Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Response from Nancybird

This morning I received a response from the owner of Nancybird, Emily Wright.  In the spirit of openness and fairness, I wanted to post it here for you to read if interested, and my response to Emily is also included below.  It is long from both of us, so I apologise - but interesting if it is an issue that concerns you.
Hi Sally,
I read your blog post last night about my label nancybird, and wanted to write back to you today.
I think you raise really important, complex issues. They are things that I've thought about extensively, and have made considered decisions about along the way in my business.
I'd be happy for you to add this email in part or in full into your blog post if you like as a right of reply, or if you'd like to just read this for your own information, this is ok too.
I do have an issue with the link you have added regarding working conditions in China in your blog. I feel this is a little unfair - I would be happy to explain and show images of the small factory stitching our items, but I don't agree with Nancybird being linked to that article. Those conditions are CERTAINLY not the case for us, I work very closely with one factory, as I have over the past 4 years, and I can vouch for the good working conditions of the physical space and workers entitlements (sick pay, overtime, accident insurance).
The area around Hong Kong (Guandong province) is now a highly regulated place (although there will always be exceptions, as there are in every country including Australia), and the factory we use is small (about 60 people there), has been there for about 25 years, always run by the couple George and Lotus.
We now on all our swing tags (since we updated our swing tags last season) have a summary of where materials come from and where they are produced. We also have more detailed information here - on each element of the range.
We print all of our outer fabrics locally. Ink and Spindle do all our screen printing. They are our designs - it's mostly me who designs these, but I've also had another friendly textile designer design some prints for me - Andrea Shaw. She's also designed our last few linings too. We also produce all our digital print fabrics here. I design every single item that we make, always. One day in the future I might get some help with this, but at the moment, and up until now, that's how it's been.
I own the business, I have no backers, no outside funding, no-one but me (and the people that work here, all 4 of us!) making decisions.
We love using really great, quality materials, and want to produce a really well designed, interesting, thoughtful product, and I feel we pretty much do this with each range.
I'm afraid this letter may become too lengthy, so please forgive me if I skip forward or simplify a little.
I started by making everything myself - prints, cutting sewing etc etc. The question for me became - where do you go beyond designer maker?
I think handmade things, things produced and designed by artisans and designers are hugely important. I think it's a great movement, that focus back on the handmade, and something that has definitely grown in the time since I began my label around 9 years ago.
But what do you do if you want to move that into something a bit larger? If there's a local industry there, that is ideal. There are still some producers sewing fabric based products. Producers of leather goods are much, much harder to find.
The other issue I found is people wanting locally produced things, but often not prepared to pay for it. Would you pay $800 for one of my bags? Even if it was possible to make and find makers locally to produce it... It becomes then a product that most people couldn't afford.
Other people, such as the lovely Jarren from the label Temono have made it work for him by producing it basically himself with an extra pair of hands or two, which is amazing. I know he still battles with educating people on the price of his product. I've had lots of great chats with Jarren about producing locally, and the issues we've both had along the way.
My decision to look offshore was certainly not taken lightly. The manufacturers that I eventually found are really amazing. They had, and have, the skills for the detailed work that we do. They have the machines needed to produce our work - special sewing machines for different parts of a bag or wallet. In saying that, a surprising amount is handmade - all the woven straps are done by hand (I have a great video of the ladies weaving our straps), our wallets often have little hand stitched elements too, and many parts of making are hand formed or pressed.
I wasn't sure if your post was more about us stitching our bags in China, or the perception that you had that we were wholly made in Australia.
We certainly do promote the parts that we've kept here - I am really proud that I can use local printers. I am really proud that I design everything. I am inspired by my local surroundings, and this is reflected in my work.
We definitely talk this up, no doubt about that. I also love that I don't automatically go for a Scandinavian motif, that I prefer to use something that feels more Australian, like using a local plant to feature instead.
I feel that we explain our origins pretty clearly. The website is where we have the most space to explain it all, and it can be found in pretty detailed form there, and our swing tags details origin too.
Just as a side note too, we are also working on other projects (a little early to let on about it!) with local artists and an environmental group based in Australia, donating part of the profits to them. It's an exciting project for next season.
Anyway. I hope this explains some more about our business. I really appreciate being given the chance to respond.
If you would like any further information please don't hesitate to get in touch with us.
 All the best,
Hi Emily,

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to me and my concerns - I was eager to hear your thoughts and reasoning on the topic and will be posting your reply on my blog later today.

I certainly did not intend to offend you or Nancybird in any way - as a genuine fan of your label, I was taken aback to discover that the bags were made (stitched) in China as I was under the impression that it was wholly manufactured in Australia.  I was surprised and disappointed to find out it wasn't, but I do think it's commendable and reassuring that you are forthright about where and how your products are made.  I wrote the blog entry more as a launching pad for discussion - whether the country of manufacture does or does not influence people's decisions making when buying products.  I was trying to work through how I felt, as it was on my mind (I have been tossing up buying the Brentford Bag for a number of weeks, since I first saw it previewed in your newsletter at the start of Feb).

I own and run a website that sells and promotes handmade products that are designed and produced locally.  It is something I am passionate about, so obviously I am quite invested and interested in this issue.  We have so many talented people and quality products being made here, that I love to see that supported as much as possible, and that independent makers are able to support themselves doing so.  I do however also think it's incredibly difficult these days to isolate items that are wholly Australian made - fabrics, zips and buttons(etc)  are printed overseas and imported and then used to make an item here.  I really don't know where that line is drawn - it's a complex issue and one I didn't and couldn't resolve in a singular blog post.  Certainly as I was trying to highlight that I don't know what all my feelings are on the issue either.

