Made in wherever, The ethics of outsourcing (II/II)

PART II

The first part of this post took a look at outsourcing in developing countries. Outsourcing makes the world economy more efficient, brings cheap goods to consumers and drives up the GDP of developing nations. However outsourcing has a dark side of exploitation, abuse and oppression. It’s a complex issue, and one that everyone should try and educate themselves on.

For this second part I want to focus on the responses from various hiking/climbing companies about the issue. I only contacted companies that I buy from (so there are many companies that are not in the mix here). However this post is not meant to be a summary of findings about specific companies. Instead what I picked up from all of this research is that the really important detail isn’t where the gear is made, but the why behind the where.

A higher standard

It has to be said that hiking/outdoors companies have generally high standards, relative to the brands that usually get linked to in sweatshop exposés (Nike, WalMart, Timberland, The Gap, Disney, etc.). Perhaps it’s because the gear is usually a lot more high-tech and of higher quality than high-street brands, or because the hiking companies are generally smaller companies with a correspondingly more humane code of ethics. Having said that, there’s no reason why we can’t demand ever higher standards from the companies we buy from. If any one company can be profitable and strictly ethical, why not the rest?

The humble homepage.

Gathering information from the company webpage is the easiest way to get a general idea of how the company handles manufacture, either from information presented or information lacking. Osprey packs, for example, go into detail about their choice to move manufacture to Vietnam in order to remain competitive, and their journey in making sure the workers were fairly treated.

Patagonia also have an interesting and honest homepage. They are well known as a company that have a near-autistic focus on the environment. Their corporate responsibility page goes into admirable depth about how they got in ‘too deep’ with outsourcing and found some unwelcome disconnect between them and the people that had been multiply subcontracted into making their clothes.

The number of factories we came to work with ballooned, and some of these subcontracted work to other factories we knew nothing about. We lost track of who we were doing business with and what working conditions were like in many of our factories. For a while we dropped out of the Fair Labour Association.

They cut down the number of subcontractors they used, and began to run audits not just on their cut’n’sew suppliers but even on the raw material suppliers. There are many companies that have a better ethical system in place than Patagonia, but their honesty is admirable and shows that they do have a focus on ethics.

Edit: 2012-Apr-10
Patagonia put up this really interesting piece about their views on outsourcing.

Fjällräven take another tack, the employee training page details the hiking adventures the Swedish employees get to enjoy. You would definitely be forgiven for thinking it was an all Swedish production. The website does coyly proclaim that care is taken for its employees ‘in every corner of the world’. I find it pretty disingenuous to use such careful phrasing in what is so obviously a gambit to make it appear that the gear is still made in Sweden (as far as I know it is mostly made in Vietnam). It obviously works though, most people I know think their Kånken was made here. It also freaks me out a little that Haglöfs (owned by Asics), and Fjällräven (owned by Fenix Outdoors, who also own Primus, Tierra, HanWag and the Swedish retail chain Naturkompaniet) have nearly identically worded codes of conduct (Haglöfs & Fjällräven’s). I guess it’s just shared legalese, but the similarity makes it feels like a ‘cover your ass’ template. Haglöfs said it was a coincidence, Fjällräven failed to reply.

Companies respond, or not.

The problem with homepages is that they only present information that the company wants to present. In the last few months I stepped it up a notch and contacted a lot of companies about how they handle their manufacture. It’s been very revealing. Most fascinating was the inadvertent transparency of the responses, replies from companies that had subpar behaviour (for example, outsourcing the manufacture without any code of conduct for contractors) were terse and defensive, if they replied at all. Replies from companies that didn’t outsource or had systems in place to ensure fair labour were generally long, detailed and friendly.

The little guys

One final detail I picked up on was that small companies generally rocked. A small manufacturer has a small select group of focused and passionate people working for it. The people are not cruel assholes (most individual people generally aren’t). So the work is often done with a focus on fairness and sustainability.

