Tag Archives: outsourcing

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Time to put Australian craft production back on the plate

Series of hand-thrown bowls by Andrew Widdis

Series of hand-thrown bowls by Andrew Widdis

Senator’s John Madigan and Nick Xenophon recently purchased a range of tableware made in Australia, by Robert Gordon Australia, for the Australian Parliament. “The situation is so dire that in order to get Australian-made goods into our Federal Parliament, Nick and I had to buy them ourselves.”[i] Though it may not be long before Robert Gordon Australia goes completely off shore “some now outsourced to China”[ii]

We fulfil large scale ceramics orders in Australia, at a somewhat competitive price, but we need to raise the Australian consumers attention to what they are buying to make this viable, the federal Government needs to support small business’ that have the ability, but not necessarily the finances to invest on a risky proposition in the current market.

As with Robert Gordon Australia, manufacturers of Australian ceramics don’t seem to survive long solely manufacturing in Australia, but they might find it a little easier if an educated market sought them out because they understood what it takes to make locally. Perhaps one of the easiest and most immediate ways would be in raising awareness and education of the “Australian Made”[iii] logo” by promotion from the various levels of government. This seems to be the easiest way to give some market share back (also removing the need to have a magnifying glass when shopping).

Recent manufacturers in Australia that should have been able to up-scale and compete with imports are perhaps: Elliot Golightly[iv] and Bison Home[v]. I worked for Elliot Golightly in Nth Melbourne; they were going well for a couple of years. They even had a big order from U.S.A. while I was there, but China started copying them and they slowly lost market share and ended up selling the main designs to a tile company in Ballarat. Unfortunately, I don’t think the tile company made much of it.

Bison Home was proudly hand made in Canberra. With orders from Australia’s big retailers, such as Myers, Bison Home have recently started sourcing from O/S, and I assume they make very little in Australia now, if any. Although Brian Tunks’ (owner of Bison Home) health is given as the main reason[vi], he should have had access to change his process in Australia.

So if these people tried to make solely in Australia and failed, it’s not likely that any other manufacturer is going to succeed in Australia. Only small studio/artist set-ups seem to be the go; usually because it is more a ‘lifestyle” than a financially viable proposition.

Anyone with enough money to buy the efficient equipment that would enable them to compete with Asia are more likely to take the safer option of investing that start-up money in importing the product. We simply don’t have a market that cares where a product is made, as long as it’s cheap, is the mentality here. So why take the risk. I’d love to manufacture a commercial range in Australia, and particularly in Regional Victoria (I live in Bendigo, where we have some history in tableware manufacture), but until I feel supported I’m not about to risk it (I started down the road of starting a commercial production, but soon realised it was going to be a losing proposition (I still have a 3 phase pot press if you want to give it a go)). I have no issue with importing generic white-ware from China, it has given everyone access to a cheap strong hygienic product, and it has given a higher income to many throughout Asia; it does not take market share from local studio potters.

With the devastation caused by the “financial crisis[vii] in U.S.A. and Europe; England and U.S.A. have taken steps to begin “reshoring”[viii]. In the U.S.A. American Mug & Stein Co.[ix] have been making the “Indivisible” mug for Starbucks, in Ohio, U.S.A.. It is seen as a sense of pride to support locally made product (you can visit the maker, you can see how it’s made and see the working conditions, etc. Perhaps it’s a logical progression of “slow food.”).

Labour costs are not necessarily an issue. Ceramics manufacture can be highly automated[x] using pot pressing[xi] rather than the conventional factory set up of slip-casting[xii], pot press methods can be completely automated (no need for a person to pour and remove the casting) and they are highly efficient at minimising waste, the clay trimmings are even automatically recycled with some of the latest equipment. With turnkey hand-over solutions available from German industry[xii] providing the latest automated machinery and conveyor belt systems for the ceramic industry. Pressing lines for clay pots/bowls/plates picked up and placed on conveyor belts to the next process step; but it’s a lot of money, and as I suggested, anyone with that money would see the safer option of having to only buy the end product from Asia.

