"It's pure crap" - excuses for xenophobia  

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I've just been reading yet another post on the Etsy forums about Chinese manufacturers. Of course, it's fine to criticise people selling items that are not handmade (in Etsy's terms handmade means also hand-assembled, hand-altered but still, pure factory-made does not qualify). But what makes me wince about these threads is how quickly they degenerate into racism and excuses for not buying from "them". Although on the upside, it's reassuring also to see how many people recognise this and counter it.

The basic arguments made by the anti-China lobby always focus on four accusations:

  • It's crap - stuff made in China/Asia/overseas is all rubbish. 90% of the time if you check the Etsy shop of the people saying this you'll find they are using Chinese components/fabrics/material in some of their work.
  • It's dangerous - "these people" put lead in children's toys (er, actually if you read the Mattel case you'll find that it was at least as much the fault of Mattel as the Chinese manufacturer).
  • It's immoral - "these people" make children work in sweatshops. Yes, there are sweatshops in Asia. There are also sweatshops in London and New York. Many of the modern Chinese factories have good worker conditions.
  • It's unfair - "these people" are taking "our" jobs. Hey? What makes you think the West has some immutable right to the jobs? And isn't global trade creating jobs also?
I understand these points. I am even in a way sympathetic with the confusion, defensiveness and sheer fear that's often at the base of the attitudes shown. There is some truth in some of the accusations - but some of them could be levelled at other countries too, and in the rants I've been reading, there is usually a lot of exaggeration and generalisation based on anger rather than logic.

But without going into a whole long argument about all this, what I want to say is that if you're running a small, creative business and feel angry and threatened by "overseas" producers, you really need to get over it. For the sake of your business quite apart from your peace of mind.

Globalisation is not going to go away, it's going to increase. The internet makes global communication hugely much easier than it's ever been. Xenophobia, protectionism and racism are not only nasty - they aren't viable and they don't work (you can read one of my earlier posts on this if you'd like to - and I'm sure I'll post on this topic again). There is no moral superiority in only buying/trading with your own local area or people of your own nationality or race. The only argument in its favour is one of saving resources on shipping etc, and even that argument is by no means all that clear.

Open up. Embrace the rest of the world. Learn to work with it - by sourcing materials, work and other things you need from the best place to find them. Learn to work for it by selling all over that same world - nowadays it's not just your home-town or your country that's your market - it's anyone, anywhere who likes what you do.

Of course you should apply your code of ethics to this - we buy from people we feel comfortable with and we get as close as we can to the actual makers of anything - it doesn't guarantee that no sweatshops are involved, but it makes it much more likely that we'll spot them and be able to take avoiding action. You should also make sure that your creativity and quality is enhanced, not undermined. While I have no objections to people simply buying mass-produced products in Asia and reselling them on a shop or website, that's not designing. If you're running a creative business, which is what this blog is about, then use the resources of the world to enhance and support your own, unique creativity.

I'll no doubt post much more on this. Meanwhile, I have to leave myself a note that tomorrow I need to chat to Mr Hau - who runs the Vietnamese workshop that we are now using for our "base" bags - about the beautiful scarves that he's just offered us. We may perhaps be able to adapt them to an idea I've had - so that not only will they be more gorgeous, but also more original.

This man knows his fabric, and his sewing techniques and is enthusiastic about his work. He's just like "one of us" in fact.

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