The bigger the company gets, the more disconnected the people become, the more the asshole behaviour comes to the fore. When a company gets bought up by a big conglomerate, then you usually get dictated cost-cutting moves handed down that have to be followed, without any thoughts of humanity. Once a company gets big enough to profitably sell shares it usually does in order to raise capital, and then it has the need to financially satisfy shareholders and the company conscience gets a little more diluted.

When a company outsources, they can skip out on the worry of having to make sure things are fair and safe. It can be someone else’s problem. And if the outsourcer then subcontracts the work, then you are heading into really dangerous territory.

Do all the successful little cottage guys inevitably become big outsourcing guys? Osprey used to be cottage gear, got big and moved production to Asia because all their competitors did. Will it eventually go the same way for Laufbursche?

A complicated stratification

The companies can be roughly broken into various categories.

  • Almost entirely based in developed countries
    • Röjk make their gear in Sweden and Portugal.
    • DMM make all their gear in Llanberis, Wales
    • Genelec design and make all their not-at-all-related-to-hiking gear in Finland
    • Woolpower sew all their (amazing) garments in Östersund, Sweden
    • Owners of Woolpower, Gränsfors Bruks, make their axes in Sweden
    • Hilleberg are run from Sweden and have made their tents in their own factory in Estonia for the last twelve years
    • KED make all their bike helmets in Germany
    • Rock Exotica make all their (crazy!) gear in the U.S.
    • Mora make all their gear in Sweden
    • Tendon make all their ropes, slings and harnesses in the Czech Republic
    • Trangia make all their hardware in Sweden (although the multi-fuel burner is made by Primus and the bags are made in China)
    • Laufbursche makes his (superb) gear in Cologne, Germany
  • Make most gear in a developed country, but run manufacturing plants in Asia
    • Petzl make most gear in France, but some gear is made in Malaysia or China (such as the Meteor helmet)
    • Black Diamond run their own factories in China as well as the U.S.
    • Hestra make most gear in their own factories in Asia, some dress gloves are made in Sweden or Eastern Europe
    • La Sportiva make their premium gear in Italy, cheaper gear in China
  • Outsource all or most manufacturing to independent plants in Asia
    • Wild-country assemble some gear in Wales, make most stuff in China and Taiwan
    • Haglöfs make 80% in Vietnam and China, have around 20% in EU
    • Exped design their gear in Zurich, make it in China and Taiwan
    • C.A.M.P. design in Italy, make some gear there and most in China
  • Didn’t reply to me Make their gear out of minced baby owls and tiger cubs
    • Fjällräven
    • Primus
    • Houdini
    • Lundhags
    • Klättermusen

This still oversimplifies the shit out of everything. Woolpower or Trangia have a limited, specialised product and can make a ton of gear in Sweden with a small specialised staff and make a profit. Exped make a load of different kinds of gear, making it in Switzerland just wouldn’t be an option. They kick out killer products that have few peers, even if they occasionally have quality control problems with the outsourced manufacture. (Below is a picture an almost brand-new Exped Downmat 7, suffering from the now infamous blown baffle problem. A friend bought it on my recommendation and had this happen after a few trips. My own Downmat is still going strong after innumerable trips though).

Páramo

Dividing companies by the location of their manufacturing base is an oversimplification. The perfect counterpoint to the idea raised in Part I, that it is wrong to manufacture in an oppressive regime, is demonstrated by Páramo. I had never heard of Páramo before I started to write this article. The company was started by the same guy that started up Nikwax. They manufacture in Vietnam and Columbia, both listed as oppressive regimes. However they consistently get listed as the absolutely most ethical brand, and you can see why when you read their story. Long story short, they work with at-risk women, offering good jobs and wages, putting profits back into the community, building kindergartens and housing.

I still wanted to throw a tricky question at them, and asked how they can justify working in an oppressive regime at all. The reply from the company founder was impressively informed, and spoke to how focused Páramo was on the ethical aspect of manufacture. He pointed out the problem with basing where you manufacture on a criteria of whether countries are oppressive or not, it ignores where the oppression originates from. In Chile (under Pinochet) or Apartheid-era South Africa, oppression originated with the government and so ‘business as usual’ was the goal of the oppressive regimes, and so sanctions and boycotts were an appropriate solution. In Columbia, the situation is complicated, with the oppression ultimately sourced in the lucrative drug trade.

