Is the ‘Made In China’ Backlash Racist?

Feral Childe, a bi-coastal collaboration of Oakland, CA, based designer Alice Wu and Brooklynite Moriah Carlson, has sped to the forefront of sustainable design labels, most notably for their refreshing prints and inventive styling details. The brand’s following is comprised of all ages of women who want something unique for their closet and know these two designers will never let them down.

The duo is fortunate enough to be able to manufacture in New York City where Carlson is based – so why would they ever want to produce their line in China? Is the backlash so bad against the entire country that now it’s all Chinese we sneer at? Wu, of Chinese descent, and I recently had a conversation about whether it was insulting, all the negative connotations from the entire sustainable community regarding China.

Offshore manufacturing? That’s just something designers have to do. Many are doing it in China. The best way to look at all this and your feelings on China is to support the handful of designers who are manufacturing from China, the right way.

Alice Wu and Moriah Carlson, designers of Feral Childe

Here’s what Alice Wu had to say about it:

“Our company, Feral Childe, is proud to be able to manufacture our garments in New York City, and hope to do so for as long as we can. I prefer to manufacture in the US but am frequently dismayed that ‘Made in China’ has such negative connotations, especially within the green community. I think that before you dismiss manufacturing in China as completely unethical, you have to look at what ‘Made in China’ really means.

We have all read about worker abuse and fraudulent manufacturing practices, horrific pollution and so on. But these days, it’s almost impossible to have an apparel business without China being involved in some way, simply because we don’t have all of these options domestically. These overseas options can still be eco: many organic and sustainable fabrics are sourced from China, whether from the raw materials or to the milling of the fabric.

Hang tags and labels are often outsourced to China even if you order them from a US-based company. But those can be green too: at least one Chinese company uses non-toxic inks to print hang tags on recycled paper and garment labels made from recycled polyester. I know American eco-designers who have made the choice to produce in China. And they are in China up to six months out of the year, overseeing their production. They tell me that the working conditions are fair and that the sewing is quality top-notch.

Obviously, there are reputable suppliers and manufacturers in China – if we want to do business with China, we are the ones who have to do our homework and steer clear of the bad apples (and there are no doubt a bunch of them) and push China for greener business practices. China is fast and smart and it is in their best interest to clean up their negative image, and they are already working on it. I think we’ll start hearing an explosion of green innovations in China within the next few years. They know the world is watching. It’s going to take awhile for the negative image to go away, but there are a growing number of young Chinese entrepreneurs in various business sectors who care about green, and collectively they can make a difference at home and abroad.”

Amy DuFault

Amy DuFault is a conscious lifestyle writer, consultant and fashion instigator. She resides in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.