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"And finally, here's my showstopper. I call this one Sheer Double Dip," Kacey Parker announced with pride, moving to stand beside the final photo in her PowerPoint presentation. She clicked the remote control and sent the image of a leggy model in a hot pink monokini and a dazzling bronze tan onto the screen. When the sultry image emerged, gasps of approval erupted from the two people seated at the conference table at Leeman's Retailers, Inc.
"This is the only swimsuit in my SunKissed line that looks totally natural when dry, but becomes sexily opaque when wet," Kacey went on, sliding her gaze toward Steve Hadley, eager to catch her boss's reaction.
At least he isn't frowning, and that's good, Kacey decided, hopeful that she had impressed him enough
to green-light her swimsuit designs for his chain of department stores.
"Hmm, see-through fabric?" Ariana Mendio, the vice president of merchandising for the upscale department store, murmured. "That'll make for some stunning surprises when the ladies get out of the water," she noted in her well-modulated Italian accent.
Kacey smiled in agreement, happy to have Ariana, who'd been with Leeman's for eighteen years, on her side. The woman was an absolute fixture at the company and her opinion carried weight.
"Surprises? Absolutely," Kacey agreed with a nod in Ariana's direction. "The fabric is a new synthetic that designers are calling Naughty Net. It's soft, durable and becomes extremely sheer when water hits it."
Kacey took a deep breath, pleased, so far, with her presentation. She'd joined Leeman's as a sales clerk eight years ago, and her warm personality and flair for design had helped her move into the position of director of special promotions. In that job, she'd gained valuable knowledge about what buyers wanted, expected and would pay dearly for. A competitive swimmer in college, Kacey especially loved working on promotional events in women's sportswear and swimwear, where she enjoyed pulling together dramatic displays of the functional yet attractive apparel that drew customers' attention.
However, as fulfilling and demanding as her current job was, once she left the store, she dedicated herself to her dream jobbecoming a swimsuit designer. Over the past year she created her portfolio and when she showed it to Ariana, her coworker immediately took it directly to Steve Hadley, who was so impressed, he invited Kacey to show him more of what she could do.
"Is this fabric readily available?" Steve asked, jotting notes in the margins of Kacey's portfolio.
"Right now, only from China," she answered, wishing she had better news. "But it makes this one-piece the sexiest swimsuit any woman could ever want. Just look at the detail. The plunging neckline, low scooped back and high-cut legs."
"Specialty fabrics could add thousands to production costs," he mused as he flipped through Kacey's proposal, a slight frown bridging his thick black eyebrows.
Kacey paused, inhaled and swallowed her apprehension, aware that her specs related to costs and materials would require a significant financial commitment at a time when upscale stores like Leeman's were nervously watching the bottom line.
"I know," she agreed. "However, I'm hoping to find better rates per unit in Thailand," she acknowledged, setting aside her remote control. "I'm sourcing that now."
Finished with her presentation, Kacey walked to the far side of the room and turned up the lights, allowing the Manhattan skyline to loom dark and gray in the expanse of glass windows that made up one wall. Kacey squinted at the heavy April rain pounding the buildings and slicking the skyline, weary of the thunderstorm that had started during the night and continued to rage. She was definitely not looking forward to a crowded train ride home to Harlem later in the day.
After taking a seat at the conference table across from her boss, Kacey looked directly at Steve Hadley, prepared to expand her pitch. "I know the specialty fabric could run up production costs, but the expense would
pay off in the end. Using Naughty Net on the Sheer Double Dip would make it an instant bestseller."
"I love it," Ariana cut in, cooing her words in her sexy Italian voice as she slipped her fingers through a mass of white-blond, shoulder-length hair. Even though she'd lived in America for thirty years and was a naturalized citizen, Ariana took care to maintain her accent, which she laid on thick to dramatic effect when she wanted to make a point. "I adore all eight styles. Great line, Kacey. Wonderful photos. Linette pulled off some very attractive shots."
