CHARACTERS | 翠英, Smooth Operator

Words by Jill Macdonald.

翠英, (Ying), came to work at Arc’teryx because of the logo. She had no experience in the apparel industry, but she did not let that stop her from finding her way to mastering technical manufacturing and craftsmanship skills. 

A newspaper ad with a logo – this is what drew 翠英 (Ying) to apply for a position at our Arc One manufacturing facility. Intrigued by the intricacy of the bird, she found its primitive shape bold, yet understated, a compelling artistry. New to Canada, and not familiar with Arc’teryx, she searched out the product behind the logo – and she was hooked.

翠英: “In China, I was always hiking, but we did not have the same kind of clothing. The quality of Arc’teryx sets it apart from everything else. I noticed the stitches, and the small details. I wanted to work for this company.” Time for a new career, in Canada.

For those not familiar with our west coast city, we have a rich history of Chinese culture in Vancouver. Festivals and markets are integrated into the social fabric of many neighbourhoods and there is a large Chinese community. Not familiar with the city or its lifestyle, 翠英 had no expectations of how she would manage, but she was game for the challenge.

When Ying joined our team eight years ago, we did not have our Arc One facility. She learned on the Manor factory floor, under the tutelage of other operators and a production line system that had her doing repeated tasks each day. Piece work is perhaps faster (per operator), but it favours production over flow, and often creates bottlenecks. Translation: on any given day, it is possible that there is a zero count of completed product coming off the floor.

Arc One employs a different system, termed lean manufacturing, which creates workflow that is team-based. Highly efficient, lean requires more skills from each operator, but it results in finished product at the end of each day. In a nutshell, lean permits our facility to produce small runs of specialized products, to respond quickly to increased demand, and to test new fabrications for mass production.

Arc One is a unique facility in many ways. Although there is a design and apparel industry here in Vancouver, manufacturing is not a presence. Our workforce comes mainly from China. Skilled operators are not found locally. To solve this, we decided to incorporate a training program into our facility. Allotting space and time for new employees to learn how to operate our equipment and witness production cycles from start to finish. We also put in some badminton courts, a meditation room, a walking track, and a large, noisy lunchroom for people to gather and share time during the day.

Does she like the changes? “I am very proud of my work. I tell everyone I work for Arc’teryx.” She couldn’t be more genuine, or more humble. In truth, 翠英 has contributed to design changes, based on her knowledge and mastery of technical textiles. “Yes, there is a sleeve construction that I showed could be done faster and cleaner.” She indicates with her fingers how seam construction works, in conjunction with the rest of a garment.

“It’s not as simple as following a pattern. You must understand how the pieces work together, how the materials behave and what happens when they are joined together. Why it is important if they are stitched or laminated, what is the difference and the effects from each process.”

Her modifications have changed both the design and the manufacturing process in this instance, eliminating extra steps and producing a better, stronger product.

Her favourite product and greatest accomplishment: “The Veilance Blazer.” Ying answers without hesitation.

Arc’teryx Veilance is innovative urban menswear. Rooted in the outdoor expertise of Arc’teryx, Veilance makes use of technical fabrics and construction techniques, employing the best waterproof/breathable technologies, advanced textiles and premium natural materials to enhance urban lifestyle and manage climate. Veliance is everyday clothing that is also a moving piece of design.

“When I started, I couldn’t sew or use a press machine. Now, I am working on the most advanced product.”

She can be proud of her accomplishments. Our sewing machines race ahead like formula one cars. Seam allowances are tiny, materials are die-cut with precision; there is no margin of error. “Today, I can assemble any garment, from beginning to end. All the steps.”

So, what do people not know about Arc’teryx? 翠英 comments on the fit: “ For Asian people, the sleeves are too long.”

She has a great smile.