In Shanghai to check on the first shipment to leave the new factory

In Shanghai to check on the first shipment to leave the new factory

My latest trip to China started with a quick catch up with our production manager, Michael, over dinner last Wednesday evening after checking into my hotel here in Shanghai. We met again the next morning to head out to the factory on the outskirts of the city that produces our Chinese Classical furniture. At the end of last year our production unit here moved to a new location, not far from the previous facility but with bigger and better premises. This was the first chance I’d had to see the new site and I was pleased to see that everything seemed to have settled in very quickly.

The factory move took more than a full week to complete, and included moving the workers’ own personal possessions as well as machinery and materials. The vast majority of carpenters and other staff (including cooks and cleaners) live on site, returning to their home provinces sometimes hundreds of miles away for Chinese New Year and other public holidays. A move like this therefore provides even more of a logistical challenge than it would do in the UK.

A few months after the move (and after the long New Year holiday), the new factory is very much up and running. With just one or two exceptions all of the workers from the previous factory made the move, so the skill base and experience in making Shimu furniture has been maintained.

I had timed this visit to Shanghai so that I could inspect the pieces that are to be included on our next container, due to be loaded on Wednesday this week and shipped a few days later. Most of these pieces were already finished, other than the final hardware being added and last minute checks. As always we have several ‘made to order’ items due to ship out on this container. These pieces were all finished to the woodwork stage so that I could make final checks myself on the designs, and discuss the finish to be applied where this was not standard.

  Hand painting a Shanxi Butterfly Screen Polishing a Ming Carved Screen Applying an undercoat to Yoke-Back Side Chairs
Carved Coffee Table at the woodwork stage Smoothing the rattan panel on a Carved Coffee Table Sanding the lattice shelf on a Carved Coffee Table

It was great to be involved at first hand at this stage of the production process, a chance I rarely get as I am normally in the UK relying on photos and communication from the staff here in Shanghai. Along with Michael and the head of the ‘lacquering’ staff I was able to make specific tweaks to a lacquer, adding small amounts of yellow, red and black to the original grey colour the factory had produced. The objective was to achieve a particular colour (Farrow & Ball ‘Mole’s Breath to be exact), that one of our interior design customers has specified for a client’s TV cabinet. After forty minutes or so of repeatedly mixing lacquers, loading into a spray gun and applying the colour to a wood sample, we had managed to reach something very close to the paint sample provided by the designer. Allowing for the fact that a last polish and layer of varnish will darken the final colour slightly, we should be able to get an almost exact match.

It was great to see the various stages of the production process – everything from the woodwork completion to sanding, sealing, polishing, all the various stages of lacquering and finishing, right through to adding the brass hardware and final touches. By the time this blog post is published everything will be finished, checked and packed ready for loading in a day or two.

I spent the next couple of days checking out some new designs and a huge array of accessories with Michael and other staff. The factory here provides furniture for the internal Chinese market as well as for Shimu, and as a fairly recent venture the owners have launched a new brand together with an interior designer to offer a broader selection of products for the home, with showrooms being set up in Shanghai and other major cities around China. Over the coming months and years we plan to offer many of these products as part of the Shimu range in the UK and Europe, so look out for the new collections of lamps, ornaments, wall art and other home décor later this year.

More to follow soon as I head to Beijing to catch up with our suppliers there and to source Chinese antiques for our next container.

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