"Right. Linette is the best," Kacey agreed, referring to Linette Grier, Kacey's best friend and an up-and-coming photographer specializing in sportswear photos. "She's been so busy lately, I was lucky to get her."
"Ah, well, I'm glad you did," Ariana said. "Very nice. Well, Kacey, all I can say is that your designs are spot-on," she continued. "I especially like Twisted Bliss, the black one-piece that shows off just the right amount of skin but still offers full bottom coverage. Excellent choice for, uh mature women who still keep in shape, shall we say?" She chuckled, winking at Kacey before turning her attention to Steve Hadley. "Older women with disposable cash are our most important demographic, right?"
Hadley inclined his head in brief acknowledgment of Ariana's point. "Kacey, I think your designs show promise and the line is worth exploring," he stated, choosing his words very carefully, without conveying his decision. "However, because you're an employee at Leeman's, it makes for a bit of a sticky situation."
"Conflict of interest, and all that?" Kacey injected.
Steve nodded at Kacey before going on. "Right. You'd
have to leave Leeman's and become a contractor if we decide to proceed with this. But first, let's get some samples made and assess the project, okay?"
"Whatever will work, " Kacey rushed to say, willing to do anything necessary to move her career as a swimsuit designer forward. After all, her goal was much larger than to simply do custom work for one retail outlet. She wanted to have her own design firm, have control of her future, and launch a creative explosion that would make hers a household name.
"However," Steve was saying, "We must source that specialty fabric at a much better price to make the investment pay off." He licked his lower lip in thought, his eyes riveted on the scantily clad model whose image still filled the screen. "I'm thinking that a totally domestic production would be the best option. Save shipping costs and time."
"I agree," Kacey replied, encouraged by the fact that he was leaning toward carrying SunKissed by Kacey in his fourteen Leeman's stores. All he needed was reassurance that the product would turn a profit.
"What about manufacturing in Mexico?" Ariana offered.
With a shift, Kacey smoothed the skirt of her burgundy power suit, crossed her arms and placed them on the table. Leaning toward her coworker, she made a slight grimace of concern. "I checked out a few south-of-the-border plants, but didn't have much luck. However, there are two manufacturers I'm still looking into."
"Kacey," Steve started, clearing his throat. "I want to be clear. I agreed to take a look at your collection because I think you have a good eye for what women
want. You also have a great sense of style and I like your swimsuits very much."
Kacey beamed her thanks, but said nothing, holding her breath as Hadley continued.
"But," he went on, "I have concerns about the timing. It's very late into the spring shopping season to introduce a new line of swimwear."
"But women buy swimsuits year-round," Kacey countered, pushing tendrils of highlighted bangs away from her face, now wishing she'd had her spiral curls trimmed during yesterday's visit to the salon. However, she'd been in a rush to get out of the beauty shop and home to put the finishing touches on today's presentation, which it seemed, so far, was going pretty well.
"Exactly," Ariana, stated, agreeing with Kacey about year-round swimsuit purchases. "Winter cruises to the tropics, heated pools in homes and hotels, hot tubs in private residences. That's what keeps women buying swimwear through all the seasons. I know we're getting a late start, Steve, but if we can source the Naughty Net and include the Sheer Double Dip style, I think SunKissed by Kacey could be flying out of our stores in six weeks."
"Hmm," Steve murmured, fingers laced and tented in thought. "Only if we could get fast turnaround on production." He shifted his body to focus on Ariana. "What about Archer Industries? We've worked with them before and always had good results," he remarked. "What do you think?"
"Good possibility," Ariana agreed. "The Archer factory has a reputation for fast turnarounds, high-quality production and cost-effective shipping. They handle quite a few private labels."
"Old man Archer came through with that rare Hawaiian print we needed for the menswear line last year," Steve added.
"Yeah, and saved us a ton of money, too," Ariana agreed.
With a lift of her finger, Kacey joined in. "You're referring to Archer Industries in Texas, right?"
