Thursday, 11 December 2014

Ding Dong Decorations

These straw decorations were on sale in Lidl recently for 2.99€ the box, but it didn't say where they came from, just that there were 56 pieces  made of natural straw in the box and that 'these are not toys!' So it gave me an excuse to do a bit of online research.

Trying to fish out some truths from an ocean of disinformation is usually the big challenge with online research. However  anything to do with basketry manufacture is  generally quite  straight forward because the answer, 90% of the time, is China. But, I was taught, when doing research for my doctorate, that you must assume nothing and never state as fact anything you cannot back up with evidence, which in academic research terms,  usually takes the form of a published statement of the fact.

So, my  first task, using the information provided on the box, was to check out the name of the brand  'Melinera' and as with most of the 'brand' names in Lidl stores, it turns out that Melinera is just a trademark created by Lidl in 2012 to market a particular type of product. In this case mainly lighting and decorative items including Christmas lights and decorations.

So, the next  search was for images of  'straw christmas decorations'  and this turned up loads of photos of almost identical boxes,  but being sold under lots of different brand names and by lots of companies, at widely varying prices. Some are being marketed as 'Scandinavian Straw Decorations' but everybody knows that 56 straw stars made by anyone in Scandinavia is going to cost way more than 2.99€, so it refers only to the Scandinavian  tradition of straw Christmas decorations, rather than the place of manufacture. But, could they be trying to persuade some unsuspecting buyer that it means the latter ? Wouldn't it be more honest to say Scandinavian Style Straw Decorations?

Having seen that the same boxes were  being retailed  by lots of different companies  I now knew that the manufacturer  sells the product wholesale, probably at trade fairs. Next search was for  'manufacturers of straw decorations' (which in retrospect I could have started my search with, but it only took  me a couple of minutes to get this far!).  Very quickly you find yourself at the inscrutable face of Chinese manufacturing where few companies have web sites but are listed on a thousand trade directories that appear to be run by the various regional governments or councils.
It doesn't take more than five minutes however to establish that the biggest and most active company (in terms of international trade fairs)  in this field is Dong Guang County LIZE Handicraft CO.,LTD.and the fact they show at the Frankfurt gift fair makes me almost certain  they are the ones selling  these decorations to Lidl which is, of course, a German company.

Here, in what reads  like a Google translation, is Dong Guang County LIZE Handicraft CO.,LTDs  own description of what they do.....!

"The main production straw ornaments, the willow product, the product has more than 10000 series several thousand varieties, the modelling is novel, the weaving is fine, the dependable quality, actually the interior decoration, the holiday thing, above the etiquette contact rides the high quality goods. The company is equipped with the artistic exhibit room and has the specialty foreign trade personnel to attend the Guangzhou Export and Import Fair and the Frankfurt fair. The company has the consummation management system, and may act according to different national the standard production to suit the different market the product. "

I love this bit...  'actually the interior decoration, the holiday thing, above the etiquette contact ' ....quoi????  and this isn't bad either...  'the consummation management system' ... the mind boggles!!

Many of the Chinese trade directory listings don't have photos but does, so a quick scroll through the pages and there we find what looks a lot like the Lidl box. Lidl are selling the box of decorations for 2.99€ so it is highly unlikely that they have paid more than 1€ for the box. It will take a highly skilled straw craftsman/woman at least 5 minutes to make one of the 5 plait rings or bells in the Lidl box. I don't know what the people who make these things get paid but I don't imagine it is anything like as much, percentage wise, as the middle men and women who are marketing what's new?

 My search started because it did not say on the box where the decorations were made and this is the case with most of the basketry that is imported into Europe. How can we make an informed choice about whether we want to buy something that has been shipped half way around the world if we don't have that information? Until we demand that legislation  the most obvious option left to us is not to buy any basketry that does not state clearly where it has been made.