Nick and I are visiting all the factories that make products for us in China. This is my first time out here and Nick really has thrown me in at the deep end. No chauffeur driven cars from the airport to the factory for us, after landing in Hong Kong it was a 3 hour bus ride straight into southern China. I don't think anything can prepare you for this journey. Just the sheer amount of people is crazy, for the price of a Travel Lodge we stay in 5 star luxury and my biggest fear, the food, has so far been ok. A close encounter with fried chicken feet proved to be a mix up of table orders!
The first leg of the trip has taken us around the manufacturing areas close to Hong Kong. These towns are based around the Pearl Delta making it easy to ship goods to the International Container Ports in Hong Kong (a sight in itself). The skyline of these areas is filled with factory accommodation and office tower blocks. Occasionally you'll see paddy fields, fish farm lakes and duck farms between the high rise concrete towers. The roads though not as busy a UK rush hour are filled with small lorries, buses and container transporters. The terrain is level with hills jutting out here and there, normally with a Pergoda on top of it and ridges criss-cross the various river channels that run through the delta. I wasn't sure what I was going to see during our factory tours, I knew the ones that had been pre-planned would be clean and polished but we have also made a couple of unannounced visits and these were of a similar standard. Right now there is a labour shortage in this region so factories are having to pay more, provide better accommodation and facilities for workers. Some factories are paying bonuses to employees if they can encourage their friends and family to work in the same factory as themselves.
After a crazy few days travelling to see factories in Southern China we returned to Hong Kong for the weekend. Hong Kong is the most densely populated country on the planet and you know it! There are people everywhere, there are shops everywhere. If a shop or an office can be built somewhere.. it will be. Every now and again water will drip on you from the hundreds of air conditioning units that cover the outsides of the buildings. New projects begin to reach skyward covered in bamboo scaffolding whilst existing buildings light up the night with their displays of neon sign-age. Although Hong Kong is now owned by China it is a very different place. Today we are flying north, back into China, to some more factories that already manufacture for us as well as looking at some new production facilities for the future.
After some rather diplomatic persuasion the Hunka bivi bag and the new Woomf will be in a container leaving later this week bound for the UK. Both look good, although the colour of the Woomf is a little brighter than we thought. We have done some work on the Woomf strap and it looks a little more polished. A new batch of Apollo stuff bags should also be in the container and will come in a number of different colours. If all goes smoothly these should be in the Alpkit warehouse ready for sale around mid July.
By far the most enlightening visit was to our CarbonLite factory. I roughly understood the production process but seeing it in action is another thing entirely. I have some video of the different processes which I will post when I arrive back in the UK. If anyone can email the correct answer to "How is a trekking pole or golf club shaft painted?" a special prize will be in the post. We had a long meeting with the factory and discussed ways in which we could make the poles stronger and lighter. We spent some time looking at a possible four section pole to reduce the pack length and should see a sample shortly.
On the mat front we talked over some exciting new ideas. However much of the new development hinged on finding new materials and developing new manufacturing techniques so will be a while if at all before anything makes it through to production. Following comments made by customers and ideas we have been discussing we worked on some improvements to the Gourdon. If all goes well expect to see the improvements filter across the range late 2007 and early 2008. The great news is we think we may have found a suitable factory to begin sampling shell and soft shell garments for us, we'll just have to wait to see what comes out of the sample room door later this year.