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Assumptions: made in China

Kickstarter progress: RiutBag It feels good to see friends, eat and sleep in a welcoming environment. Thank you Hong Kong. I will give you my full update on the RiutBag Kickstarter progress tomorrow. For now, all is going well and the bumps have been ironed out. We're back on track.


Sometimes a bus ride can make all the difference.

After a 27 hour journey to get to Shenzhen in China on Monday, a brief night's sleep and another flight to get to the factory in Fujian, the factory is now working on the final sample for production for me to review next week. I flew back from Fujian to Shenzhen arriving late last night. The construction workers outside my 14th floor Airbnb flat worked through the night. Whilst I've been able to get online to check Webmail - but not Gmail - all blogging sites, Twitter, Facebook and the like are not accessible from China.

So what's the bus got to with it? Well, today I got on a bus for 25RMB (£2.50) through Shenzhen right to the Chinese border with Hong Kong. I officially departed China and entered Hong Kong. After three metro trains and over an hour standing in an orderly queue for a taxi I reached my destination: an inspiring friend's family home in Hong Kong with her brilliant husband and their child. Online, I realised that Hong Kong is quite different to China. I can blog all I like. I can finally say hello from my travels to create the RiutBag. It's also regenerating for me, and better for the RiutBag and therefore you, for me to see a few friendly faces out here.

In this blog I want to give you a feel for the positives and negatives of working in China. Many people believe that products marked "made in China" equate to poor quality, presume textiles are machine made and that making cheap copies is a Chinese priority. Here's my take on these three assumptions after a week here working on a complex textile, the RiutBag.

Poor quality

Ask a textiles factory to make something on a low budget out in China and they can. From a week's experience, my assessment of where the question of quality comes in is in the materials, however, and not the making. Ask them to use higher quality material, it costs more and they use the same construction methods.

My liaison point with my factory, Daisy, noted to me in the car from the airport that this factory had never, in 20 years, made such an expensive rucksack. She showed me one: "This is our standard rucksack. We make these for $8 a piece." Looking at it, I couldn't believe it. The colours were bright, it had four different compartments, zips and buckles all over it. About five different materials and it wasn't small. I picked it up and began to understand. It was light as as a feather, thin as can be and wouldn't hold up for long on a daily commute carrying laptops, heavy documents and the like.

Ask these factories to make something they've never made before, and it costs more again because it takes more time to train the people who sew the bags to learn, get them right and maintain consistency. You can put a bag any bag together with the finest skill in the world, but without the high quality materials - thread, zips, enough seam allowance and material - to match up to the sewing, it's not going to be fit for daily use.

People on the production line

Just polling a few friends in Europe, I asked them whether they thought their clothes were made entirely by machines or by people sitting at machines. There was some hesitation. Perhaps T-shirts and other simpler items are entirely machine cut and made, was the conclusion of some. Other presumed most were made by machine and a few thought by people at machines.

To be clear, rucksacks and complex textiles are hand made by people at machines. In fact, due to the difference in design, the factory estimates it will take 1 day to cut material, half a day to add embroidery and branded components like zip pulls and then each RiutBag will take 4 days to construct by one person sitting at a sewing machine.

It is worth considering that each item you wear is more than likely to have been made by someone. And it doesn't take a few minutes. I will have photos of the production line next week to share with you. And much more on this over the course of production.

Knocking off copies

Many people have said to me: "Aren't you worried the factory will sell on copies for cheap?" Now that I'm here, I see that this factory makes its money from its clients alone. We are both working to tight budgets and we are only buying the material required for this run. Given the cost margins, this factory will not order more of the expensive material than is required, nor will it ask its production sewers to spend time making bags that are not paid for. It would be a lot of time and material wasted to sell off RiutBags cheap into the Chinese market for this factory. At cost there would be no benefit to the factory and above cost is not cheap.

I'm going to spend more time thinking about this topic. The better the brand, the better the quality of material in general. At high volume - I mean over 10,000 of an item - the cost of the materials may come down a little. And then it might be worth it. But I cannot see a factory like mine, with only 220 people sewing on the production line, using their time and resources to make bags for anyone other than their paying clients.

That's it for now - just a few quick thoughts about manufacturing in China on the road. I've been writing notes on paper whilst I've been on the road. So I'll write up my progress on the RiutBag for you tomorrow before I'm back on my bus to China. For now, thanks for reading and good night!