As we work furiously on getting our first production run manufactured and delivered to our customers, we have been thinking more about how Asia is viewed in the business world. To that end, we wanted to make a statement about what our experience with Asia has been and what the other side of the world has to offer us:
Chinese silks, Indian cotton, Burmese jade, Indonesian pepper.
Till the end of the 18th century, these commodities were sought the world over for their exceptional quality and Asia, the exotic Orient, was the unquestioned source for such pleasures. The colonization of Asia and the industrialization of the West over the next 200 years, led to the hollowing out of many cottage industries in Asia.
Over this time, perceptions shifted away from considering Asia a source of luxury materials or craftsmanship. Of late, Asia is, to an extent, unfairly labeled as being the primary source for cheap, high-volume, low-quality products. This perception has been particularly strengthened in the last 30 years with the rise of global retailers & manufacturers who have moved significant portions of their production to cheaper, emerging Asian markets. The comparative advantage that Asian countries have in cheaper semi-skilled, manufacturing labor has led to a reverse hollowing-out of manufacturing industries in the Western hemisphere. The natural evolution of macro-economies has some painful consequences on the micro scale. Closing plants, lost middle-class manufacturing positions around the US are all stark reminders that these economic statistics have very real effects. However, while it is true that some of this pain has been caused by politically controlled trade practices (e.g. the lack of free-float of the Chinese yuan, lower human rights / environmental regulation), it is also simply the fact that in PPP terms, many Asian countries' labour is not being severely underpaid, but rather that the relative strength of the developed world's currencies just makes labour in their home countries more expensive. The negative perceptions attached to Asian manufacturing then unfairly sideline the true craftsmen - the ones who toil to bring to life products of exceptional quality, simply because they are based in certain geographies.
How does this relate to the idea of Asian luxury? We are seeing increasing interest in the provenance of products - consumers are keen to understand where and how their products are born and brought to life. There are too many stories of Asian suppliers being pressured to keep their prices low, which in turn means that labor’s pay, safety, quality, and environmental concern are all sacrificed at the altar of cost control. Customers' interest in the manufacturing story and willingness to pay for quality act as checks to such negative practices.
Blu Salt, therefore, has a mission – in developing our product, we have decided to do away with the idea that luxury manufacturing is the birthright of certain geographies. Instead, in the quest to find the best materials and best hands, we have made the globe our playground and take it as a personal responsibility to showcase the talent and excellence housed in far corners of the globe. We have striven to provide the highest quality sustainable materials and the best manufacturing – and in our first season, that has meant sourcing materials and manufacturing from various Asian countries. However, that’s only half the story – Blu Salt is a global product since our design & corporate team is based in the US, while our photography & website team is in the UK. We have spanned the globe and as we grow, we hope to celebrate this inter-connectedness and collective effort to create a truly unique product by creating a company that is truly embodies the ethos: Designed in the US, Developed for the world.