Bendigo Pottery[xiii] continue to make a small quantity in Australia, but its days may be numbered. Last year a quarter of the factory space was turned into an antique stall holders set-up. If that ‘ain’t the writing on the wall…

I have a set of flat plates that have been in service for over 20 years, manufactured in Australia by “Australian Fine China”[xiv]; unfortunately they are now sourced from South East Asia. Previously known as “Bristile crockery” they manufactured vitrified white crockery (made in Western Australia), and often ‘badged’ for Government Departments and other institutions.[xv] So the Australian Parliament did once have more than enough Australian made crockery.

In England the traditional pottery area of Stoke on Trent is a prime example of how a once devastated industry can be turned around, indeed flourish, against the once perceived unbeatable Asia, home of cheap ceramics production. An example of a successful manufacturer in a “high wage country” is Dudson[xvi] using efficient equipment and best work practices including promoting environmental and carbon awareness along with showing pride in a local product by labelling with “Made in England” and having the British Standard 4034 Kitemark for assurance of quality[xvii]. Along with a supportive ethic for local manufacture “Our leading production facilities in Stoke-on-Trent embody a strong commitment to England, sourcing locally wherever possible and nurturing local skills and expertise”[xviii]. Dudson has found strong support from the likes of “Avril Gayne, Hospitality Services and Control Manager at the Eden Project[xix], commented, “It’s not just the origins of our food and the impact on the environment that we are passionate about. What excites us about Evolution” (Dudson’ ceramic hospitality tableware) “is the fact that, like our menus, ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible, supporting the community and keeping carbon production to a minimum.””[xx]

I’m sure we can make a viable “green” tableware product in Australia. The Dudson “Evolution” range is available in Australia; and it seems to be a price that local cafe’ happily pay. I recently had lunch with family members at a new (small) cafe in Surrey Hills (Cocco Latte, 111-113 Union Road, Surrey Hills, VIC. 3127) My Mother commented on the interesting tableware, so I picked a plate up to look at the base (to see who made it), I was surprised/impressed that it said “Dudson” “Made in England”. So if we’re buying a “green” product, but reloading it with carbon by shipping it from further away than Asia; why are we unable to find a way to make a similar product here? An Australian distributor of Dudson proclaims “Evolution has been developed with the prime objective of reducing the carbon footprint created during manufacture”[xxi]

There are many good reasons to start manufacturing ceramics in Australia. Firstly the issue of inefficiencies in getting it here from overseas; energy wasted in trucking/shipping/trucking to your local High Street.

We have all the natural minerals required for the finest porcelains here in Australia, and relevant to me we have them all here in Victoria. Natural gas (we ship it to Asia) etc. Porcelain is made of mainly Kaolin[xxii], with some silica[xxiii] and then feldspar[xxiv] to bring the vitrification point down to a commercially viable temperature (1280°C). I’ve formulated my own porcelain[xxv] and glazes[xxvi] over many years, and I’ve made pure white porcelain from Australian minerals, though I don’t usually use the purest kaolin it can be sourced from a Victorian quarry; the whitest export grade kaolin (mined near Ballarat) is used mainly for coating glossy magazines. It is somewhat upsetting to a potter that these pure white kaolins are not used for a more lasting product.

With the latest equipment from industrially savvy counties like Germany, and making fine white porcelain tableware locally we can value add to our own resources, while at the same time reducing carbon.

Even more efficient equipment than pot press’ are now available. Isostatic press'[xxvi] a technology that requires minimal water in the clay, no hydraulics to ram the die down and no 3 phase motors to spin the dies during compression. This is another massive saving in energy resources.

As well as putting solar panels on roofs and vast arrays in the deserts and clearing bush to make solar parks[xxvii]; putting turbines wherever there’s no danger posed to budgies, why aren’t we also investing in efficient manufacture that use our local resources. Instead of throwing millions of dollars[xxviii] at American cars that guzzle resources, can’t we send some to a production that vitrifies it.

Notes

i http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/senators-john-madigan-and-nick-xenophon-splash-out-to-support-australian-crockery-makers/story-fni0fit3-1226699535669

ii http://www.australianpotteryatbemboka.com.au/shop/index.php?manufacturers_id=267

iii http://www.australianmade.com.au/

iv http://www.elliotgolightly.com

v http://www.bisonhome.com

vi http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/homestyle/new-life-of-brian-20121127-2a5hh.html

vii http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_crisis

viii http://www.forbes.com/sites/mitchfree/2012/06/27/is-the-re-shoring-of-manufacturing-a-trend-or-a-trickle/

