The Story of Two Chinese Women (1)

It is a story of two Chinese women in Shenzhen. Or you may think it is about the city of Shenzhen.

It is thought that there is always a type of women who seem to get what they want more easily than others. CoCo is considered one of them. She is always talked about, gossiped or admired with jealousy. Sometimes she cannot accept any imperfection, and would like to get use of technology to make herself look prettier, by Photoshop or plastic surgery. She is active on social media: sharing her various bags, shoes, dinner with good friends, with a lot of likes and attention from the internet. People follow her fashion style of the clothing and jewelry, and therefore, she started her own fashion studio with the advent of e-commerce . Shenzhen is a city with the best climate nationwide for the start-ups, and the local government has invested substantial resources in capital, talents, supply chain. With unique and flexible strengths, Shenzhen is the place where CoCo firstly built up her business.

CoCo exactly falls into what people define “web celebrity”. However, beyond the surface she is one of the women who redefine the role of beauty — a new type productivity for the economies.

At the other side of Shenzhen, Fanny is a typical example of another different style. She left the mountain where she used to grow up and live, and started her life in the urban area to find more opportunities. Working in the assembling lines where there is endless repetition and boredom, she has learned how to face the unfair judgment from the society, such as “ the boss only promotes those who are pretty”, “ why we are living in a society that favours male heirs”…

Fanny is one of whom people call “ female working immigrants”, and there are many similar women who constitute the largest group of labor force in Chinese manufacturing industry.

Apparently, in the same city, Shenzhen, CoCo and Fanny start their lives in such a different way, so as how they end. Though there is little relevance, Chinese e-commerce builds a strong connection between them. They are working together in building a new world — a beautiful world estimated worth billions. They show different sides of women: honesty or pretension, fantasy or mirage, struggle or fall. And we are witness in this new chapter.

Chinese Black Friday

17 November, 2016

It was already 6 days after Bachelor’s Day — “Chinese Black Friday”. It is a day set by Taobao/Tmall annually( Alibaba branches, C2C and B2C respectively), the biggest e-commerce platform in China. The transaction in total on this day in 2015 was 123 billion RMB, about 20 billion USD.

Shenzhen, as a city with the fastest increasing rate gross annual value in textile industry, has competitive supply chain resources, to support international and local fashion brands. In Longgang District, there are around 100 different factories.

Fanny, 49-year-old, works in one of these factories. She has to handle the post-work of a new style jacket, from picking a jacket from the stack, laying on the operating desk, sewing the pocket, fixing the zip, checking each layer, cleaning up the sleeves, flatten the collar, double-checking the size number. These 7 procedures, need to be done by workers like Fanny less than 2 minutes.

She handled 400 pieces on that single day. During the week after the crazy national shopping day, Fanny had to work for 13 hours every day to catch up with the manufacturing plan and order fulfillment. Sometimes even 2 hours extra if there was some emergency. After she finished this 7 procedures, Fanny put all the jackets in a well-organized way into a big plastic bag to the next group — Quality Control, Packaging, Logistics and Shipment. After all the work, 5 white 9.6-meter-long trucks would arrive at the manufacturing building, each with around 30,000 packaging boxes, ready for the next-day shipment to other cities in China.

Suddenly, it was pouring outside. It is surprising to see this heavy rain even in November. But that is true in Shenzhen. Shenzhen is a lovely city, yet with an annoying character, especially in weather. The summer lasts too long, from April to November. Extremely hot, humid and unpredictable changes between being sunny and stormy.

A leaking roof made this 1000-square-meter factory filled with the damp and musty smell. But the endless noise from the sewing machine made it even more irritable. But Fanny felt content to her current job regardless of the surrounding. She generally works 10 hours every day, and the commission is ¥0.30 (<$0.05) per piece which takes her 2 minutes to finish, so she can finish 300 piece every day, i.e. she can earn ¥90(< $15) per day. With her base salary ¥1700(<$170) , she can get almost ¥4500(<$750) every month.

