QA/QC. For those of you unfamiliar with the term this is Quality Assurance/Quality Control, a staple in any manufacturing environment and a standard acronym in the business world. Rural China is somewhat different. I don't believe that standardization is a need for most businesses and certainly profit margin comes before QC concerns. Needless to say it has been a learning process for both the Scarlet Threads founders and the seamstresses we employ.
Snowman fabric doesn't necessarily belong on a summer apron, but when it is the fabric that already resides in our seamstress's home, chances are it could find a new use as a pocket. This is an example of a challenge that we have had in the formation of our cottage industry. In the West, we expect everything to look the same coming out of a specific shop. In our village, that expectation simply does not exist. This is just another instance where survival trumps fashion. However, in order to have a product in a marketable outside the village (even in urban areas in China), we needed to create some boundaries and quality standards. We've had to teach our seamstress how create products from a pattern, with each piece being the same dimensions and using the same fabric scheme so that we can sell them in bulk online -- and remove some guess work for the consumer (you!).
One of the most entertaining learning experiences surrounds buttons. It's my understanding that buttons in the village are primarily for decoration, or such is the opinion of our lead seamstress. So, when Carrie designed an apron requiring button holes, it was quite a shock and learning curve for Deng Fen. In fact, her husband has turned out to be more skilled in this arena and makes the button holes on all our products! A few months ago, Deng Fen brought her lately produced products to Carrie for final inspection and payment. All but one was immaculate. That one had a slightly tortured look about the button hole, which Deng Fen explained was because she attempted to create that button hole while her husband was away from home. (Don't worry, as we are not selling the off-spec product -- no surprises, here!)
There is something amazing about the cottage industry. Maybe it harkens back to a simpler time, where people took pride in the work of their hands. Maybe it is the joy that you see in an artisan who is able to sell her products to the other side of the world, when she has scarcely left her village. Either way, this is a tremendous opportunity for me to see a real side of life that is not sterile or mass produced or busy. It is life: survival, ingenuity, effort and pride.
I wrote this post for our Fair Trade Blog Carnival, the next edition of which will be published on the 20th! Woo!
P.S. Here is a coupon code for 10% off in our shop. Just enter "blairlovesaprons" at checkout.