From China with Love
Made in China. Many of the clothes in our wardrobes have these words imprinted on the inside labels. It is nothing new that many of the clothes sold by commercial retailers are made in China. Production costs in China are very low, a fact which has been the subject of many investigations. By the time we buy these clothes, importing and branding have added a huge mark-up in the cost. This means wearing the latest trends is reserved only for those who can afford to splurge of on the threads. Or does it?
With the borders of China threatening to burst at the seams and many still living well below the breadline despite a rapidly growing economy, some merchants have decided to export not just the products made there but themselves as well. By settling in South Africa to open shops for the sale of products made in China, they have cut out the middle man; the retailer. The presence of these eastern traders has seen commercial spaces turn red and yellow as China Cities’ and Malls turn up in all corners of the country. Following the strengthening of ties between the two countries, seeing China become South Africa’s number 1 trade partner, it is no wonder there is an influx Chinese trade. Some have argued though, that this relationship is unilateral, with a majority of the benefits going east.
The man on the street is not complaining though. Chinese traders have set up shop and home in South Africa, buying direct from the manufacturer and importing for sale at their own stores meaning these products bypass many of the process that add cost and thus pass the saving on to the consumer. In Durban, it is not uncommon to see a shipping container right in the middle of town off loading goods directly into the shop where they will be sold. Despite the crackdown by customs, Chinese shops continue to creep up all over.
Offering a wide selection of clothes, bags, shoes and other miscellaneous items. The choice is sometimes wider than that offered by mainstream retailers. Considering the cheaper prices, it is not surprising that consumers flock to Chinese shops to get a look that is similar if not exactly like what you would find at a corporate retailer. Wearing the latest vogue fashion is no longer limited to those of high socio- economic status.
There are, of course, low cost alternatives in the corporate retail world but they do not come close to the variety found in Chinese shops. Take Louis Vitton for instance. This brand prides itself in exclusivity which, amongst other things, is assured by the exorbitant price of its products. Only a select few can either afford or are willing to spend so much for the products they have to offer; luggage and bags being their signature pieces. It would not be classist to say seeing a Louis Vitton bag carried by a taxi passenger or a student is a varsity. Or at least it was.
From these shops one can dress in Louis Vitton from head to toe and still have enough money left over to take a taxi home. No longer is the LV brand reserved for those who have pockets as deep as Makhosi Khoza’s voice. In fact the Chinese retail industry has long been marred with hushed utterance questioning the authenticity of especially the name branded products. Senyaka gave these whispers a voice in his song Fong Kong in the 90’s, forever encoding the term and connotation, that Chinese sell fake items, in the minds of South Africans.
Besides the concern about items being knock offs, there is also the worry about the quality of these items. Perhaps this is just an assumption that price is a direct testimony to the quality of a product that some people presume that these products are of sub-standard quality. Some swear that this is not a mere presumption but a proven fact, at least in their experience. They have had to sew, stick and fasten their Chinese summer dresses, shoes and bags to patch them up when they come apart after being worn just a few times.
The individual style of the wearer enhances this look for less and there is no telling whether it’s fake or of inferior quality or not. With people always looking for a bargain, the future of Chinese merchants looks vely blight.