In the case of Colombia, the situation is very different and complex. The primary source of oppression in Colombia is more difficult to track down; it is often hidden. There is no overt government policy, for example, that supports the persecution of trades unionists and journalists – in fact, high profile people may receive police protection, ineffective though it may be. Usually after a certain number of death threats, they either leave the country, or end up murdered.

In my opinion, in Colombia, the primary source of oppression is the corruption that is rife in the country, which in turn, is supported and fed by the drugs trade, which in turn is financed by consumers in Europe and North America. I often think that the most politically effective act in Europe, which would help the Andean countries, would be to name and shame cocaine consumers. They effectively snort blood.

The less we engage with Colombia in terms of offering legitimate trade, the stronger the drug-financed business becomes. The children of the people we employ in Colombia get a decent start in life. As children of prostitutes, without the help that we offer, the boys would be destined to crime and the girls to prostitution. At the same time, we support the Colombian legitimate economy. So am I worried about the ethics of that decision? Not at all.

Poverty is a huge oppressor, and to offer a legitimate route out of it, which in turn is self-sustaining through education, cannot be seen as an oppressive act.

Stunning stuff, and it shows clearly that Páramo are not your average company.

Cost cutting

“Made in China” is not (yet) a sexy label. Most companies try to hide Chinese manufacturing, from leaving the tags off (like Tierra do, the sister company to Fjällräven) or assembling/packaging the gear in a Western country and tagging the manufacture as coming from there. And despite all the positive aspects to outsourcing we covered in Part I, it’s important to remember companies also don’t go to developing countries to raise their GDP, they don’t do it to bring people out of poverty, they don’t do it to make the world better. They do it to make more money. The cost-savings are obviously extremely important, as there are plenty of downsides to outsourcing;

  • Quality – Having manufacture on the other side of the globe means not having the same level of quality control
  • Consistency – Variation in some of the outsourced gear can be very high
  • IP theft – Having ideas stolen and sold to other companies, or having ‘off clock’ batches or overproduction runs made for black-market sale
  • Lags and minimums – Small runs can’t be made easily, and the shipping time means it can take a long time for gear to get to the market

Does it matter that outsourcing is done in order to make more profit? Aren’t all companies out to make a profit?

You got the money, I got the soul!

Jan, the guy behind Röjk (who make, in my humble opinion, the most versatile hoody of all time), sent me a big mail about why he hadn’t considered outsourcing. And one paragraph just lit a lightbulb over my head,

It’s very expensive to manufacture in Sweden and within Europe, but we can still earn money and have a normal life and for us that’s the most important, not to be too eager and just want to make a lot of money with the cost of other peoples lives.

Were there companies that had something else prioritised besides profit?

I have always avoided Black Diamond stuff because so much was made in China. Then after I researched the company I realised that actually they are the kind of company that should have ‘Made Fairly in China’ on their gear. They do outsourcing right and if every company took the responsibility for outsourcing like that the world would be a pretty amazing place. However, when you look at DMM and compare them to BD or Wild Country, and see which one made the choice to outsource, and which one decided to just put every penny they had into their factory and to just focus on the gear, it seems clear that DMM didn’t put profit on the top of the list. Climbers first, businessmen second.

DMM were full of info when I got in touch with them, and said they looked into outsourcing back in 2004 when everyone was doing it, but decided against it. They wanted a tighter control on manufacturing quality and they wanted the people making the gear to be the people that also used the gear. Staying in Wales and fighting their budget-competitors by out-innovating them was a crazy move, but today as costs of manufacture in Asia rise the choice seems to have paid off. Last year was DMMs most profitable year ever.

