12 February 2009

Made locally

As the economic downturn worsens more people seem to get upset by imported goods.
I noticed some bitter comments on paddling.net when there was mentions of Confluence (group of companies including Wilderness System kayaks) moving most of it's manufacturing to China.
Some American folk were up in arms.
Obviously they were concerned about job losses.

A very similar sentiment seems to pervade locally with some sea kayak manufacturers and paddlers.
Some believe that buying a kayak that is imported is very bad form thus not supporting the local manufacturers.
I seem to have infuriated a few contributors of an Australian forum when I commented on my Chinese made kayak and it's virtues.

The kayak in question is made to be very light and strong with cutting edge technology but does not come with the expensive price tag of one similar made in a Western country (no such technology available yet in Australia).
I have been accused of supporting a government that abuses human rights (China) and that my kayak is the product of exploitation.

In reply to those accusations I have to comment that my view on a kayak made in China is:
1) why it's OK to be using just about every single electronic product made in China but not a kayak?
2) why is it OK to be clothed head to toe by cheap Chinese rags and shoes, our houses furnished by Asian goods and our cars predominantly made with Asian components but it's not OK to paddle something as simple as a kayak?

To the accusation of me supporting an economy that has been abusing the worker I have to say:
Chinese workers are better off with us buying their products than not.
As one forum contributor that has been importing goods from China pointed out: " ..for the last 13 years my supplier's standards of a workplace have improved dramatically, and admittedly not to Australian standard, but the factory worker today has a much better environment than 10 years ago..."
I believe that by Western companies outsourcing to China and creating a strong economy there it has helped the Chinese community immensely.
But how is "letting" our work being sent to China help Australia?

We live in a global economy and despite the insular mentality of some folks we can not sustain ourselves alone.
We import goods.
So, if our die hard traditional industry can not compete with the prices of imported goods it's time to switch gears.
No point in continuing manufacturing in a traditional style just because it has been done for decades.
Kayaks for example take a lot of "man hours" to build. Somebody has to manually handle the fabrics and the resin to construct a hull and deck.
A lot of time goes into assembling and finishing one off.
It requires a lot of labor and labour is cheap in China. So why insist on trying to compete with a labor force that is cheaper in Asia. Why does not want anybody set up a manufacturing plant of goods that requires unskilled labor here in Australia? because economically does not make sense. The locally made product would be too expensive and woud not sell too well, unless it is so much better then the imported one.
Please note the "unskilled labor" factor.
If the product would require highly qualified and trained personnel than things are different but for simple tasks Australians are wasted.
Australians are ingenious, talented designers, great inventors and skilled managers. China does not have those traits.
Let's capitalize on that. Create the work that nobody can touch: skills, know-how and expertise.

So, I will probably continue to buy Chinese products because they are substantially cheaper than other ones. Money does not grow on trees for me :-)
Just like my PC and laptop are Chinese made so one of my kayaks can be too (I have some Canadian and some British ones too and in the past I had New Zealand made ones).
I will probably buy high end items that require strict quality control and reliability made locally (or USA or Europe).
My EPIRB is one of them since my life might depend on it one day.


  1. I wrote:
    >>My EPIRB is one of them since my life might depend on it one day.<<
    Too bad that one of the few items that I was proud to be "Made in Australia" has failed.
    There is a design flaw that the manufacturer isist on ignoring and is not willing to redesign.
    To date many users of the same Epirb I own experienced the same problem...

  2. Damiano

    the points you make are all rational, sensible and obvious.
    But look beneath the surface and you will observe something that escapes the minds of many ...

    Cars, clothes and computers are not culturally connected with tens of thousands of years of indigenous history on this continent.
    Paddle craft are. They were central to coastal culture on this continent and its many islands.

    It's a sad thing to see Chinese kayaks on Maria Island, or Estonian kayaks on Broughton Island, or Canadian kayaks on Fraser Island.
    If we had a mature and vibrant kayak culture supported by an informed local paddling community these would be locally made kayaks, with locally made paddles, locally made sails etc ...

    Kayaking is a special activity that does not take place in a vacuum.
    It takes place in the context of specific environments.


  3. Hmmm,
    you might have a point.
    Let me ask you one thing: are you of indigenous Australian origins?
    I am not and most kayakers that paddle foreign crafts aren't either.
    I have much closer ancestry and affinity with the Estonians than the traditional Australian culture.
    Could that be the reason that I feel comfortable in those crafts? but that does not explain the Chinese boat then...? :-)
    I am not totally familiar with the “kayaks” (?) that used to be paddled around my waters before colonization but I have a feeling that those craft would not suit my style. A craft of Greenland heritage has much more appeal, to me.

    Ah, one more thing: nostalgia does nothing for me. I acknowledge the origins and heritage of a craft but by no mean I long to emulate its character nor its "feeling"
    Incidentally traditional paddles work for me, but so far I prefer composite crafts over traditional ones. A GP can be made of carbon, no problem with that either.
    Do you envision Autralian made crafts with traditional local looks, traditional materials and traditional local paddles?
    I thought that my article's point was about modern sea kayaks, not made locally ...


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