Successful recon mission at Chinese factories

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Varusteleka is one of the good guys, and we also want all our partners to be on the same side. That’s why we made the strategic decision to visit all the factories that manufacture our brands to make sure that they operate in line with our responsibility requirements.

Chinese manufacture raises concerns in many people and often deservedly. Such a huge country has all sorts of operators. Therefore, it was vital for us to find out whether there are also responsible companies in China. This led our recon team on a long and exciting mission in China in December 2019, to meet our partner whose three factories manufacture our Chinese products. The red line on the map familiar from Indiana Jones films kept growing longer and longer as we flew through Shanghai to Xiamen where our supplier Mr. Daoyang was waiting at the airport to meet us.

On our way to his office, Mr. Daoyang’s told us that he is a Christian. He also mentioned that there aren’t that many Christians in Xiamen, but the number grows steadily, and there are several churches there. Xiamen is a “small” city of three million people, and they are in the process of building a subway network there. When we were there, only one line was ready but the plan is to connect three cities into one working entity with the subway network.

Our partner doesn’t do cheap production

Mr. Daoyang told us that his company, Zhenpu was founded in 2005, and until this year, the business had grown every year. In 2018, the company’s turnover was seven million dollars. However, in 2019, especially the European customers ordered less stuff, which dropped the turnover to 5.6 million dollars.

At his office, he showed us samples of the different kinds of products that his company manufactures. About 80% of their stuff goes to Europe and the rest to the USA and Canada. However, because of the current customs regulations, the products have to go to the USA through Canada. His company’s products are in the more expensive price category because the cost structure – in plain English, the salary level – makes it impossible to produce cheap crap.

His main message was that Zhenpu has worked hard to improve the quality and to make it consistent. Our sourcing team has very strict quality control measures in Finland, so it is also vital for our partners to pay attention to it. The production of our gear has been divided among three factories.

First impression was promising

First, we visited the factory that makes our Särmä windproof products. The factory owner has been Mr. Daoyang’s partner for a decade, and most of the production goes to Zhenpu’s customers. We managed to take a big bunch of photos and videos while the production was in full swing. We were happy to add in our recon report that production was very efficiently organized, the facilities were clean, and work safety (for example fire safety) was arranged appropriately. The employees were experienced professionals, and child labor was not used. It actually looked more like some of the employees were lively pensioners. At no stage of our visit did we get the impression that their operations were overly straining on the environment.

Some development still needed

Next, we visited the factory that manufactures our other clothes. Mr. Daoyang owns half of the place. When we arrived there, they were in the process of manufacturing and packing our Särmä shorts. We were happy to see that when it comes to production, employee conditions, and cleanliness, we could use the same positive expressions in our report as for the previous factory.

However, fire safety in the room used for manufacturing down feather products was not satisfactory. They had lots of highly flammable stuff in there but the extinguishers were, for some strange reason found in a different room, and the exits were very far. We don’t produce down products, so they manufacture them for other brands. Nevertheless, we told them to improve the fire safety of the room. And we will also go back to check that it will get fixed.

To make our operations even more responsible, we also looked into replacing our water-resistant material with a more ecological option and mapped out the possibilities of using recyclable polyester in our products.

Yu Du great

The journey to the third factory located in Yu Du went nicely in 3,5 hours by train and car. Yu Du is a small town of 150,000 inhabitants, located c. 250 miles inland from Xiamen. The local salary level is 1,000 RMB lower than in Xiamen, and the industrial area is quite new and the rents low. The textile industry gets employees from a local school, which was visible in the age structure. They were clearly younger adults than in the two previous factories.

Särmä packs manufactured at the Yu Du factory

The factory has been collaborating with Daoyang for six years. We were happy to see that the place was damn well organized, and they operate on five floors (phuuh!). The factory is Amfori BSCI-audited, which is very important for our responsibility-specific goals. They have about 150 employees, and in addition to our packs, they were in the process of manufacturing stuff for American customers while we were there.

During our tour, we didn’t find any concerns regarding the production. Also, the employee conditions, age structure, and all the other important factors seemed to be in top-notch order, just like one would expect from a BSCI-audited factory.

Mission accomplished: no unethical crap detected

To sum it up, we can say that “cheap Chinese crap” is a myth in these factories. It is possible to find good-quality gear that has been produced responsibly in China when you know how to choose the right partners. We will also make annual recon missions to these factories to ensure that things will not start going in the wrong direction. Of course, it is not possible to get a 100% accurate view of the employee conditions unless one is at the factory 365 days a year.

We also met with numerous exciting new supplier candidates that we contacted through our vast sourcing team network. But we will tell you more about these once we have names on paper.

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