This is not to say that ‘not outsourcing’ ≣ ‘soulful’. Even a glance at Patagonia is enough to make you realise they are passionate about what they do. There are really clear examples though, where two similar companies take startlingly different decisions about outsourcing. DMM kept all the work in Wales, Wild Country moved the smithing to Asia. These are two very similar companies whose sole purpose is to make climbing gear. Did WC, by getting rid of the actual gear making, lose a little of the soul? Is the DMM factory, because it’s one big amalgamated group of people doing all the work together, like a family, is that a more passionate environment to be in?

Does any of that matter? When it’s more or less the same little block of aluminium on a wire, except one is half price, and the other is made by a more fired-up group of people, does that matter?

It matters to me. I started all of this research to find which companies made gear fairly and ethically. I found out that most decent companies do have a focus on the ethics and fairness of their labour. However I also found that some companies were less about being a company, out to grow and expand and send dividends to shareholders, but instead were a bunch of people with a core focus, a central ideology that they orbited around. No surprise that these were usually small companies, where the teams of people involved could work together rather than being broken up into departments and divisions, fragmenting their humanity and leading them away from their origins, to eventual faceless corporatism. Small, focused and passionate companies making cool as hell gear.

(edit 1: Rock exotica contacted me after I had written this post, and replied to my question about why they don’t outsource their production with a line that fits perfectly here, “It is such a part of our identity, to make everything ourselves”.)

(edit 2: My good pal Liam had a browse through this post and pointed me in the direction of this TED talk, which goes into some lovely detail on companies that keep it real, and also the interesting case study of small ethical companies losing their way as they get bought up by larger companies.)

At the end of the day…

There are a ton of outdoors companies that make a ton of different stuff. Clothing, packs, tents, stoves, ropes, slings, sporks, filters, etc. Every possible piece of gear, made all over the world, in every possible way. We consumers drive that production, choosing the gear we buy based on price and style and fit and finish and weight and a hundred other qualities. After all this research I have two more qualities to give a shit about.

Firstly I want to buy shit from, and thereby support, the most fanatical group of people making that shit. I don’t want my gear made by a low cost vendor, manufacturing it to some spec without a clue what it’s for. I want it made by someone who has lunch in the same canteen as the CEO of the company, and then goes out and uses the gear after work is over. Secondly I want gear that was made ethically, either in the developed world, in a company owned factory in the developing world, or by a strictly monitored vendor with a decent code of conduct.

No doubt the gear made by ethical companies is more expensive than the alternatives. For the price of one Hilleberg tent you could buy enough cheap hiking gear to hike every route in the Alps. There are hundreds of dirt-cheap brands (and even expensive cheap brands, such as The North Face), regularly and heavily implicated in sweatshop labour abuses, offering gear for half the price (or less) of a competing ethical manufacturer, but it’s important to look past the price tag and look at the human cost.

You’re not just ‘voting with your wallet’, you are also revealing your true character.

33 thoughts on “Made in wherever, The ethics of outsourcing (II/II)

  • October 16, 2011 at 10:46 am
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    At the end of the day this is is a REALLY informative read! Thanks for all your research.
    Finally I got a list to choose from without havin to do all the work myself…
    What happened to Klättermusen? I thought they were goodies with all their eco-index and recycling of gear??

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  • October 17, 2011 at 7:44 pm
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    Thanks for your informative posts and some details on various companies. I have tended to support home companies (UK) and European with a small amount in USA/Canada. Some manufacture all of their gear in Europe or design in Europe and outsource manufacture in the Far East.

    Sometimes difficult to know the workers/ environmental conditions outside of Europe/North America, and I find it difficult to buy footwear not made in China/Vietnam, bar Meindl (which I am not keen on). As you rightly say, just because it is manufactured in the Far East does not mean that is bad, just difficult to find out sometimes whether they are.

    Notable companies that I believe have good standards and I have purchased equipment from are: PHD (Peter Hutchinson Designs) – UK manufacturer of the highest quality down clothing. Paramo – UK owned, Columbian manufacture, high social responsibility. Hilleberg – Sweden/Estonia. Cioch – small manufacturer on the Isle of Skye – Scotland.
    The products from these companies are more expensive, but I think that they seem to last longer and therefore may offer better value for money in the longer term just to counter that European produced gear is far too expensive to consider.

