updated 24 Dec 2010, 09:13
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Tue, Nov 23, 2010
China Daily/ANN
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What to buy when in China
by Shannon Aitken

Though most products made in China have a good reputation for quality and price, some have undoubtedly affected the public's perception and placed their standard into question.

Lionel Derimais, however, with his Beijing-based blog, Nicely Made in China, is seeking to show that China does in fact produce a range of high-quality, innovative products by people who love and believe in what they do.

French-born Derimais, 50, is a photographer by trade and has spent more than five years in China photographing its people and businesses, but his idea for Nicely Made in China came randomly one afternoon in November 2009.

He was sitting at home in Beijing, in the midst of a "bad day", when suddenly a beautiful paper bag was thrust into his face by his girlfriend.

"Look, there are some nicely-made-in-China things," she told him.

"It wasn't any more complicated than that," he said. "Immediately I thought of '' and I rushed to the computer, checked if it was free and bought it on the spot."

Almost one year on and Nicely Made in China has now discovered everything from jewelry to surfboards to renewable energy initiatives.

Mao Shuhong and Yang Baoguang are just two of the people he has visited. In 1993 they founded their company, Suren, and from their small factory just outside the city they began to make leather goods. Today, their bags, shoes and accessories are sold in seven shops across Beijing, as well as other cities in China.

"My husband Yang and I both studied fine arts to become painters but we also liked the idea of making beautiful things and sharing them with others," Mao told Derimais.

"Yang had always been interested in design and craft. So we decided to switch careers. We began with three employees. Today we employ around 100, as well as three designers, including my husband," she said.

There is also Sichuan-born Huang Yue, an ad man who is now a fashion designer. He produces finely crafted garments for men and women from his studio behind 3.3 in Sanlitun.

"I mix the Chinese traditional way of cutting clothes with a Western influence," he said.

"Dresses, for instance, are often based on qipao from Shanghai and I add more Western details; all this without forgetting elegance, of course."

Unlike Mao, Yang and Huang, many of the entrepreneurs featured in Nicely Made in China are foreign-born rather than Chinese locals, but this isn't an intentional direction for Derimais.

"There are reasons for this," he explained. "It is still a little difficult to get Chinese businessmen interested. Because Nicely Made in China is not yet a business, they don't see the point in being on a website that is not a business and they don't see how they will benefit from it."

Her said another reason is that unlike the mass-producing companies, many of the smaller, less-established companies don't want to advertise themselves too much.

"They like to be a little bit under the radar," said Derimais.

Derimais also believes that many Chinese businessmen are unaware that "Made in China" is not always well regarded in the rest of the world.

"I don't think Chinese people are always conscious of that," he said. "They don't know that it needs a bit of help out there."

When Derimais first began his blog, he wanted to show that there were quality products coming out of China and also that the improvement in quality extended across all sectors.

To date, Nicely Made in China has also extended its search across China to include products as wide-ranging as mountain bikes, yak-wool shawls, recycled wrapping paper and yachts.

Trawling such a vast country for hidden treasures, unfortunately, is limited by the obvious costs, and, as yet, Nicely Made in China is not profitable. As it continues to grow, however, Derimais is developing plans to expand the blog into full-scale business, one no doubt worthy of having its own nicely-made-in-China story.

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