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What Does ‘Made in China’ Really Imply?

What Does ‘Made in China’ Really Imply?

Once upon a time, the Made in China stamp denoted luxury, quality, and was a signal of wealth to those around. Just think: Ming furniture, silk, jewelry, and porcelain are all high-quality items originating from China that, even now, you can find displayed at most major museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today, most consumers will tell you that products Made in China are often low quality, cheap, or even dangerous.

So, how did Made in China go from coveted to scorned and how is the expression once again becoming a symbol of status in the West?

China’s history of foreign trade can be traced as far back as the Han Dynasty around 206 BC when the famous Silk Road was created. As the world’s second largest economy, it’s no secret that many products sold in the United States are imported from China but it wasn’t until early 2008 that China’s PR problem began. At that time, baby formula was found to have caused the deaths of eight infants and the illness in another 300,000. This first incident was followed by several other high-profile news stories of dangerous products of Chinese origin being introduced to the U.S. Market.

Since then, Chinese officials have worked hard to re-brand their image, going so far as investing money into Research & Development on how they can build a brand image that is once again successful in the West. A marketing campaign was launched in 2010 by a Manhattan based PR firm to counter the backlash to the recalls throughout 2009. So far, it seems to be working: almost 36% of clothing and shoes bought in the United States are China made products and in 2010, over $350 billion dollars was spent on the importation of Chinese products to the U.S.

One way China has been boosting its image is in the way it communicates with the West.

There are many products made in China that are designed in the United States that are considered well-made or even iconic in America: Barbie, Converse Sneakers, and Radio Flyer Red Wagons, just to name a few. Labels specifying products ‘Designed in the U.S.A. but Made in China’ are quickly popping up on items across the nation. Connecting products that are designed in the U.S. but made in China makes them equal in the eyes of the consumer and thus, more profitable and marketable.

Made in China also has another unlikely hero in those born after 1980. These image conscious thirty something’s have had exposure to better quality products from China and will prove confident about continuing to purchase them. Many products that promote an image of success, confidence, and wealth which are highly profitable among 20 and 30 year olds are made in China: all Apple products including iPhones and iPads, Whole Foods Organic Brand food, and Coach Handbags.

Management quality in China is also changing. Instead of focusing solely on profits, executives and managers are now working to understand customer’s wants and needs, making them a priority. By focusing on processing standards and remarketing brands, China is sending the message that quality depends on manufacturer and not country of origin.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5