I’ve written a little bit about making stuff in China in “Local vs. Global”, but I wanted to expand on the idea of making products in China - and why it’s here to stay. It’s no secret that there is a negative connotation when it comes to China. They’re a growing economic power, they’re big, they have plenty of issues they have to deal with (people’s rights, and of course pollution just to name a couple). The whole notion of “Made in China” = “cheap product” is still around as well. And that notion being spouted by people who know nothing about China, Manufacturing, or the modern product landscape.
Here are a few points that I believe make China a mainstay when it comes to manufacturing.
Far cry from where they were in the 80’s & 90’s. Right now it’s easier than ever before to reach out to someone who speaks english. Some factories are fully plugged into the modern communication apps such as WhatsApp. They can stay up to date with you - on your terms.
Ability to create whatever you want - quickly. A lot of great resources available to prototype any idea necessary. Pricing usually runs close to what it runs in NA, but you can do it locally there and quickly.
This is a bit of an undiscovered secret. Some factories and vendors have a great deal of knowledge when it comes to the type of product they build. They know the materials, they know the manufacturing techniques, they understand how these products are put together better than you ever will. They’re willing to share that expertise. All you need is the ability to communicate your ideas clearly and work with them on solving problems. In a lot of cases, this is a big win for smaller companies.
The Manufacturing Infrastructure
This is the big one - and really the reason they’re around to stay. They have the manufacturing infrastructure. Not just the factories and the ability to support large scale manufacturing - but they have the roads, the delivery systems and the ports to ship product. This is why it’s difficult to go into an undeveloped nation to try and manufacture at a larger scale quickly. The infrastructure just isn’t there. And it will be some time before anyone can catch up to China.
Materials and Processes
Each vendor has sub vendors. They know how to get the right materials and at good prices. They know where to find the right processes if they do not have those processes in house. This is an excellent venue for smaller teams - again, tapping into the available resources available on site.
They can do scale. They can do small - and you pay a price. And they can do really big - if necessary. You can just take a look at the iPhone manufacturing scale to get a sense of that scale.
Ability to Adapt
China isn’t sitting still when it comes to the changing economic climate. It’s clear that things aren’t going to be the same. They are aware how labor costs adversely affect their ability to be the world’s manufacturer. The companies are investing in a lot of automation on larger scale manufacturing - but, along with that, companies are branching out into other countries to get the lower cost labor. This also means moving inland into China to tap into new areas. It makes things a little more difficult from a production creation perspective but, their ability to Adapt has been clear.
The landscape did change and their growth is not where it used to be. This opens the door for smaller companies and design teams to explore the possibility of manufacturing in China. They’re much more willing to work with smaller companies even compared to 3-5 years ago. I think we’ll see an influx of newer products designed by smaller, more versatile companies. Companies that are willing to take risks combined with vendors who are willing to take risks. These products won’t be cheap, but they’ll break some new ground. They’ll challenge the mainstay brands. It’s an artisanal approach taken to a global level - it can be a powerful phase.
Hopefully this gives a quick overview of why they’re around to stay - and why manufacturing there might be just the right thing in some cases. They’re not going away - and it makes sense to understand them as an option.
This series of content is a small experiment. I pledged to create a piece of content on my site for the next 365 days. You can read the opening post here. The posts aren’t limited to thoughts or ideas, they’re really just a way for me to create original content. If you got any feedback/questions, please reach out. Thanks for looking.