Writer’s Note: Portfolio: Gyson Inc. was published originally as a Subscriber Exclusive on September 12, 2018.
Consumers across the universe may not know Gyson Inc. by name, but they’re likely familiar with their products. The company and its subsidiaries produce everything from carpets to cleaning solvents to industrial uniforms and even EVA suits. The wide scope of their products is impossible to categorize outside of one defining characteristic: they’re extremely cheap.
Gyson claims to make simple, streamlined products that everyone can afford. Critics, however, aren’t so diplomatic. They argue that the company sacrifices product quality to keep production costs low, and intentionally targets price-sensitive consumers. Tests by Whitley’s Guide have shown that Gyson products need to be replaced more frequently than their competitors, and that the cost of replacing them is often more expensive than mid-tier alternatives in the long run. Still, many consumers consider the products good enough to get the job done with a price point that’s hard to resist.
Despite their spotty reputation, Gyson has become a manufacturing powerhouse. All thanks to the vision and ambition of company founder and CEO Akiko Forsyth, whose unique life experience set the stage for one of the more controversial companies created over the last century.
A New Destiny
Akiko Forsyth freely admits that founding Gyson wasn’t what she expected to do with her life. Born in Boro in 2849, Forsyth was raised in the lap of luxury. Her family was a pillar of Caliban’s manufacturing sector ever since Humanity colonized the system five centuries earlier. Wealthy, well-educated and worry-free, Forsyth became a fixture at socialite soirees and established a reputation for successfully organizing grand events and drinking almost anyone under the table. In 2884, she was doing both in Fujin City when word arrived that a massive Vanduul fleet had attacked Caliban. Updates slowly trickled in over the following days, each one worse than the next. According to close friends, as the news grew more dire, Forsyth, frustrated and grieving, did what she did in most situations and began drinking. In the morning, she awoke to learn that Caliban had fallen. Her family and home system had been lost.
The news devastated her. Without a home or familial support structure, Forsyth fell into a deep depression and spiraled out of control, partying and burning through her inheritance. Eventually, friends staged an intervention to address her fatalistic behavior. Forsyth was hurt by their seemed betrayal and decided to leave them and the city behind.
Originally, she planned on continuing her lifestyle aboard her family’s luxury ship, but she no longer could afford a crew or docking fees. This forced Forsyth to trade it in for a less opulent one. However, without the status that her ship and fortune brought her, she found herself turned away from the high-end scene that once welcomed her. On her own, without anywhere to go and much to lose, she decided to visit Archibald on Yar, a place she had always been curious about, but had never dared to go. Forsyth loved it. The first visit would be one of many stops she would take while exploring the ‘verse.
Forsyth refuses to elaborate too much on this time in her life, but credits two experiences with setting the stage for her second act. The first occurred when she slipped the line and returned to Caliban.
“I’ll never forget finally going home,” she later admitted. “Nothing was there except ruins. In that moment, among the shattered remains of everything I had grown up around, I finally came to terms with the fact that I didn’t have a legacy to stand on anymore. My destiny was all my own.”
The second life-altering experience came shortly thereafter. Walking through the bazaar in Olympus, she wondered why so many of the locals wore helmets with chipped visors and deep cracks. She discovered that most of the helmets, which were necessary outside of Olympus’ sealed sectors and across the harsh environment of Ashana, were prohibitively expensive for many residents. This demand created a massive market for second-hand protective clothing yet, being an unclaimed system, a lack of regulation meant that their integrity was not verified. Forsyth found that many Olympus residents feared that a second-hand helmet would malfunction and lead to brain trauma or even death. Out of this terrible circumstance, Forsyth saw an opportunity, which was convenient since her credits were running dangerously low. All her traveling combined with a lack of income had left her perilously close to financial ruin. Motivated to reverse her fortunes, Forsyth remembered a stylish custom helmet that she and her friends had worn to an EVA party. It had been made by a private fashion designer from a thick transparent material that allowed her to survive in space yet show off her hair and makeup. While the version she wore was quite expensive, she knew that the tech behind it wasn’t. She worked with a local crafter to manufacture an inexpensive version that even Olympus residents could afford. The result was the ‘Ready-Up’, the now infamous softshell helmet made primarily of industrial-strength plastic. The helmet barely met UEE standards and received the lowest rating possible from Whitley’s Guide, but sales were strong. Forsyth had correctly calculated that many people would purchase a cheaply made, but certified safe, helmet.
