Our trip to China: Part 2
Joel Hanna, Co-founder, big little brush
We’re at the end of our second day in Ningbo and couldn’t be more stoked!
This morning we drove about about an hour south of Ningbo to an area called Ninghai, which is a relatively large manufacturing district. Loads of beautiful, foggy scenery along the way and quite an interesting drive.
Along the way Andrew, Jacky and I talked about normal conditions for workers in China and determined what would be considered a living wage. We also talked about how low the cost of living is in China, but also the strange dichotomy of how expensive it is to buy property in Ningbo (sounds just like Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland!). We now kind of know first hand that it’s cheap to live well and safely in Ningbo.
I didn’t know what to expect as we arrived at the factory where our toothbrushes are going to be manufactured. If I’m being completely honest, I was feeling a reasonable degree of anxiety. Not at all about meeting the team from the factory, we’d been talking on the phone, email and whatsapp for weeks now and we already knew they were legends!
I was nervous about what we’d find behind those factory doors. Our entire method for generating impact dollars at the moment, relies on a single product that’s manufactured ethically and sustainably.
So, if we’d found that our human or sustainable values were compromised, we’d either need to find another supplier or we’d be looking at a long term project of improving the conditions in the factory etc.
Neither one of those options were my first preference! The good news: things are all great in Ninghai.
We jumped out of the car and were met, pretty much as our feet hit the ground by Betty and Amy, our account managers. They’re awesome! They were so proud to show us their work place. They lead us up three flights of stairs, past a really pretty succulent garden and through the doors of the factory. Braced for the worst (we’d seen some pretty, ahh, rugged facilities the day before) what we found was a well ordered, highly functional bamboo toothbrush factory. Amy and Betty both bounded through the door of the office which doubles as their display area and welcomed us with some Chinese tea.
We talked for a while about what we were hoping achieve on our visit, looked at a whole stack of sample options and discussed terms of purchase etc. They then took us out on to the factory floor, and showed us the production process in reverse. Firstly looking at where the toothbrushes are packed, lots of laughs between the workers who were packing the orders for the day, I’m still not sure if it was Andrew’s beard or my really poor attempt at asking them how they were in Chinese.
Then we checked out where the brushes have their relevant brand laser cut into them, then the bristling machine (which was really verrrry cool). From there we went upstairs to the paint room which was between coats. We were stoked to see good extraction and waste management working up there (although our brushes probably won’t be painted so we can maximise their ability to breakdown quickly) and lastly onto the cutting floor which was noisy, busy, productive and crazy interesting. There’s something pretty compelling about watching skilled workers doing their thing.
Way cool, way interesting and very much settled any concerns Andrew and I had about the manufacturing process. It’s not the same as if you had your brushes made in Melbourne, but still safe and as far as we can work out, fair. Human and sustainable.
We finished up our factory visit by talking about next steps and our packaging options. Once we’d gathered up our samples (including my new, badass bamboo sunglasses) Amy and Betty grabbed the factory manager and took Andrew, Jacky and I out to lunch at a traditional seafood restaurant, a favourite with the workers at the factory. It’s customary to let your hosts spoil you in China, with which we happily obliged. We ate some sea snails, chicken’s feet and a bunch of other great Chinese foods, drank a couple of Daliangshan Beers (which is brewed about 500m from where we had lunch). Was excellent.
After lunch we jumped back in our cars and Amy, Betty and the factory manager (or Big Boss as Amy and Betty affectionately call him) led the way to an incredible look out that looks back towards Ninghai, across the freshwater fish farms.
It was amazing, we felt very welcomed and I think developed a high degree of trust with our suppliers.
So, the next fun thing to do is to choose a few design options for our (and your) toothbrushes, work out which one feels and looks the best, and which one is going give us the maximum dollars to contribute to projects moving forward.