ix http://americanmugandstein.com

x http://www.designboom.com/design/laufen-factory-visit-ceramic-casting

xi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlXwoqqwC-I

xii http://www.dudson.com/products/finest-vitrified-tableware

xiii http://www.bendigopottery.com.au

xiv http://store.australianfinechina.com.au/category/list/#/Content/?id=212

xv http://www.wembleyware.org/history-of-the-factory

xvi http://www.dudson.com

xvii http://www.dudson.com/products/finest-vitrified-tableware

xviii http://www.dudson.com/company/manufacturing

xix www.edenproject.com

xx http://www.dudson.com/news/product-news/evolution—the-story-continues-

xxi http://www.southernhospitality.com.au/brands/dudson/dudson-evolution-oval-bowl-pearl-216mm.html

xxii http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/earth-resources/minerals/industrial-minerals/a-z-of-industrial-minerals/kaolin

xxiii http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/earth-resources/stone-sand-and-clay/silica

xxiv http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/earth-resources/minerals/industrial-minerals/a-z-of-industrial-minerals/feldspar

xxv http://www.andrewwiddis.com

xxvi http://www.andrewwiddis.blogspot.com

xxvii http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Australia

xxviii http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/election-2013/kevin-rudds-500m-boost-for-car-industry/story-fn9qr68y-1226698798673

Some further reading:

Reshoring manufacturing jobs in spotlight at Northern California summit
By John Guenther
http://www.caeconomy.org/reporting/entry/reshoring-manufacturing-jobs-in-spotlight-of-northern-california-summit

‘Half chips, half rice’ approach to reshoring
By Andrew Bounds
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/16ef404e-8b42-11e2-b1a4-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2d2togVAE

US manufacturing and the troubled promise of reshoring
By Mubin S Khan
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/jul/24/us-manufacturing-troubled-promise-reshoring

New Tax Protects Britain Against Cheap Chinese Imports
http://www.dudson.com/news/company-news/new-tax-protects-britian-against-cheap-chinese-imports

No such thing as a free football–we need to defend ‘made in India’

Headline from the Age newspaper in Grand Final week

Headline from the Age newspaper in Grand Final week

The iconic Australian football manufacturer Sherrin has been forced to withdraw its half a million footballs, after it was discovered they were sewn by poor children in India.

With maximal impact, the scandal broke in Fairfax media at the beginning of Grand Final weekend. Despite safeguards and standards of corporate social responsibility, it was revealed that children in the slums of Jalandhar in the Punjab are paid as little as 12 cents an hour. At the same time, they experience damaging side effects including septic fingers, allergies and back problems. More importantly, they also lose the opportunity to gain an education and escape poverty.

The follow up story at the beginning of the week reported that a young boy Dylan Ferlano had found a needle in an Auskick football. This prompted Sherrin CEO Chris Lambert to withdraw all the footballs to the coast of $1 million.

From a global perspective it’s a salutary tale. Footy is one of our most sacred institutions. The oval ball is an object around which we celebrate noble Aussie virtues of mateship, guts and reconciliation. Yet even here, the snaking supply chain of globalisation finds its way in, taking away our otherwise innocent enjoyment. In this case, it literally pricks out conscience. It’s similar to the scandal associated with worker suicides at the Foxconn factories that produce the iPhone.

This is not a new story. The tale reinforces the colonial perspective on the Third world that was so masterfully captured in Joseph Conrad’s depiction of Congo’s rubber plantations in Heart of Darkness—‘the horror, the horror.’ The immediate response is to cease supporting the operation and hope it closes down. Bit the Sherrin football scandal has the potential to taint other products made in India by association.

Without diminishing the shame of child labour, the Sherrin scandal does reveal the strength of craft skill in contemporary India. While we might see it as drudgery, there are at least 20 million Indian adults who take pride in their capacity to made beautiful objects by hand. The techniques of block-printing, hand-weaving and natural dyes are becoming increasingly rare and sought after.

Artisans of Fashion display in Strand Arcade, Sydney

Artisans of Fashion display in Strand Arcade, Sydney

At the same time that ‘made in India’ is vilified in Melbourne, it is being celebrated in Sydney. From late winter, the Artisans of Fashion program has been promoting the craft skills of India. Australia’s top fashion designers feature in parades and exhibitions centred in the city’s Strand Arcade. Billboards around Sydney featuring waif like models set against a backdrop of vibrant colourful India.

