

The novelty and economics of “machine made” created an enormous splash, whose ripples continue to lap upon the shore of the pages of current fashion history. Everything could be made, cheaper, more quickly and for more people. What changed? Well, everything changed.

I recently spoke with a haberdasher about his experience with new clients who have never before tried custom-made clothing. He told me an interesting story about a man he had worked with the week before who never really liked clothing as his height and weight made it impossible for him to buy anything off the rack that fit properly. When he realized he could have clothes made to not only fit, but complement his frame, he was overjoyed. It was if a veil had lifted in his experience and with it went pounds of shame, embarrassment and discomfort that he had lived with all his life. He went from prisoner to proprietor. What changed, everything changed.

I’ve enjoyed seeing a resurgence of bespoke artisans – tailors, boot and makers and the like – in the wake of the industrial revolution. Unfortunately the cost of having clothing or footwear custom tailored is too high for most, but there are ways to complement your size and shape. It takes little research and a bit of practice, but men and women can find clothing that will improve their appearance on any income. You needn’t spend a fortune to find ways to magnify your virtue through wise clothing choices.

I spent an hour or so speaking with the various artisans in the John Lobb atelier, and to my surprise just about everyone I met had been working there for at least twenty years! They were proud of their craftsmanship, protective of their art and confident in their skill. All of them felt honored to do what they were doing and wouldn’t trade their craft for the world.

Compare that with the experience of most factory workers in today’s textile mills and you get a closer view of the changes wrought by the industrial age upon the loom of humanity. It is a starkly different texture. Progress? Well, I’m not so sure.

Forgive me for prying, but what in your world do you allow to imprison you? Your clothing is but one possible jailer, but what of your diet, your outlook, your friendships, your lifestyle? In my view far too many people live their lives in prisons of their own making. How do you break down these walls? Well, at first you must learn to be comfortable in your own shoes.

You have to be willing to get to know yourself as you are, here and now. Come to rest in your limitations and you will soon be free from your limitations. From there you can find those resources at your disposal that will best complement you as you now are. Moving onward and upward from there is easy!

If your experience is anything like mine was, when you come to rest with yourself the first question that will come to mind is “What changed?” To which you will naturally respond: “Well, everything changed.”

Have a great day!

Pride, Passion and Happiness: The Disappearing Artisan

I count the various opportunities to study abroad as among the most important formative experiences of my early years.  One particular memory comes to mind this morning, as normalcy begins to return to the disrupted air travel in Europe from the volcano in Iceland last week. 

Having just arrived in Bordeaux, France I was eager to start my graduate studies in international business at the Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Bordeaux.  The trip from the train station to my new lodging was too far to handle on foot with my bags, so I hopped in the first available cab, greeted the driver and let him know where I was headed. 

“Ah I know it well,” he said in soothing French in a tone that could only be generated by a fond memory being reborn.  “It was one of my first stops as a professional cab chauffeur.”  I was intrigued by his comment and his atmosphere, which was filled with both confidence and a comforting nostalgic air.  Most cabs I had taken in other cities involved mutual grunts and sitting back while listening to a cell phone conversation in a language I couldn’t understand, so this was a rare treat!

The driver went on to explain with surprising humility that he felt was one of the last true cab driving artisans in France.  A fourth generation cab driver, his elected and likely partly inherited profession filled him with pride and pleasure, or perhaps better put, he filled his career with pride and pleasure.  The way he kept his car was as important to him as the way he treated his family.  His conducted himself with the dignity of a dignitary, as if he was carrying the most important person on earth to the most important meeting on earth. 

That reminds me of a joke I once heard in Michigan.  The Pope was visiting Detroit and had to deliver Mass on the other end of town.  He and his limousine driver left late from their previous engagement, and the Pope grew impatient with his driver’s overly cautious and slow driving.  The Pope asked the driver to pull over and switch seats with him.  The chauffeur, now hidden behind the darkened glass, sat back as the Pope gunned it down Woodward Avenue in an attempt to make it to the church on time.  Unfortunately, one of Detroit’s finest pulled the limousine over and when the driver’s window rolled down the officer was taken aback and unsure what to do.  He went back to his car and called the sergeant to say that he had just pulled over a V.I.P.  When asked who it was, the officer said “I don’t know, but he must be pretty important.  The Pope is his driver!”

At any rate, I felt like the Pope was my driver in this particular cab in the wonderful gated city of Bordeaux.  The man I was privileged to ride with had so much pride and passion about his life, his job, his past and his future that I couldn’t find a better word to describe his state than “happiness.”  Sheer and utter happiness.

I wonder what the results would be if we were to take a giant online poll of the working citizens in our country to ask how many felt an overwhelming sense of pride, passion and happiness in who they are and what they do for a living?  Hopefully we’d get more responses than the government did in the recent Census 2010 (only 1 out of 3 people sent in their forms)!  

There is no reason why we cannot find a way to rekindle the proud, humble and unifying spirit that gave birth to this nation in every aspect of our lives, here and now.  It can happen in our schools, it can be sparked in our workplaces and it can be tended in the nest of home.  Pride, passion and happiness needn’t be victims of progress.  In fact, they can fuel progress in ways that we can’t even imagine. 

Look at the world you center.  Do you take great pride in it?  Do you sweep the sidewalk at the storefront of your life daily, at daybreak?  Do you polish the door latch on your front door and straighten the welcome mat for friends and enemies?  Do you feel you have the opportunity, nay the responsibility to aim to be the best ever [enter your job title here]?  If so, kudos to you.  If not, get to it.  (And have a wonderful day.)