HANDmade in China

There’s a lot in the news this week about Apple products being made in China. Why this surprises anyone, I’m not sure. From there, we’re hearing about everything made overseas, outsourcing Canadian and American designs to foreign factories where workers are paid a pittance, bent over assembly lines for long hours.

I’m not sure why the western world has decided to pick this particular bone this week, but I do know it’s about time the first world took a long hard look at our buying habits.

And yet, I’m going to wade into the debate with my own small experience.

Tarnishing all Made In China products with the same black brush really gets my dander up.

Here’s why:

My favourite belt and my only wallet were both made in China, each in a different way but both in ways that make me proud to wear and carry them every day.

I met the woman who made the wallet in her small shop on a Beijing street. None of her products suited me as they were, but I loved her felt wallets and purses. So I placed an order (a commission?) through a series of hand gestures and primitive sketches and the interpretive help of my friend Claire. I chose the red and maroon felt, the magnetic clasp, and even had it sized to Canadian bills. We came back the next afternoon to pay her, and pick up the wallet and a few other odds and ends we chose from her shop. My Christmas tree is decorated each year with a few of her wares as well.

My wallet was made in China, and I’m proud to unfold it multiple times a day. I’m always happy to tell the story when people admire it (as they often do).

Next up, my belt. Also a daily accessory, I wear it mostly in jeans, but sometimes over shirts and dresses and even once on Sylvia a few months ago to fashion a makeshift outfit when I forgot a spare.

If my belt were made by a less-scrupulous company, it would be the kind of product that would try to dupe you by claiming it was designed in Canada. But no, Flatter:Me is owned by a very responsible businesswoman who wants to change that terrible Made In China sweatshop stigma.

Claire, (the same one who translated my wallet order four years ago) launched Flatter:Me in 2011. The belts are all sewn by hand, by talented and fairly-compensated employees in Shanghai. (You can read the story here: The Flatter:Me story – and while you’re there, buy a belt!)

Not everything made in China is done so by child sweatshop labour. It’s not about checking for a Made In China label and leaving it on the shelf, but rather checking your facts to making better choices.

Hopefully, this latest media storm inspires a few people to do just that.

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2 responses to “HANDmade in China

  1. Laura, thanks so much for helping the story of Not-Evilly-Made in China! It’s always challenging to explain why I make Flatter:Me here. Yes, it’s China. And yes, I love knowing that my products are made by tailors being paid enough to afford further educations for themselves and their children. It IS possible to end up with quality products without making them in Canada. But wherever they’re made in the world, I’m pretty sure compensating employees for their skills is key.

    And, as per usual, you hit the nail on the head by mentioning we may need to examine our buying habits. I don’t think China’s really the problem (although yes, labour standards here DO need to be raised and enforced) – the real weak link is our expectation that, as Western consumers, we’re entitled to buy oodles of stuff for practically free. If we squeeze stores for insanely low prices, they’ll keep turning east to squeeze the factories.

    Okay whew! Great post. THANK YOU.

  2. Gordon R. Johnston

    Very good Claire.
    Well said about the ‘squeeze’ factor.

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