Hey Krome Krew,
It's with much excitement that i write this blog. This trip has been a goal of mine for quite some time. But let me give you some perspective on where we have come from, why we went to China, and why its maybe not what you think....
When I started Krome Kids it was just a hobby. I just wanted to make a few things for my son that I couldn’t find in the shops in the style I liked. I had no business plan, no direction or any idea where it was going. Fast forward to now, its a full blown business! Everyday I feel so humbled that I get to now do my hobby as a 'full time' job.
At the beginning and for the first couple of years I hand made everything myself, spending endless hours on the sewing machine. The business then grew to a point where I could no longer keep up with the cutting and sewing, not to mention the constant sore neck and shoulders. This was not sustainable, I needed help.
So the search for a manufacturer began. I started using some local help but it was difficult to find quality makers and in some ways added extra work with running around to various makers for different styles as some makers only specialse in certiain types of garments. Plus some of the local factories (including one I was using) closing their doors. This one due to a lack of workers in the industry. The older generation are getting to retirement age and there's no one wanting to takeover or work in the business so they are forced to close.
Coming from a handmade background and working previously only with local contacts I was nervous to source an overseas manufacturer, especially being a control freak with quality and control of my own designs. But, I was tempted by their range of expertise as well as the hope of creating a better work/life balance for myself. I wanted to find somewhere with ethical standards, fair work conditions, great communication to interpret my designs and quality fabrics and sewing. Not easy to find!
After trialing many manufacturers (some with some hilarious samples) I finally found a reliable contact. Who i actually met at a trade show in Melbourne.
We have now been working with that someone for almost two years, helping me bring my designs to life! Yes they are in China, but no they are not a sweat shop.
All too often when people hear "made in China" they think "sweat shop". And at a point in time this may be have been true for most Chinese factories. But, in our case anyway, our trip was proof that China has come a LONG way. With all eyes on them, a lot of the factories, including the ones we use, are highly regulated, inspected and governed by compliance companies like Sedex and BSCI.
This is not to say that sweat shops do not exist in China still. And the old saying "you get what you pay for" can still ring true. If you are paying $15 for a "set" or $4 for a tshirt, chances are the factories they are made and the people making them are not being treated well and the designs probably not their own. This is NOT the type of factory we want or use.
I took the trip with my friend and fellow biz owner (who had been to China before, so she could hold my hand haha....) Mel from Urban Cowgirl Clothing. So our first point of call was meeting our production manager and visiting her office. We were welcomed into a modern, light filled, inspirational space full of samples of clients work.
What we were surprised and delighted to learn about our production manager is that she was SO much like myself and the 'mumpreners' here. She is a mother of two children who works for herself in her own hours and around her kids. She takes time off when her kids are sick and grandma helps look after her youngest when she is at work. She started her own business a couple of years ago and is kicking goals! She employs one person who helps sending emails, arranging samples, shipping etc. She also has law degree and in her spare time practices yoga and goes to the beauty bar (which she took us to and treated me to a manicure). She is also one of the most efficient shoppers i've seen and is always on her phone like a lot of us, haha...
From her office we went to see our denim factory. A huge multi story building with each floor dedicated to a specific task. The bottom floor managers office, administration area, board and sample room.
Next was the cutting floor. This was currently empty as all the cutting work had been finished. This also gave those workers time to spend with their children who were currently on school holidays.
Next was the finishing floor. Where loose threads are cut, quality inspections are done, labels are attached etc.
Next is the sewing floor. Rows and rows of sewing machines. What i found interesting was that most of them had their iphones at their machines, some listening to music while they were sewing.
At the top was the pattern masters room and sampling area.
The whole factory was light, bright and clean. Workers are treated well and highly skilled. They work from 8:30-12:00, have a 2 hour lunch break then work 2:00-6:00. They get paid more than the award rate and if they work overtime they get paid a higher amount for that too. The factory also provides FREE housing for all the workers and their families. Workers often come from poor villages and the factory provides work for the husband and wife and housing for the whole family together.
After the denim factory we visited our wash factory. This is where all the denim effects like acid wash, distressing etc happen.
Mel, who i traveled with, visited a similar wash factory about ten years ago, and commented straight away about the differences, all good, that were clearly noticeable.
The water in each wash machine gets recycled three times before it travels to the water treatment plant. This factory and the ones around it, are all serviced by a central water treatment plant. All the water from the machines gets channeled there, and treated before being released. Any factory that doesn't comply and use the treatment facility gets shut down. The water quality of the nearby river has significantly improved in the last ten years.
After washing the jeans either get hung up to dry, which takes approximately 24hrs, but is the cheaper and more environmentally friendly option. The big dryers draw a lot of electricity and therefore cost more to use. Only one of these was being used when we visited, yet hundreds of jeans were hanging up.
The workers at this factory get even more than the denim factory as the work is more intensive.
Overall we were so impressed with the standards, the technology, the cleanliness, the organisation of it all.
What was also interesting is that China is also experiencing an aging workforce. Skilled workers in fashion are getting older and less of the younger generation are wanting to do the work - the same as in Australia. The cost of labor is also increasing meaning more work is actually going away from China to other countries (perhaps where working conditions are not as regulated and cheaper)
China has come a LONG way with the conditions of the factories and the workers. They have many manufacturing options, we are trying to be as resposible and transparent where we can with our choices. So while our products are not the cheapest in town, the reason is that we chose factories where the workers are being paid and treated to a standard. So when you purchase from us you can feel confident knowing that you are supporting workers who are getting paid and treated fairly and ethically in a clean and safe environment. And that the designs are 100% my own!
We feel very lucky to be able to share all of this with you and hope that other brands can be as open and transparent about their manufacturing too. I hope that this blog has been enlightening and enjoyable!