Story 17: Faking it
Wu Jiabao leaned back in his leather armchair and put up his feet on the mahogany desk. From the corner of his eye, he glanced at the feed of the CCTV camera which was continuously streaming on his iMac. From his super-chilled air-conditioned office he could see the factory floor from 12 different angles.
“Keep one eye open, even while you sleep,” was what his grandmother used to say.
And one could never be vigilant enough. The workers in his factory were from the hinterland of China, which was very different from the glass and steel of Shanghai. These men and women were willing to do anything for a better life. Living far from home, and family, in tiny cramped houses, they were happy simply to have this job.
His Italian buyer was amazed – and a little resentful – of how hard his people were willing to work. 12 hour shifts were normal, they could easily stretch to 14, or even 16. The trick he had learnt early on, was to keep them well-fed. A dozen rice cookers and generous portions kept stomachs full. And ensured that the rumble of discontent was kept at bay.
It wasn’t the workers but that snoopy journalist who created all the problems. She came to the factory, pretending to be a prospective buyer. 3 weeks later she wrote that horrible article titled ‘Your Lucci bag was made in a sweatshop’. What was her problem, exactly? The work was top-class and every worker was here out of his or her free will.
“These Westerners are so soft and namby-pamby,” he often said to his wife Shan Shan.
Their ancestors had the hunger to sail to distant lands, conquer the native people, plunder their resources and make themselves rich. But that was a couple of hundred years ago. The new generation had no interest in working hard. After all, they had a legacy of the past to fall back on. Naturally, the Chinese took advantage of that.
Wu himself was a perfect example of how far industry and hard work could get you in life. He had travelled far from his village to make his fortune. Worked his way up from the very bottom of the ladder, to the very top. Had he done it all with proper ethics? Maybe not. One can only do charity when there is money in the pocket.
In less than 2 decades, Wu was running a flourishing business making fake designer handbags. All was going well until one day he got a surprise visit from Mr Vespuccio Lucci himself. It was the one time Wu was speechlesss. The ground fell away from under his feet as he imagined various worst-case scenarios.
“Young man,” said the 77 year old Italian. “If you really want to make high quality designer handbags, do it for me.”
So it was a win-win for them both. Yes, there were the occasional pinpricks like that article. But most journalists were happy enough to receive a free Lucci bag at Christmas, and look the other way. Of course, many a time, Wu did wonder what people saw in these bags! They were, after all, a few nice pieces of leather. Stitched by hand.
The only thing that made the bag worth $20,000 was the label that was stuck on it. A piece of metal to which society attached so much significance.
With China being one of the most lucrative markets for luxury goods.
A country whose land was never colonised by the West but whose mind was now colonised by their brands. How fake and pointless it all was.
Wu Jiabao left the factory in his BMW car and sped home, through the Tuscan countryside. Two decades after being smuggled to Italy, he still could not get enough of the scenery.
“To sell our goods, we must understand the psyche of the customer,” Mr Lucci always said.
Nobody cares that the bags are sewn with Chinese hands. As long as they are ‘Made in Italy’.