I am just generally concerned as a consumer that cheaper labor is being used in a country that is well-known to have unethical practices.  Even if the factories used offer significantly better conditioned than the notoriously inhumane places, we are still financing the cause and the government that supports those conditions. 

I don't think there is an answer to any of this - if we stopped manufacturing in China and in other countries with unethical conditions, prices would sky rocket and their economy would collapse, not to mention the impact on everyday families trying to feed and clothe themselves. There is no easy answer and I certainly don't have the solution.  As such, I need to make informed choices where I can that sit well with me in my role as a consumer. 

Thanks again and all the best


Frankie and Ray said...

Ok, I'll go first! For myself, I think I'm still going to try and find something manufactured locally. I too use many fabrics that I know are not manufactured here, but I'm doing everything I can to source everything locally. All my knitting yarn in produced here in Australia (Victoria to be specific), and many fabrics I use are printed by Ink & Spindle too.
I would say to Emily - perhaps yes, your customers would pay more for a Nancybird item if they knew it was manufactured here totally. I've been a loyal buyer, and am on my third bag - the first purchased way back from her first range. I've delighted in seeing her items more and more frequently, but now I may have to look elsewhere. Oof, hope that's not too long winded!

Lexi:: PottyMouthMama said...

I think this debate is such a large one, I don't really know if it can sit on a blog. Know what I mean?

Gerry Harvey completely shot himself in the foot when he argued about online sellers who import their products undercutting bricks & mortar businesses - HOWEVER, his businesses essentially do exactly this, then mark the products up. While he does keep jobs in Australia through his retailing, he's sourcing product elsewhere and pushing local manufacturers out.

It's immensely difficult being a young Australian designer, to retain integrity, retain your initial vision, and still try to make a living.

Like Emily said, she tried for as long as she could to keep as much of it as she could in Australia.

I don't think it's fair to pin it on smaller businesses. Rally the big guys - they are the ones that are pushing out Australian manufacturing to push up their profit margins and hurting small businesses.

Everyone can say - well we're not going to buy from nancybird then - but she's supporting ink & spindle - which is a small business too. She's researched her manufacturing options.

There are businesses in Australia that are dying out because the big boys are making it more and more difficult to keep things local.

So if people boycott nancybird - then not only do nancybird lose out (and we miss out on Nancybird) but ink & spindle lose out too, and we lose local talent.

It's a conundrum, and I don't think I have articulated it well.

Cath @ chunkychooky said...

Nice work Sal. I do think for me made i Australia means the item was actually "made' in Australia... my issue, nancy bird aside is what is called fair trade. there is a very dominant label in Australia who claims to be have everything produced fair trade but she has never been to the place where her goods are produced, never been to the factory, never seen pictures or asked about the working conditions etc but deals with one woman who tells her yes everyone is treated fairly. Give me a break!!! That is not fair trade!

Virginia said...

There was a really interesting article about this regarding the U.S. (slightly off topic, I know) in Wired Magazine this month:

Of course, it's a slightly different story as China is a whole heck of a lot closer to Australia than it is to the US, however, I believe a lot of the principles in the story still ring true for your situation.

We've actually pledged in our family to do everything we can to avoid purchasing things made in China. It's a readjustment of our mindset. Yeah, that shirt might be six times more expensive if it is made in the US, however, by paying more for it, and taking the craftsmanship into account, we see the shirt (or whatever) as less disposable and more precious. We're more likely to take better care of it and more likely to wear it for a good long while.

I recently purchased a pair of Frye boots at around $300. I hope to be wearing those boots when I have grandkids (I'm in my 30s).

ANYWAY, despite all of this, I appreciate Emily's response, however, she is pretty misinformed on one thing. The Guangdon province doesn't seem to be any more regulated than any of the others, and in fact that is where all of the suicides of factory workers have been recently, due to the horrendous working conditions (and a variety of other issues).

Virginia said...

Can't remember if I actually gave you the link to the Wired Article:

DUR. Coffee. Me. NOW.

Ink and Spindle said...

Hey everyone,

Thought we'd add our two cents, considering our name has been raised a few times.

We work very closely with Emily & have had many discussions around our shared concern (as small business owners) about locally & ethically produced wares. We KNOW how bloody difficult it is to source materials/makers that fit within our ethos & commend Emily for having done so, even if she has been forced to have her stitching done offshore. Capitalism can be a bitch sometimes.

We're also somewhat annoyed to read people are umming & ahhing about the issue of local manufacture. Let's look in the mirror for a second. That top you're wearing? That indie craft label you love? EVEN if it WAS made here where do you think the textile was grown, woven & dyed? It came from China (or India, etc) and I would bet dollars for doughnuts that the factories it came from had horrific working conditions, accidents, rapes, suicides.

You paid money for it, so you are supporting all of the above.

So I suggest that we all look to our own backyards before we bemoan a transparent & honest business like Nancybird for stitching in China.

xx Teegs & Lara

P.S. - we REALLY appreciate the comments people have made about the fact that supporting NB supports us too. Because it's true, and in turn we support other local businesses.