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  • October 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm
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    Great post, a lot of food for thought here – too often the focus is only on cost versus function, while the ethics are left behind.

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  • October 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm
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    Excellent, most excellent, Tomas. Big thumbs up, wonderful work.

    Funny that all the companies that make their gear out of minced baby owls and tiger cubs are Swedish. I had a look through the Klättermusen garment I have, and surprise, surprise, there's no info in there on WHERE it is made – but for the price on pays for their gear, I would think it is made in Sweden. At least they consider environmental issues a lot.

    Black Diamond was Yvon Chouinard's former company, before he sold it to his friends and concentrated full-time on Patagonia. Back then it was still called Chouinard Equipment and made hardgoods exclusively. I imagine it just got too expensive for them to manufacture their stuff in the USA? Good to hear, though, that they employ Fair Labour principles in China.

    I like your closing remarks. Made me think what I value/ give a shit about for when I buy something. Might make it into a post, even =)

    Oh yeah – thanks for getting Disqus!

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  • October 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm
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    Hey Michi,

    I guess Klättermusen might just be too busy to reply to some mails. Or they didn't really have such good answers. There is nothing about their 'code of conduct' online, and as far as I know their production today is mostly in Vietnam and China.

    At least they have a little Swedish flag on everything they sell!

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  • October 19, 2011 at 1:12 pm
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    Hey Mark,

    I totally agree about buying less gear but making sure it's solid and can last a long time. I wanted to write a little about it but this post had already become a monster and I have to have some mercy for the readers!

    And thanks for the tip about Cioch, I will definitely be checking them out in future. Their gear looks great.

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  • October 19, 2011 at 1:15 pm
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    True Mikel, I feel a little frustrated by the hiking community when I read gear reviews. Most of the time the focus is on price and appearance, very very rarely do people consider the aspects of fair labour.

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  • October 19, 2011 at 1:24 pm
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    Hey Hendrik,

    Klättermusen are a strange case. I totally love their gear, I think they put a ton of focus on details, on durability and on innovative solutions, their focus on recyclability is also really good. However they do charge insane prices for their gear, most of which is made in Vietnam. Their mithril kevlar pullover is 400 euro, and made in China. Pricey gear with little Swedish flags sewn on the outside, and made in Vietnam/China tags sewn on the inside. I would feel a whole lot happier buying their gear if they had some kind of code of conduct available.

    The story of BD and Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia is absolutely fascinating, I find Yvon Chouinard an amazing personality. BD still do make a lot of gear in the US though, in fact they have the same worker rights in the US as they do in their factory in China. They really do outsourcing the right way.

    And yeah, Disqus is definitely worth it, thanks for bullying me into installing it! And thanks for the Tendon T-shirt! I promise to get it covered in sweat and blood and chalk as soon as I can!

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  • October 22, 2011 at 9:48 am
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    Really excellent article!

    But I think it's a bit too simplified to so narrowly look at the assembly of the final product, and almost forget about the suppliers of the materials. Especially in a business like this, were the producers of the materials have strong brands themselves, we could easily demand the same transparency. What about YKK, Toray, Gore, Dupont, Malden Mills and all the others? They are all much bigger companies with much bigger social and environmental footprints than even the largest European outdoor brand.

    The size difference between "cottage" and "corporate giant" in this business isn't actually that big at the end of the day.
    So it doesn't matter if Laufbursche put all his stuff together in a garage by himself, if his fabrics and details are produced in sweatshops. It doesn't matter if Woolpower garments are sewn by nice little old ladies in Östersund if the materials they use come from one of the world's largest corporate air polluter.

    We need the full picture. And before we even look at the full picture we must look at our own needs.
    Do we really need another backpack? Most probably we do not. The old one works just fine. That's why we got it in the first place 🙂

    /Martin, fjaderlatt.se

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  • October 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm
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    Hi Tomas.