Far from demonising hand production, the key aim of Artisans of Fashion is to help it survive. According to its founder Carline Poiner , ‘Once a generation stops using a particular technique, it is lost.’

Increasingly, Australian designers are going to India to take advantage of these skills. And it’s more about quality than profit margin. In the case of that other iconic sport, the Melbourne design Simone Le Amon has made a career out of partnership with an Indian cricket ball manufacturer, who provides offcuts for her ‘A good sport’ bracelets.

Set in Sydney’s design precinct of Surry Hills, Planet is one of the many upmarket outlets which is increasing amount of product that is made in India. For owner Ross Longmuir, making things for others is a long-standing practice in India, ‘Traditional hand craft skills in India go back centuries for export production and are spectacularly good’. Longmuir is even planning to set up a second home in India to focus more on local production.

Rather than pull out of India, Longmuir recommends that Sherrin set up education subsidies for female children in these communities. ‘And for this not to be a token move, I would suggest that Sheridan executives should visit India and get involved directly with this project and that there should be a follow up of results.’

For many Australians, involvement in India is not just a matter of getting stuff made cheaply. They have an interest in long-term benefits. Designer Carole Douglas helped in the reconstruction of Ahmedabad after the earthquake. Funds from Artisans of Fashion go to towards supporting an orphanage in Jaipur.

We’ve become increasingly dependent on the skills of people from countries like India. They make our clothes, build our gadgets, answer our telephones, administer our finances and code our software. Returning footballs, even in such quantity, is not going to stem our increasing dependence on the work of others.

Certainly, it is important to develop strong codes of practice and workable auditing procedures. But in the end, it will come down to the consumer to accept that we have to pay more for what we use. There’s no such thing as a free football.

The Visible Hand: What Made in India means today

You are invited to a discussion about Australia-India partnerships in craft and design.

Thursday 21 July 6-7:30pm
Yasuko Hiraoka Myer Room, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, University of Melbourne

Speakers include Ritu Sethi (Director, Craft Revival Trust), Chris Godsell (architect with Peddel Thorp), Sara Thorn (fashion designer) and Soumitri Varadarajan (Industrial Design, RMIT)

This is a State of Design event presented by Sangam – the Australia India Design Platform, a program of the Ethical Design Laboratory at RMIT Centre for Design, in partnership with Australia India Institute, Australia Council, City of Melbourne, Asialink and Craft Victoria.

India is both one of the world’s leading economies and a treasury of cultural traditions. While in the past, many craftspeople and artists have travelled to India for creative inspiration, today new partnerships are emerging in design. Architects, fashion designers and industrial designers are finding new opportunities in the demand for skills both inside and outside India. In particular, India has an enormous capacity of craft skill that is lacking in the West. As India gears up for increased export activity, how will the ‘Made in India’ brand compare to ‘Made in China’? What are ways of local designers to add ethical value to their products through partnership with India? How can cultural differences between Australia and India be negotiated to enable productive partnerships?

Design can play an important role in building partnerships in our region. Globalisation is now extending beyond the large-scale factories of southern China to include smaller village workshops in south Asia. This offers many opportunities for designers to create product that carries symbolic meaning. But to design product that is made in villages requires an understanding of their needs and concerns.

This event is about design practice that moves between Australia and India. It is looking at how the stories of production can travel across the supply chain from village to urban boutique.

This seminar is part of Sangam – the Australia India Design Platform, a series of forums and workshops over three years in Australia and India with the aim of creating a shared understanding for creative partnerships in product development.

RSVP by 15 July to rsvp@sangamproject.net. Inquiries info@sangamproject.net.

Sangam – the Australia India Design Platform, is managed by the Ethical Design Laboratory, a research area of RMIT Centre for Design, including researchers from Australian Catholic University, University of Melbourne and University of New South Wales. It is supported by the Australia Council as a strategic initiative of the Visual Arts Board and the Australia India Institute. Partners in Australia include Australian Craft & Design Centres including Craft Australia, Arts Law and National Association of the Visual Arts. Partners in India include Craft Revival Trust, National Institute for Design, the National Institute of Fashion Technology and Jindal Global University. This platform is associated with the World Craft Council and the ICOGRADA through Indigo, the indigenous design network.

Photo of Kolkata flower market by Sandra Bowkett