I don’t know a great deal about macro economics, about globalised supply chains, about outsourced manufacturing efficiencies.
But I know what it meant to me when I had my work outsourced to Taiwan.
I don’t know what Brexit will mean for UK manufacturing, nor what some utilitarianist sociologist might say about distributed well being or some such blather.
But I know it felt like the rug was pulled from under me, when the economics pointed to a worker on the other side of the world who could make them for less, including shipping and taxes.
It means something, all the talk in the press at the moment, of the decline of UK manufacturing. For so many people in the UK it’s a fairly abstract concept rather than a grubby reality. But after three years or so making these bikes, melting kilo after kilo of brass, of refining processes, it felt real right enough.
I’ve been extremely lucky to work in UK bicycle manufacturing at all: the experience of producing bikes at scale, making in a few weeks what it’d take a small scale custom builder a year to produce, sadly isn’t available widely any more. I had the opportunity to braze thousands of joints, solder thousands of braze-ons, mitre tubes for days on end. I’d have worked for that bike company indefinitely – I was making a product I really believed in, I was invested in making it better. I know that the skills, knowledge and processes to make them at all have gone and the company won’t make them again to the extent that I was making them.
The decision to outsource made my income more precarious, and, to my surprise, knocked my confidence to a great extent. And it was fundamental to my realisation that I couldn’t trust anyone to keep a manufacturing job open.
Clandestine is my effort to make a job for myself that gives me a safe, modest income, a sense of self-worth and empowerment, and allows me to build to my own standards, not someone else’s.
And that’s the reality of “Made in the UK”.
It means someone just down the street from you, or who rides to work past your house, or lives in the next city over, having a job making things for folk just like them.