    Great piece! Just a few thoughts – DMM's soft goods aren't (or at least weren't a couple of years back) made in Wales. Harnesses and slings were made in Czech Rep. in Singing Rock's factory just like many (most?) other harnesses from European brands. They are obviously the experts in sewing dyneema, nylon and the like. Interestingly DMM forge things for other brands – for example Petzl reverso are made in by them. They also make Wild Country cams and helium krabs (these use a more complex form of forging than their far eastern factories can do I was told).

    I would add two other points though; totally agree with Martin's point about supply chains: most companies have to buy in their materials from somewhere and of course we don't know the labour standards of those suppliers – DMM aluminium. In the thread that goes with this article: http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=64604 Jim Titt is suggesting the company that made the 'bad bolts' are a good firm that just got sold some crap materials by their suppliers.

    The other point is a bit more 'meta' and might be expected from someone who is subscriber to The Economist. 🙂 Chinese economic growth in the last two decades has brought more people out of poverty than any other policy in history ever. Like EVER. I find many things about the Chinese government odious, but there are far fewer poor people in the world now than before than because of Deng Xiaoping, that's kind of depressing a thought but true. Conditions in Chinese (not to mention these days Vietnamese, Laotian, Bangladeshi or Madagascan) factories might be horrible, but then so were conditions on the peasant farm where those factory workers' parents tried to scrape a living. So buying something made in a SE Asian factory might in a J. S. Millsian sense produce more utility than buying something made in Sweden/Wales.

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  • October 22, 2011 at 8:43 pm
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    Without a doubt one of the most well written and insightful articles I have read in a very long time. Something I have been looking at myself for a while now and your findings are of genuine interest to me.

    Reply
  • October 23, 2011 at 9:24 am
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    Hey Martin!

    I realise that the producers of the raw materials and parts should also be researched. It would be a massive project to do so though. And there are several problems to overcome.
    Firstly the companies that supply textiles and zips and thread and so on, are not easily influenced by we consumers. We are not their customers. The brands we buy from in the shops are. And therefore we can only influence their behaviour indirectly (in terms of environmental or work ethic policy) by boycotting or supporting the brands that emphasise good environmental or fair labour policies. Patagonia are a good example of a company that get support from customers interested in environmental issues, that in turn put pressure on their suppliers to have a focus on environmental issues. Or Woolpower, for example, moved to all NZ wool in order to avoid the use of mulesed sheep wool, thereby putting pressure on mulesing wool producers to end the practise.
    Secondly, these suppliers don't have to give a shit about end consumers. All of these brands that we buy from have customer satisfaction teams and have a high pressure to reply to inquiries from their customers. We all know how one dissatisfied customer tells far more people about their experience than a satisfied customer. However the big fabric companies are under no pressure to satisfy the indirect consumers of their goods. Some specialised companies like Gore do have a lot of information available and respond to inquiries, but for many of the big raw material vendors in India, Pakistan or China, it is difficult to get information from them.
    Thirdly, it's a much longer chain of production. Looking at the producers of the stuff we buy in the shops is dead easy, they either make it themselves or get someone else to do it. Looking into the major textile manufacturers (for example) might mean looking at the people that work in cotton growing, harvesting, ginning, mixing, scutching, carding, combing, drawing, spinning, twisting, gassing, bleaching, singeing, raising, dyeing and so on. All of that might occur in the same provence of India, or might be occurring in a handful of different counties.
    Finally, the costs are much higher. I had a few conversations with company representatives for this article, in which I was told generalities of production, when I wanted to know a little more detail, I was told it was not possible to give out that information because it would give an advantage to competitors. For the big textile manufacturers, this is a much bigger factor because they deal with vast amounts of production and much bigger costs and payoffs. It's no longer at the level of leaked information leading to a competitive advantage/disadvantage between two companies, but between two countries.
    It's a much more complicated and difficult job to figure out the intricacies of the raw material vendors, although I would love to give it a go.

