The real cost of overseas manufacturing.
29 October 2021

The real cost of overseas manufacturing.

Evostyle has been manufacturing custom timber furniture for over 30 years. During this time, we’ve become familiar with many mass-produced furniture retailers and manufacturers. If you’re considering having furniture manufactured, you should understand the realities of choosing the lower-priced alternatives, in particular the reality of outsourcing to overseas furniture factories.  

Outsourcing furniture production overseas is thought of as a far more cost-effective means of outfitting a commercial space with custom timber furniture. Compared to local furniture manufacturers, overseas options are far cheaper – but there are several unpleasant reasons for that, and users end up paying for it in the long term. 

Conscious consumption is a valuable concept for architects, interior designers, and decorators to be aware of during fit-outs. Even individuals wanting to purchase furniture for the home will benefit from understanding a few of the truths about overseas furniture factories and the realities of mass furniture production. 

How outsourcing overseas works

In our industry, the most common process for outsourcing overseas begins with design specifications and a price objective, which is then sent to manufacturers to solicit solutions to meet those specifications and prices.

There may be a degree of back and forth on the price per unit, deadlines, and other production aspects before an order is placed. At times, an intermediate agency will be involved with this process, as outsourcing can be risky for those unfamiliar with it. 

Quality control also works quite differently when outsourcing to overseas furniture factories and proves to be a major issue most of the time. The initial batch for a new product may undergo stringent quality control, however following batches often don’t see the same level of oversight. 

Furniture quality isn’t always consistent

As commercial fit-outs typically require a large amount of furniture, buying mass-produced furniture or custom timber furniture from overseas can be an appealing alternative to locally produced furniture solutions. While the cost of labour, and occasionally materials, is cheaper in many overseas furniture factories when compared to local options in Australia, the quality of these outsourced items is often left wanting and customisation options are restricted. 

The lack of quality control is a huge pitfall to be aware of – especially when your reputation and client relationships are on the line. 

There is always the issue of materials used in manufacturing being misrepresented as well. Different materials, or sub-standard raw materials, can be used in production without the buyer’s consent. The use of vague terminology also means that lesser materials can be substituted for true timber, such as constructing the body with manufactured timber and wrapping it with a veneer. Cases such as these occur frequently. Frequently enough, in fact, that there are companies that specialise in overseas quality control for furniture manufacturing. 

When it comes to outfitting a space with high-quality furniture that will stand the test of time, seek out a manufacturer that is a genuine expert in timber. Manufacturers, like Evostyle, make a commitment to providing value for money through materials used, superior construction, and product lifespan. It may be more expensive, but a superior and truly unique build is the result.

Localised knowledge is lacking 

Timber is a natural material, and each species of timber is suitable for certain purposes – and unsuitable for others. 

The application and location of furniture must be considered prior to production, and these are questions that typically only a professional experienced in solid timber manufacturing would ask. 

As an Australian business, we know what timbers are safe to use in Australia relative to their application. For example, American Oak which is often heralded as an outdoor timber in Europe does not react well to the humidity Australia experiences and should never be used in outdoor applications here. The warm, damp air causes this type of timber to rot in a matter of years, which is something we have seen happen many times over. 

In short, overseas manufacturers can lack crucial knowledge about how our climate interacts with certain timbers. They don’t always have access to the more niche Australian timbers either.

Unsustainable production 

Sustainable harvesting of timber is at the forefront of many ethical timber manufacturers’ minds, including ours. Timber is a precious, natural resource, and the environments from which it is harvested must be preserved. We make every effort to minimise waste and use only ethically-sourced timber in our workshop. 

As is often the case, cheap furniture has a short lifespan – unlike truly well-constructed solid timber furniture. The modern trend of brazenly cheap furniture in combination with the new concept of ‘fast furniture’ produces a tremendous amount of landfill waste. 

There is always the issue of illegally harvested timber being used in overseas production as well. The WWL states that the “increasing global demand for low-cost timber products supports a multi-billion dollar business of illegal and unsustainable logging in forests worldwide”, resulting in an estimated 8-10% of global timber being logged illegally. Altogether, this is a hugely unsustainable form of production.

Environmental sustainability is important to us. We make a point to know exactly where our timber is sourced from and how it is grown, harvested, and treated. As do all timber manufacturers that value sustainability.

Ethical standards differ

A substantially inexpensive piece of furniture comes at a price, albeit a different one. One of the reasons that outsourcing production overseas is incredibly cheap, when compared to local options, is because of reduced labour costs. 

Different countries have different labour laws, and what that can sometimes mean is the exploitation of low-income individuals that are just trying to make a living. The Borgen Project details just a few of the harsh realities of workers’ rights in China, where much manufacturing is outsourced. 

There are some specific examples outlined in a blog written by Handkrafted titled Cut the Shit: The Trouble with Replica Furniture who describe some poor examples of factory workers working long hours, and often without safety equipment. They provide some good reasons to support Australia’s local furniture industry.

Hiring an Australian furniture manufacturer ensures that our labour laws are enforced, and workers are paid fairly. Awareness about the realities and consequences of outsourcing the production of furniture to overseas factories is certainly an unpleasant truth.

Maintaining an ethical business in our industry means knowing that your timber is sustainably harvested, which isn’t always possible when working with overseas factories – just another reason why we believe that the full life-cycle of a timber product should start and end in Australia. 

Evostyle specialises in building solid timber furniture for architects, specifiers, and designers. Visit our About Us pages to learn more about our values and how we commit to building a sustainable business that puts our team and the planet first.

The bottom-line 

Exporting the production of furniture overseas may appear as a cost-effective solution, but there are many downfalls to taking this route. Asides from potentially purchasing a sub-par product that underwent limited quality control, overseas furniture factories are not beholden to the same labour laws and regulations that their Australian counterparts adhere to, which leads to no small amount of worker exploitation. 

Forward-thinking architects, interior designers, and high-end joinery companies need to consider how their brand values and ethical standards align with their go-to manufacturers. Not only to uphold these values but because preserving the integrity of their own business relies upon it. 

Companies found to directly or indirectly support illegal timber harvesting and worker exploitation or to supply inferior furniture products, lose a great deal of trust and respect in the industry. It falls on these companies to educate themselves, and their customers, about how important it is to be an ethical, sustainable business. 

Related Posts