"Yes," Hadley replied. "Rockport. On the Gulf Coast. Not much else is there but the Archer factory. That family has been in business for years. The founder, Leon Archer, is getting on in years, but he runs that shop like a well-oiled machine. He's a dying breed a good old-fashioned businessman who takes pride in doing a first class job, no matter how large or small."
"I phoned and sent an email to Archer," Kacey said, eager to let her boss know that she'd already considered the family-owned firm that had done quite a bit of business with Leeman's over the years. "I just received an email this morning to contact Nona James, the quality control manager. I'm going to call her as soon as we finish here." Kacey began to gather the papers she'd strewn over the conference table, anxious to return to her office, get on her computer and tie up all the loose ends related to her proposal.
"Don't bother with that," Steve stated. "Mr. Archer deserves a personal call from me. He's a throwback to the old days likes to do business with the person in charge. In fact, I'll call him right now."
Kacey watched as Steve reached for his handheld, scrolled through his address book and punched in a number. Within seconds he was talking to Mr. Archer, giving the manufacturer an overview of Kacey's proposed swimsuit line.
"Sure, sure," Steve agreed in an expansive voice after several minutes of conversation. "The designer, Kacey Parker, can come down, meet with you and we'll go from there." He turned to Kacey, placing a hand over his phone as he whispered, "He thinks he can do it. And he would like to meet with you at the plant tomorrow afternoon. Go ahead and book a flight to Rockport," he said before returning his attention to his conversation.
"You'll have to fly into Corpus Christi the closest big city," Ariana offered in a hushed tone. "Rent a car. The factory is on the outskirts of town. About half an hour from the airport."
Kacey nodded, grabbed a pen and began to jot down the instructions that Ariana was giving her while Steve ended his call.
Once he had finished and refocused on Kacey, he told her, "Take your portfolio, fabric samples and proposal to Texas and sell this line to Archer. He's the man we want."
Kacey grinned, drew in a gasp of surprise and then sighed. Had her boss actually given her the green light on her proposal? Was SunKissed by Kacey going to become a reality after so many months of dreaming and planning? She pushed back her chair and stood, papers clutched in one hand, her heartbeat increasing by the second.
"Then, you're saying, it's a go?" she prompted, needing to hear the words from Steve Hadley himself that her swimsuit line was headed into production.
"Yes, it's a tentative go. And if you manage a five percent reduction in overall manufacturing costs, there'll be a nice cash bonus in it for you," he offered, sounding strongly supportive of Kacey's project.
"Oh, I'm sure I can do that, Mr. Hadley. Five percent won't be a problem. Trust me. I'll work this out."
"I hope so. I'm impressed with your designs, Kacey, and if we can have product in stock by mid-June, I feel confident our customers will buy it."
Kacey struggled to appear calm, though she was desperate to scream with joy. She'd been dreaming about this day ever since she started her career in retail merchandising. Now, she had a real shot at shifting her focus toward designing for the masses instead of setting up displays and running in-store contests. She could hardly wait to start the journey.
While Kacey headed toward the conference room door, Steve remained seated, looking over his eyeglasses at her as he advised, "Pack well. You might be in Texas for a while."
"A while?" Kacey quipped, arching a shapely brown eyebrow in his direction. "Certainly Mr. Archer and I can accomplish all we need to do in a day. Two at the most."
"No, if all goes well, I want you to stick around there."
Kacey glanced suspiciously at her boss. "For how
"For as long as it'll take to get SunKissed by Kacey into my stores. No need to rush back here, only to fly back and forth every few weeks," Hadley explained. "I know old man Archer will do his best to accommodate our time frame, but since this is such a rush job, and a risky midseason production as well, we can't afford any mistakes. He and I will iron out the contract details before you get there. I want you to stay close, oversee production and ensure an on-time delivery."
Kacey assessed Steve Hadley with dread in her heart, doubting he understood the enormity of what he was asking of her. Leaving New York City to spend God knows how long in rural Texas was not something she looked forward to. What in the world would she do for fun in a tiny Gulf Coast town with an old man as her business contact?
Suffer in silence, she guessed, prepared to sacrifice the lifestyle she loved to see her designs come to life.