    Reply
  • October 23, 2011 at 10:03 am
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    Hey Toby!
    Yeah I forgot about the soft goods of DMM, good catch!
    Very interesting read about the problems with expansion bolts versus glued, I had no idea bolts could be so weak after such a short time! Yet another reason to go trad eh? 🙂
    I also totally agree about production in low cost developing countries being beneficial for ending poverty. However after a little musing, I don't think it's a factor for me. The amount of outsourcing by high-street, mass market companies (H&M, Apple, Philips, Nike, Adidas etc etc) just massively dwarf the little hiking and/or climbing industry. So whether I buy my carabiners outsourced (fairly) or not, there will be no change in these macroeconomic developments. On the other hand, for the little companies that I find so interesting, like Röjk or Páramo for example, my custom has a proportionally much larger value. (Regarding the growth of China, the papers I was reading about that for the first part of the article were very revealing. People talked originally about the possibility that China might have an economy equal to that of the US. Then even as late as 2005 the date of 2050 was given for when China's economy might possibly overtake the American economy. The current IMF guess is just 5 years away before China's GDP is larger than the American GDP.)
    And although buying from developing countries will help to bring prosperity to those countries, it's still important to focus on fairly outsourced goods. There are sweatshop factories which don't have superior conditions to subsidence farming, there are a few links in Part I of the article to stories about forced labour and rape being carried out in sweatshops. A common abusive tactic is to subtract housing and food fees from the wages boarded workers earn, giving them a pittance to live on. There are also instances of large finders fees with high interest rates being charged to workers in order to get them a job, which they then have to work off in perpetuity.
    One final thing that I ignore in the write-up is that the largest middle class in the world is now emerging, or has already emerged in China. And BD (for example) are going to have a much easier time selling to what might be the largest global climbing community in a decade than companies without manufacturing plants in China.

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  • October 28, 2011 at 12:01 am
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    Great post Tomas!
    About Cioch: Isn't your great-granddad from the Isle of Skye? You should head over and investigate 🙂

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  • November 29, 2013 at 7:13 pm
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    Love part II even more then part I!

    Would you mind if I would share your work through my blog?

    You can find that here;

    http://flyingwoodsman.blogspot.se/

    I am a Dutch guy living in Sweden, btw.

    Reply
  • November 29, 2013 at 8:12 pm
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    Share away! Nice blog, I like your Moose post, I have gone through something similar with a dead, frozen and rotten moose, reading about you scooping the brains out with a spoon brings back memories!

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  • July 4, 2014 at 5:55 pm
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    Greetings from Finland! First time reader here, stumbled upon this while googling up some Fjällräven stuff.

    This here is by far one of the finest things I have ever read on the subject, you nailed it! I could go on and on about how I concur with everything you wrote, but I'll restrain myself. Though four years old this post really gave me a lift of spirits!

    Now why I'm writing this is that you list a lot of known names, but as a Finn I wonder have you ever heard about Savotta? Finlands last standing domestic producer of outdoors kit, their real specialty being rucksacks, especially their external frame ones. At this point I may add this is by no means me advertising them, I'm just a happy user of their products and admirer of their ethics.

    Last time I checked it seems the only Scandinavian rucksack makers still producing stuff at home are the Norröna of Norway and Savotta of Finland (sadly even Bergans is nowadays made in China, I nearly pissed myself when I found out!), all others have simply dropped dead or succumbed (Fjällräven being a prime example) to outsourcing all their production. I actually discussed this a while back with the people of Savotta, how proud they really should be of their work as the truly are the last of their kind!

    The sad thing is China & Co. are an unrelenting brute, as long as customers just think "spend-spend-spend" and "cheap-cheap-cheap" I fear the future won't exactly be easy for these last few ones still standing.

    That's about it, enjoy the weekend!
    Stefan

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  • July 7, 2014 at 1:39 pm
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    Thanks for the nice comment, and thanks for the link to Savotta, I have stayed one trip in one of those massive heated Savotta tents, but I had no idea they were making other gear and all in Finland. And yeah it's a pity so many companies are engaging in the race to the bottom, but it's also great to see which companies put something other than cost first.

