The same factors that make Chinese manufacturing so appealing to big companies like Apple—speed, flexibility, cheap parts and labour—make it a pirate’s paradise. Entire cities have evolved to manufacture a single off-brand product: Qiaotou makes buttons, Datang makes socks, Wengang makes pens. The result is a sort of collective innovation, each person playing a distinct role in the manufacturing and distribution process, says Anne Stevenson-Yang, research director at J Capital: “This kid learns Swahili, that one learns Arabic, some people do the dyeing, others do shipping and logistics. It’s an amazing thing to watch.”
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