Relationships built on Respect
Murphy – Power cords hang down, like a giant spider’s web, connecting a plethora of sewing machines which file down the middle of the factory floor. A singular table fit for a giant to play craps on, covers a quarter of the floor, while a back room holds all of the scrapped materials in a giant pile. At the A&S Clothing factory in Blue Ridge GA, Abdul and Selma Adam manage a team of seamstresses who cut, sew, and press raw denim into wearable jeans.
For the Adams, however, business is more than money. To them, business is a relationship between employer, employee, customer, and supplier. The core of this relationship, according to Abdul, is "if you respect somebody, then they will respect you.”
Respect was not something that Abdul found by accident, it is a lesson that he has observed and learned throughout his life. Abdul's story began before ever coming to live in Murphy, before he was even born.
Abdul’s grandfather, named simply, Adam, was born in 1936 and grew up in a small village in the state of Gujarat, in India. Adam’s family were farmers then, however, as Adam grew older he came to realize that the best opportunities for him and his family lay outside the confines of their ancestral home. In 1950, Adam moved himself, his wife, and his two sons (Abdul’s father Ahmed and another brother) from the small village in Gujarat to another small community, this time in Malawi, Africa.
“In our culture,” Abdul explained, “community, even though distant family, the way that we live, the way that we interconnect with each other, we don't feel like we are out of the home. We will always get connected. That is our culture, our Indian culture.”
Adam and his family settled in the village of Linthipe, in central Malawi. Ahmed eventually took over the family business there, and started a family of his own. In 1958 Ahmed welcomed Abdul and the next generation of Adams into the world.
Growing up in a country that wasn’t his own, Abdul learned about how communities and individuals work together to build each other up. “When I was growing up…I vaguely remember the missionaries coming to the community where we lived, and my father used to take us to meet the padres and other missionaries. When someone comes from England, highly educated like that, my father used to go and introduce us to them, so we would have that influence in life.”
“Mainly, I learned about respect,” Abdul recounts, “ how the English people have their own way of talking and walking. They dressed up with a tie and all that helped later in life.” In the village where Abdul grew up, “The community was very friendly, everybody knew each other. Very friendly, very friendly, yeah. It was very backwards, because you had a well outside, and had to go and drop a bucket in to bring the water into the house. We lived in a hut with a roof made out of grass thatch. And then, later on, I remember my dad fixing up a house with a tin roof, so that was the 'upgrade.’”
Ahmed–like his father, Adam–was filled with the blood of an entrepreneur. Selma, Abdul’s wife believes that Ahmed was “always searching for the better place, the better work, and really: 'how do I provide for my family?’” However, in 1966 the Malawi government “told us to get out, (in) forty-eight hours. I was about six or seven. My dad migrated to England first. When he was established there a little bit, he called us up. But, within that transition there were a lot of problems in Africa.”
In the United Kingdom, Ahmed honed his sewing skills at a shirt-making factory. After ten years, IN 1976, Ahmed went to Canada and eventually found his way to Anderson South Carolina. “When my father came to the country, he was in South Carolina, and he came with five dollars and stayed in the YMCA. You know, it was the cheapest place, so he stayed there, looking for a job in the newspaper…when he went and applied for a job they wouldn't hire him. So he kept on going there and working there. And finally after ten days…she (the owner of a fabric factory) hired him and put him to work.” She even helped sponsor Abdul and his family to move to the United States a few years later. In the early 1980’s the family began their own clothing business at the old White Church School in Hanging Dog.
On the factory floor there, as well as in their new factory in northern Georgia, the Adams brought lessons of respect, entrepreneurship, community, and helping others along with them. “We always feel,” Selma explained, “that the ladies that work in the factory, they are 70 or 75. They are like our mother or our grandmother. It's their job and they are performing very well. We don't disrespect them because I'm a boss and I'm higher up, no. We respect them because, without them, we're not going to be here either. We have to be connected to each other, they have to enjoy working there.”
In our little corner of the world, the Adams found a community filled with kindness. Abdul recalled that the people here are “very friendly, very very friendly. When we first came here, there were very friendly people. They are very respectful and not very snotty. It was similar to a welcoming that we would get in our home countries.” In all the years since they moved here, people have been courteous and respectful to them. Abdul believes that the common thread of spirituality and religion helps to bring people closer together. “We have a lot of people who go to church here, and they have that faith in God. So they have that friendliness in giving,” he stated. “By working with the people here, and when we came to Hanging Dog, it was just like family. They would invite us to their houses. And that's very rare for somewhere else where they don't invite you in the house for food. Their children communicate with our children. They don't find us to be foreigners here, just a normal person.”
All of this is based off of one simple concept: respect. “If you respect somebody, then they will respect you. So, we always respect whatever religion you may have. And they respect as well. If we don't give respect, then they will not give respect to you. So, I think that plays a role very nicely.”