Twice yearly we visit our incredible shoe factory, located two hours outside of Shenzen in China. It’s always a whirlwind visit where we source fabrics for new collections, manage the production of our latest range, and nurture our unique relationship with factory owner Paul and his small team of incredible talents.
We’d like to invite you on our most recent trip, where we QC'd our high summer collection and began development work on Winter 2016. Step behind the scenes with us and discover how each pair of Radical Yes shoes are imagined and made.
Words - As told by Radical Yes Brand Director Kerryn Moscicki to Yes! Journal Features Editor, Hayley McKee
Welcome to Shenzen
Shenzhen is a modern city because of its close proximity to Hong Kong. Our maker is located around two hours outside of Shenzhen and it becomes progressively more rural as you travel further out.
Our maker and his family have been in the footwear business for over 40 years. His dad first began in the industry and Paul followed in his footsteps. Paul wanted to make his own mark, so he set up his business to specialise in fashion shoes, still leaning heavily on his Dad’s experience and networks.
We have an extraordinarily unique relationship with Paul. He is perhaps the most positive man in China and has an unfailing belief in Radical Yes. Over the years he’s become more like a business mentor, helping us overcome many of the usual challenges that small creative businesses face. Speaking honestly, Radical Yes would not exist if it weren’t for his support.
We also have a great friendship with our pattern maker master who doesn’t speak a word of English, yet understands every nuance and detail of how we want things fixed or changed.
Since our first collaboration, I would have visited our maker more than fifteen times. Because we visit the factory ourselves we are in the unique position of being able to witness the facilities and ethical working conditions firsthand. Paul is a supplier to a number of top-end UK brands, so his factory is also reviewed and audited annually by the BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative). We’re proud to utilise his incredible skills and commitment to ethical manufacturing.
I visit the shoe making facilities at least twice a year, and our visits are normally fairly short, around five days long. We start the trip with a day at the factory doing quality control checks and inspecting production.
Even though I’ve been developing shoes for a long time, I still learn something new in terms of the technical aspect of how things are done. Our pattern makers and technicians are very clever people and I always look forward to working with them.
On the very first day we also take a long break for lunch, to catch up with our maker and his family who have become more like personal friends to me. Beef noodle soup with a side of fried broccoli and bok choy, is my go-to lunch and dinner.
Day two we make the journey up to Guangzhou, about 2 hours north of Shenzhen, to select materials at the markets. This is always a massive day but definitely the most inspiring, because it’s where we go to build new palettes for our ranges.
The Guangzhou market is a visual overload – you’ll see men carrying 30 rolls of fabric precariously balanced on each shoulder, and loads of people rushing everywhere with material swatches in their hands.
There are walls and walls and walls of fabrics and leathers. It’s very overwhelming but always fun. After a day in Guangzhou you always need a bit of quiet time and a Sing Tao (Chinese beer) to decompress.
After the market visits, the rest of the week will be spent back in the factory working on new development and reviewing prototype sampling.
I keep my energy levels up thanks to adrenalin, sugar and Starbucks! I also practice Yoga every morning.
Being in China there is also a great massage place in the hotel where we stay, so we’ll often go and get a foot rub and drink green tea, before hitting bed for a much needed sleep.
Being totally immersed in the business and being able to think about new products is always super inspiring. I struggle to develop product from our studio in Brunswick because there’s so much other work that needs to be done on the business! When I’m in Shenzen with the technicians and the material markets at my fingertips, I feel much more in flow with the creative process.