Made in China

Looking at something with a label “Made in China”, we often turn away in disrespect, associating it with a cheap, low-quality product. Indeed, this conception derives from an enormous amount of lower-class goods coming from this country. However, there is another China, with worthy articles and huge market potential. Today we would like to show you the other side of so called “Chinese fashion-industry”. A well-known Moscow accessories designer Mike Sharov, spent a half of a year in Cina working on his new collection. He reveals a story about illegal production facilities, brand imitations and workers’ standard of living.

How did I find myself in China? I started working with a fashion clothing manufacturing company in Moscow. It has a number of stores in the city and throughout the country. The company is considered one of the biggest in the industry, but currently most of the production operations are transferred to China. I don’t deal with clothing, I am an accessories designer; therefore I was asked to visit China in order to establish contacts and start production of our new collection of handbags and accessories.

In Moscow, my task seemed to be abstract, but when I arrived in China, it became more concrete. I stopped in Guangzhou, the city with a huge market of handbags, probably the biggest in the world. Over the phone, from our main office, I was instructed: “Go to the market, find the best quality imitations, buy them, bring them to the manufacturers and ask them to make the same but with our logo”. That is how my task was formulated.

So, what did you do?

At the beginning, I was trying to create something myself; during the first 2 weeks I was looking for new ideas and making sketches. However, this kind of work was not appreciated and considered a waste of time. For the next 2 weeks, I was just looking for the most interesting designs for my company. ‘Gucci’, for example, has a bag with two rings on it resembling a letter G. I needed to make the same one but with rings in the shape of initials of our company. This practice is very common in China. Somebody either produces imitations with original brand name or does this kind of plagiarism.

Please, tell us a little more about Chinese fabrication system. How does it work?

Someone brings a product to a manufacturer and asks them to do the same or similar, with slight modifications. It is very convenient to work with the Chinese. They do not ask too many questions. Usually it is just enough to bring a picture from a magazine, and they will reproduce it. If you want some changes, just tell them through your interpreter.

Are there any quality gradations of fabricated goods?

There is a certain classification of goods in China. This classification is used for imitations as well. If a product is of class “A” or “B” – it’s a high quality product. Imitations of classes “D” and “E” are cheap low quality stuff. As a result, rich and poor have the same Louis Vuitton bags but of different quality.

Did you define this classification for yourself?

No, it’s not mine. The Chinese usually call expensive things class ”A” products; they are of good quality and this is obvious.

How do the production facilities look like?

They are very different. Sometimes, a plant is just a large concrete dusty hangar. Operators work on sewing machines. Most employees sit when they sew. Depending on what they are making and weight of a fabric, the work can be tiring. Overall, conditions are less than acceptable.

At one of the facilities, for example, there was another shop on the hanger’s roof. It was topped with a polyethylene “roof” that could hardly protect the workers from rain.

Workers are from poor Chinese provinces. Their wages are very low. People live in small huts and sleep on plank beds. It seemed to me that most of the employees are children. When I asked the owners if there were children working in a shop, they just said that child labor was illegal in China. Actually, it stops no one. During the break, I saw workers playing tag…

It may be surprising, but working in such conditions, people are able to produce goods of acceptable quality. The labor is divided. Every employee is responsible for a certain operation. An operator, who is good at simple sections, may go further to jobs that are more complicated. Operators, who know all sections, may work as ‘utility workers’ and fill in any position whenever is needed. How long does the shift last? I don’t know. At one of the shops people worked 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

There are number of other manufacturing facilities with much better working conditions. Shops are air-conditioned, clean and equipped with high-tech machinery. All employees wear uniforms. The products made there are of the highest quality.

How does the marketplace look like in Guangzhou?

Well, it’s not just a marketplace; it’s a district occupying a large territory. Many buyers are visitors from foreign countries, either tourists or people doing business, like me. Vendors try to avoid talks about falsification, certain sanctions have already been imposed against China, but this process cannot be stopped, as the whole economy is based on it. Some goods remain in the country but most of them are for export to Europe and North America.

Have your personal attitude changed after visiting China?

I have no longer a taboo about Chinese goods.

After coming from China Mike quit his work. He explained: “That’s because of the lack of a proper creative process. To do plagiarism with such high technical capabilities of factories has become unbearable for me”.

Elena Zharina
Fashion Editor

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One Response to “China Product”

  1. John Branch says:

    as a quality professional who just recently quit a well paying job to assist Chinese manufacturers with Quality you have defined china very well. Those that know how to do quality really do quality those who don’t imitate well. got to go, need a new Rolex.

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