In the US, Chinese goods get the reputation of being cheap and low in quality compared to western goods. I believe this is probably mostly true when it comes to molded plastics, machined textiles, and pretty much anything made by a machine and later assembled. But there was once a time, before machines and molds, that oriental goods were sought after because of their incredible quality. Back when oriental goods were all hand made, asians were considered among the craftsmen in the world. Traders and dignitaries would travel from Europe the long way, by boat around the horn of Africa, to China because their materials and craftsmanship were higher quality than anywhere else in the world.
I was reminded of this when we stopped into a furniture store tonight with the factory owner and his friend, who was in the market for a new coffee table. I couldn’t believe the detail and quality of construction of the woodwork. Here are some photos. Click to enlarge:
I find this tradition of quality and craftsmanship very much alive in my little (its not really that little, but it is smaller than most) surfboard factory in China. I recall when I was interviewing factories to build my surfboards, the factory owner said to me, “We are not the biggest, and our prices are not the lowest, but our quality is very high. You will see for yourself if you come here.”
He reminded me of this today. At lunch, a flatbed truck drove by loaded with EPS foam. I asked, “Is there a foam factory nearby? I’ve seen a few trucks now with EPS. Do you source it locally?”
“No,” he replied sternly. “Our foam is extremely high quality. They can’t do high enough quality there.”
Ahha! I had an epiphany. I’d wondered before, “why do his foam cores look so much cleaner than anything I’ve seen from china before?” I have been doing ding repairs on SUPs for several years now in Minnesota (iDol Surfboards is the only business in Minnesota that does surfboard ding repairs), and its amazing what I have found under the paint and lamination of several ‘quality’ name brands of stand up paddleboards. I often find a dirty foam core disintegrating around the dinged up area. No wonder the boards dinged so easily – there is no foam backing the fiberglass! Most people don’t realize, that eps foam is soluable in a variety of chemicals. Thus, the EPS foam core needs to be kept as clean as possible until it is laminated to protect it from possible solvents. When you use dirty foam, you risk your EPS being exposed to some of these solvents, and the core of the surfboard can, over time, dissolve underneath the fiberglass.
Here’s a link to that video of an iSurf SUP being shaped. Notice how clean the foam is – not a speck of dirt can be found. The shaping room is also very clean – yes there is a lot of foam dust, but it’s clean white foam dust. These foam cores are stored in a clean room away from any solvents until they are laminated.
Well that is my rant on quality for today. Ask any of the iDol crew: Tollie, Stefan, Eric, and they’ve heard it all before… or anybody who has been in the shop with me, really. My number one priority is always quality. If there is the slightest problem with any board which will effect end quality, it gets fixed or it doesn’t get sold. One more time for good measure. QUALITY!
If you’re looking for a great read on quality, check out the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Not only is it a fascinating story, it gets to the ‘core’ of what quality is.