10 Years In Shenzhen

Fanny has worked in the manufacturing center for more than 9 years. When she left her hometown, she firmly believed that as long as she works hard, all her efforts can be paid. She had an ambitious plan when she was looking for a job in Shenzhen -After working for some years in the big city when she could learn some skills and earn enough money, she would go back to her hometown and set up her own factory. She was never absent from her work, and sometimes her colleagues teased her that she even walked faster than others when taking a break to meals or bathroom. But later Fanny found most of the women in the factory shared the same ambition. But none of them ended up as imagined. It does not make a big difference no matter it is your 1st day or 10th year work here, maybe just in the speed how fast you handle the jacket. Having worked for almost 10 years, Fanny was promoted to a team leader of 30 workers, and her base salary is 1000RMB (About $150)more than others. “Is this all what I get? For the perseverance all the years? Is this just the gap between those who work hard and those who do not?” Fanny sometimes feel lost about the vague possibility to obtain a bigger move in her career. But still, Fanny is strict with her work, each jacket, and even each needle.

She lives in the dormitory provided by the factory. As a team leader, she can have her own room with a bath room, 15 quare meters. Her husband, a worker in another factory, lives with her in this room as well, so they can save the rent, which is also the reason that she stays in the factory. The building is really old, and there is no restoration since Fanny came to the factory. There are cracks, bulges, crumbling pointing and damp patches on the wall of the room, with cables exposed from the wall cracks.

This factory Fanny is working in is a small manufacturing center for a local fashion studio. Only on the Chinese Black Friday, this studio received over 120,000 tractions, approximately 20 million RMB, over 3 million USD. Inside the factory, a mixture smell of cartons and “fresh” jackets filled the whole room. Thousands of blue plastic boxes stood in row, and there was barely space left. Workers and the delivery men walked back and forth.

Sometimes a pretty young woman comes to Fanny’s factory, with an exquisite make-up on her glowing face, and the noise from her high heels with the overwhelming confidence. Everybody here calls her CoCo.

“The other girls said this woman is the boss”

“People say that she started her business on TaoBao, and now makes 2 million RMB a year!”

“Oh, I heard the conversation between the factory manager and the factory owner that now is the economy winter, and many factories are shut down. But CoCo’s business is stable and our factory is doing okay so far.” “Yeah, as long as her TaoBao shop sells well, we can keep our job”

The girls are always talking about this beautiful woman every time when she comes to check the manufacturing progress. Fanny asked them to stop the gossip and concentrate on work: “Some people are just born to have a bright future. We can’t change what we have. Learn to be happy about what we have right now”. The girls were silent and got busy with their work again.

Where are we heading?

With so many jackets handled by herself, Fanny got curious and confused often, “ I never see someone on the street wearing this in the city. What are these jackets sold on earth?” The manager told her that these clothes are shipped to different countries, with different labels, and it is difficult to find the source and know about where they are sold and whom they are sold. Also it is an unwritten rule that workers cannot ask where the clothes are shipped and sold. But the information is seldom told because the boss is worried about the customer information would be shared to other factories.

25 November, 2016.

Fanny and her team finished the work for Chinese Black Friday sales. It was said that this jacket was sold on Taobao around 800RMB(around $130). Fanny wanted to buy a jacket from the factory for her daughter, and the manager said the materials were purchased in accordance with the orders. At last, there was not a piece left. Fanny felt frustrated, because her hard work seemed not to deserve the qualification to buy a jacket made by her.

The next day, Fanny searched on Taobao for the jacket that her factory made. When she typed #black #jacket #hot-sale, there were pages of jackets that looked similar to the one made by her. But the jackets were shown on different models, with different poses, varying from 200RMB to 900RMB. She searched for 2 days and still could not confirm which one was made out of her, but she felt excited that the sales volume of each one was over 200.

“Good to know the jacket is popular.” Fanny thought.

The long summer would be gone soon. During the coming economic winter, Fanny and her factory still holds hope.

(To be continued)