• shave-set

    Shaving the old school way

    Lately I switched to using a safety razor – the kind that your grandpa used. It’s a solid bit of chrome metal with a simple blade tightening mechanism; you can replace the actual blade – a single metal, double sided blade – for pennies. The razor itself will likely last a lifetime. For foam, I use an Arko stick and badger hair brush; just wet the stick, wipe it around your face, then lather it up with the brush. The shaving stick last ages and costs less than $2; it’s basically just soap, with natural ingredients.

    You’d think that all this frugal shaving nonsense gives you a pretty horrendous shave, wouldn’t you? How can just one blade achieve anything? Surely years of research have gone into creating that blue chemical sludge you find in a typical can of shaving foam? Surely they made razors with no less than 5 blades in a “handle replaceble cartridge” because progress demanded it? There must be a reason for all that, right?!

    Apparently not, becuase I swear you get a better shave the old-fashioned way, with just a single blade and cheap as chips shaving stick.

    In fact, the humble razor is the most perfect and extreme example of the fundamental shift that occured in society; that is, the move away from quality products that did a job and did it well, and the move toward a cheaper, disposable item that sold faster and kept the factory going night and day. Apparently, there’s even a name for it: planned obselescence. Wikipedia tells me the term can be traced back to 1932, but it wasn’t until 1954 when an American industrial designer called Brooks Stevens popularised the idea. The basic idea was to

    “instill in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is neccessary”

    At the time, it received widespread criticism as being wasteful (the war was still fresh in everyone’s minds), even going to so far as to prompt Volkswagen to mock the term in an an advertising campaign with the slogan “we don’t believe in planned obselescence”. But slowly it took hold, and today is the norm for companies the world over. Make something that’s just good enough to satisfy the consumer, use up as much materials as possible to justify a higher price, and sell as many as possible to make the most efficient use of factories.

    This video is quite old now, but ever relevant. Watch it, and stop buying crap that’ll just need to be replaced in a few years. It’s not cheap – the costs are externalised. It might cost you less money, but it costs workers their health, it costs the world it’s resources, and costs future generations a debt they will never be able to repay.


  • featured-made-in-china-poor-quality

    What do you have against China?

    Do you associate the words “Made in China” with bad quality, poorly produced factory line copies? Well, you’re wrong.

    This Christmas, I’m doing an awful lot of my shopping through sites like AliExpress and DHGate – shopping portals that put you directly in contact with the manufacturers. If you can read Chinese, TaoBao is a great site too. And I can tell you right now that my experience with every single one of them has been far better than any service I have ever had from UK or US sites. The price of course was a big factor; compared to retail prices, everthing is about 75% cheaper – including free international shipping on most things. You may need to pay customs taxes (especially here in the UK, where we get hit with import duty, and 20% VAT) – but Chinese manufacturers are usually quite happy to lie about the value of goods and label things as gifts so the damage isn’t quite as bad.

    Secondly, nearly everything I buy is being custom-made; I sent measurement for clothing to be tailored; I get to choose from extensive colour charts; I even asked to mix and match different elements from other products. Of course, this would be impossible shopping from Amazon or the high street, but again, manufacturers in China are so happy for your custom that they will go to extreme lengths to keep you satisfied. Developing a relationship with your customer is of such cultural importance.

    Thirdly, AliExpress acts as an Escrow service; although I pay at the time of the order, the money isn’t actually released to the manufacturers until I mark it as received. If something isn’t right, you can open a dispute and they’ll try to correct the situation.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve shopped in China, and while you can find shoddy workmanship, most sites have the same kind of review mechamism as Amazon; if you’re buying from somewhere large, the quality will be just as good as anything you get in the shops here. Saying that that Chinese goods are synonymous with poor quality is really quite insane; nearly everything you buy on the high street is made in China anyway. You have to really search high and low to find artisan goods made in your own country nowadays.

    Do I feel guilty for not paying the 400% markup that retail stores put on a product? Absolutely not; the service in most high street shops is appalling, and I don’t really see why I should pay extra for worse service. The people in these shops generally don’t want to be there, they don’t want to help the customer – you’re just a blight on their day, something to be overcome on their daily wait until 5:30pm. For custom goods, clothing and electronics – I’ll turn straight to China; for everything else, Amazon suffices.

    One company that flies through all this criticism unscathed is Apple; they’ve worked hard to create a finely crafted retail “experience”, where assistants are actually there to help, and your questions will be answered. In 4 years of owning Apple products, only once have I taken my machine back to have a hard disk replaced; despite being told there was a 3 day turnaround, I had it back in my hands by 6pm that day. It’s this level of service that retail outlets need to achieve moving forwards, or you can expect the high street to become even more derelict than they are.