Spurred on by this success, Forsyth went back to the other sectors she had visited that could benefit from aggressively cheap alternatives. No one could have predicted just how far and fast Gyson Inc. would grow.
Finally in control of her life and fate, Forsyth parlayed the profits from the Ready-Up into the Gyson Inc. empire that exists today. She discovered that the skills she learned as a socialite could also command a boardroom, and found she was driven and focused like never before. Close friends claim that her relentless determination to grow a company across multiple sectors was driven by a need to ensure that her new legacy couldn’t be eliminated by one cataclysmic event ever again.
Gyson’s initial product expansion came from an in-house engineering department instructed by Forsyth to “reimagine essential products as affordable as possible”. Space, home, and industrial divisions were created to focus on specific products for those sectors. Meanwhile, Forsyth established their corporate headquarters and main manufacturing hub in Tram due to Asura’s low corporate tax rate, cheap real estate, and skilled blue-collar workforce desperate for jobs. Not only was her workforce there, so was her main market. Products that proved popular with her employees would often become successful across the Empire with people of ‘fiscally limited means’. Within a decade, Gyson Inc. manufactured everything from zero-g cutlery to imitation chicken foodstuffs.
With this meteoric growth also came complications and controversy. The company either ignored or responded litigiously to complaints about product quality. This came to a head in 2907 when Gyson found themselves in hot water over a class action lawsuit regarding coveralls. Though rated safe for salvage operations, plaintiffs claimed the outfit quickly degraded once exposed to common chemicals or astringent cleaners. The company appeared ready to argue the definition of ‘normal wear and tear’ until spectrum stories showed severe chemical burns and other injuries sustained by plaintiffs. The public outcry hurt the company enough to get them to settle the claims quickly, but without admitting fault. Then, instead of changing the coveralls, they added small print legalese to the package claiming the suit was single use only, thus indemnifying themselves of any issues from repeated use. Throughout Gyson’s legal struggles, Forsyth stood by her products.
“They may not last forever, but at least people can afford them.”
A second major scandal struck in 2914 when a hack revealed that a prominent Gyson executive called the company ‘Sakura Slums’, and meant it not as an insult but a goal. Much like how Sakura Sun had vertically integrated themselves into middle class lives, this executive wanted Gyson Inc. to be the brand that became integrated into every part of low-income individuals’ lives. The ensuing scandal forced Forsyth to publicly reject the term and fire the executive. It wasn’t enough; sales plummeted, and the company was on the verge of ruin. In the end, it would be Forsyth’s social prowess that would bring them back from the brink.
Having run with the popular and elite for most of her young life, Forsyth knew how fickle brand loyalty could be. While ‘Gyson’ had sentimental value for Forsyth, who named the company after her family’s former estate outside Boro, she also knew that consumers really didn’t care about the name. It was cost that they cared about. So, if people wouldn’t buy Gyson, then she would just give them brands they would buy.
She used most of Gyson’s remaining capital to acquire several bargain brands for their name recognition, kept the packaging, but replaced the products with Gyson-made versions. Doing business through these subsidiaries proved to be highly profitable and provided the company a way to distribute low-quality products without further destroying their own brand. By 2932, over half of the products manufactured by Gyson didn’t carry their name.
Today, Gyson Inc. remains one of the UEE’s most prominent manufacturers of ‘ultra-affordable’ goods. Through smart and steady stewardship, Forsyth achieved her goal of ingraining her company’s products into the lives of many across the UEE and cemented a new legacy for her family.