Many companies are fleeing China for cheaper wages, especially at the lower end of the industrial spectrum.
Not so for Anisa International, an Atlanta-based company making makeup brushes in a factory outside Tianjin, China.
The products might seem like they could be easily outsourced, but a visit to the factory showed that the manufacturing process is much more complex than expected.
From processed hair that has to be separated and dyed, to shaping the bristles and painting the handle, everything has a procedure that includes performance metrics and safety benchmarks. Anisa’s leaders say controlling more of the process allows for better quality and cost control.
It takes 600-plus people to make millions of brushes per year, about a third being women who sit in a long room assembling and checking the brushes before they’re shipped out.
But one of the most involved processes – and one of the only places where men are seen in the factory – is in the making of the ferrule, the aluminum piece that connects the brush to the handle.
Depending on the length, it’s stamped or pulled by whirring green machines into the perfect cylindrical shape. Before being colored, it’s dipped in a chemical and electrical bath for anodizing. The process makes tiny pores that allow bright pink and purple dyes to seep all the way through.
Jeremiah Johnson, the vice president of operations in town to visit the factory, combs through each step looking for more efficiency. The smallest improvement can count when the number of units produced is this high.
One change in the painting process, for instance, now allows a panel of brush handles to be lowered and raised more quickly from their bath, saving seconds each time.
As founder and CEO Anisa Telwar told me, China is key to the company’s success for the foreseeable future, and process improvements are going to be increasingly important to managing costs in an era of rising wages in China.
Those extend to taking care of factory workers and the community.
Chefs were prepping a mountain of cauliflower when we toured the cafeteria put in place last year to serve employees lunch on site. Mr. Johnson said it has been helpful for creating community and keeping employee turnover rates low, a problem for many Chinese factories.
“It would be cheaper for us to have no cafeteria and high turnover rates,” he said, but he noted that cost isn’t everything and the company is looking to work smarter across all operations.
A few other things that aren’t cheap: A wastewater treatment plant built to ensure the factory is returning clean water to the environment, and five shuttle buses that fan out around the area to bring in many workers every day. More on Anisa’s work in the community to come. More on its China work here.
The Global Atlanta China blog is made possible by Windham Brannon, an Atlanta-based CPA firm offering a variety of services for international firms as well as Atlanta-based companies looking abroad.