Foreign employers in China couldn’t ask for a much better recommendation than Zhang Yunli provides Anisa International

When her daughter decided to enter the working world after failing to gain college acceptance, the line supervisor recruited her to become one of 500-plus employees at the factory where the Atlanta-based manufacturer makes millions of makeup brushes each year for clients like Sephora, MAC and Lancome

“The quality of the staff here is quite good,” Ms. Zhang told Global Atlanta during a 2013 interview at the factory just outside the northern port city of Tianjin. “Everywhere you go, people think well of Anisa’s employees.” 

Her loyalty – proven by more than a decade of service – is partly a reciprocation of the company’s commitment to her community. The television parts factory that occupied the building Anisa bought 11 years ago was managed well enough, but it wasn’t nearly as clean or cohesive as Anisa’s, said Ms. Zhang. And even if her daughter had better luck with the college entrance exams, the company still would have been involved: To help pay for tuition, it provides bonuses for all employees whose children pass. 

That’s just one way Anisa aims to go above and beyond in caring for its Chinese workers in the village of Daliu, about an hour’s drive outside of Tianjin, a mega-city home to about 10 million people. 

For founder and president Anisa Telwar, it’s about the little things, not the least of which is showing your respect for employees by showing your face. Ms. Telwar visits the factory every November to celebrate its anniversary, awarding prizes like trips to Hong Kong, computers and home appliances to door-prize winners and high-achieving employees. In 2013, the company marked its 10th anniversary, and it has no plans to move its main production out of China. 

For Ms. Zhang, this gesture from the top is just as impactful as any prize. Her favorite part of the annual affair is hearing from Ms. Telwar about the strategy for the coming year — which designs are doing well in the market and where the company is going. 

“Every year she will talk about our new development plan, the new products, new customers. I’m very interested in that part,” she said. 

Touring the facility with Jeremiah Johnson, an executive in charge of operations, Global Atlanta saw well-lighted, mostly air-conditioned spaces, including a large room with long tables where women meticulously assemble brushes and check for the right shape and texture. Outside in the shop, where metal connector pieces called ferrules are fashioned with a variety of custom-built machinery, Mr. Johnson pointed out small safety features like sensors that protect the operators’ hands from being harmed. In the section where the aluminum ferrules are anodized and dyed, he stopped to be sure everyone had donned their protective masks. 

Experienced in sourcing, Mr. Johnson had visited many factories around China. With Anisa, he’d seen competitors’ factories; he stayed diplomatic about their safety standards: “Let’s just say they’re different.” 

The company doesn’t skimp on safety to cut costs, nor does it “throw labor” at problems. Instead, it looks at ways to improve training and drive efficiency in each production unit, whether those who prep the hair that will be processed into brush ends or those who use computerized machines to dip brush handles precisely into paint, Mr. Johnson said. 

Anisa has also put in some not-so-cheap improvements to the property, including an on-site cafeteria where workers can pay a small monthly sum to have lunch covered every day, as well as a water treatment facility that provides clean running water inside the factory while ensuring any water used in manufacturing is returned clean to the village. 

“That was not cheap, but it was important to us to keep the environment the same was when we found it,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that the factory sends five buses out every day to provide transportation for workers in nearby villages. 

For Ms. Telwar, the factory brings a two-fold responsibility: to the employees themselves, and to the customers who expect her to comply with international standards on labor and the environment.

There’s also a third imperative: It just feels like it’s the right thing to do. The Chinese branch isn’t just a place where the CEO outsources production; it’s an integral part of the company’s global team, playing a key role in its success. As such, the company sees itself as part of the community and has provided a primary school with multimedia equipment and a nursing home with wheelchairs. 

“We’ve experienced incredible growth in the past 10 years, which would not have been possible without our highly skilled workforce and their commitment to creating quality makeup tools,” Ms. Telwar said in a statement. “By establishing this facility, we were able to shape a tremendous culture of community, teamwork and philanthropy, which has furthered the overall success of the company.”

Though she doesn’t use makeup herself, Ms. Zhang has caught the vision. Her plans in the long run? 

“Work for Anisa as long as possible and make the best brushes,” she said. “Our target is: No complaints.”

For an in-depth look at the company’s origins, read: Brush With Success: China Key to Atlanta Fashion Firm’s Corporate Makeup

For more on the manufacturing process, read: Work in Process at Anisa’s Chinese Makeup Brush Factory

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...

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