    Reply
  • September 15, 2015 at 8:16 pm
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    Hi,
    Thank you very much for the informative post. I am currently looking around for a backpack and focusing on Osprey. I would like to know as much as possible in order to understand whether it is a ethical choice or not.
    I wrote them an e-mail requiring info about their move to Vietnam and they promptly replied saying that their employees are treated very well and linked me to a video they shot for their 40 years where there were interviews to their employees and info about their conditions. My concern is about the working conditions of their suppliers who are the ones actually sewing the backpacks and often exploited. I went back to them asking whether they require their supplier to sign their code of conduct and apply the ILO conventions provisions but on this they did not reply yet.
    I am concerned, don't want to be fooled by a nice video about the direct employees of the company hiding the conditions of their supplier's workers' conditions.
    Does anyone have more information about Osprey?
    Thank you very much
    Federico

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  • October 13, 2015 at 7:41 pm
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    Great article. Wondering if you have followed up since 2011? Curious to know if it has gotten better or worse with increased media attention to poor labor conditions in off shore apparel manufacturing? If you have any information, I would appreciate it.

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  • November 23, 2016 at 4:10 am
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    Hi All!

    Great discussion! Just a heads up that I maintain a growing list of U.S., Canadian and other western gear manufacturers that offers folks the opportunity to almost entirely avoid buying sweatshop goods. I have no affiliation with and nor do I realize any income or other personal benefit (other than a good feeling) from the hundreds of manufacturers that I highlight. Check out my facebook page* for more:

    https://www.facebook.com/Sweatshop-Free-Technical-Outdoor-and-Cycling-Gear-1474798352733265/

    * Click the “Notes” link that appears on the left side bar to access the various lists by product and country or follow the instructions detailed in the post that I keep pinned to the top of the “Posts” section.

    Thanks for posting about this crucially important issue!

    Reply
  • November 23, 2016 at 4:15 am
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    Forgot to sign up for follow-up comments….

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  • January 24, 2017 at 3:02 am
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    This was a really well researched article and I like you would rather support local companies for when it is possible? Sometimes it is very hard and I know that in Canada a lot of our apparel industry left for Asia when our Federal Government lifted the tariffs on clothing from pretty much all of Asia back in around 2002 0r 2003. We still have some well respected clothiers such as WESTCOMB and TILLEY but most of them either left or just gave up depending on their morals? We also had quite a reputable footwear industry but most of that also left for Asia or got bought up by evil large corporations like Columbia who owns the famous SOREL brand name.I think its high time that our country starts bringing back some protectionism because it seems like we are heading into being a Third World Country.
    All this ethical talk and Code of Conduct for these companies that outsource everything has absolutely NO credibility and his mostly a bunch of Bull S___! Thanks again for the excellent article.

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  • April 3, 2017 at 2:43 am
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    Great Post! Anyone know if any of the Czech brands like Pinguin outsource?

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  • April 3, 2017 at 2:47 am
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    Great post! Anyone know if any of the Czech brands like Pinguin are outsourced?

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  • May 13, 2017 at 8:55 pm
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    Warm hello from Finland. Great post. In Finland there is also great outdoors equipment manufacturer called Sasta. Sasta is not making anything in China. But in Finland and elsewhere in Europe.

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    • May 17, 2017 at 5:03 am
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      Actually, contrary to Marek’s assertion, Sasta no longer produces anything in Finland but instead relies solely on production in what some refer to as the “southeast-asia of Europe” – the Baltics.

      Reply
  • October 5, 2017 at 4:10 am
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    This is a wonderful article, I found it because I was offended that Fjallraven was selling a (handsome) Keb Loft Hoodie that is china made for 250 USD ! At first the price made me think that it must be well made in Sweden like Morakniv, Light My Fire and my Primus Micron so I considered purchasing it but almost couldnt believe it when I saw the COO. Thank you for exposing the truth about some companies decisions to move production as in some cases its still ethical and understandable. Cheers from California.

    Reply

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