A Mile in Their Shoes

In the early years, when we first started making Tree Tents in the UK, we had a hard time finding anyone that would help us manufacture. In fact, the first 15 units were made by Kirk and myself on a domestic sewing machine in our kitchens! After that, we found a small family run parachute making company just outside London that agreed to make us 5 units per week. Once we'd outgrown that, we made the decision to move production to China. We felt we had to do this for a number of reasons; first, the waterproof sheet fabrics are all made there; second, they were able to deal with the volume of numbers; and third, because they could manufacture the units at a price that meant that normal people could afford them.

It has been three years since I made a whole tent myself, but I do find it important to get my hands dirty when I go to the factory in China by helping out on the factory floor. I, maybe like you, imagined that the tent making industry would be pretty high-tech by now, automated fabrics cutting by laser, stitched together by some incredibly fancy new technology, with each product a perfectly formed, perfectly perfect tent without a stitch out of place. Well that is not how it works….

Every single one of our tents is hand cut, hand sewn and then “de-threaded,” calibrated, rolled and packed - by real people.

We sometimes get customers call us to complain that they found a loose thread, or a dropped stitch, I often need to remind them that their tent was made by one of our machinists and that they are human. They do a great job of keeping our quality to the highest standard (98% perfection according to our QC manager) and they work hard. And I thought I was a hard worker!

(Founder, Alex, at the Tentsile factory, China)

When I was visiting the factory last week, I made a point of sitting down and cutting loose threads off a pile of 300 Flite+ bags. I stayed there on that stool, even after my butt started hurting, even after my finger got burnt from the lighter I was using to seal the webbing trim we use.  It took me 2 hours to do half of them and I was pretty numb with boredom ( it is true that our employees listen to their headphones, and I had forgotten mine ) but after that time, I had a renewed appreciation for the hard work being done by those folk that make our stuff. The stuff that we in the West buy for “recreation”, and the stuff we expect to be flawless.  It takes someone’s time and sweat to make things perfect, and we would all do well to remember that. Having witnessed first hand how hard our factory team work, I certainly will!

We do our best to make the worker’s lives as easy and simple as we can. That is how they like it. Complete one task and move on to the next. They get paid remarkably well too ( in our factory at least ). The take-home pay of the workers actually exceeds my own, as we pay for food, electricity, rent, water and even offer a free canteen onsite with a full-time chef preparing breakfast, lunch, and Supper!

We also make sure we take them on an annual team holiday each year to see parts of the country that they have never seen. The workers are all fiercely proud of their country but many have not seen much of it – so we take them!

When we moved into our new factory in October 2016, it was our aim to make this a benchmark factory.

A place that everyone enjoys working in, a chance to show the local factory owners how we expect things to be done in the West, and how people should be treated: With dignity, fairness, and prosperity – a bright future for all! Now, as we are settled in, I thought it a good idea to let our fans, followers, customers and critics have a small insight into factory life in China.

Tentsile prides itself in the lifestyle we have afforded our workers. It makes for a light, bright, happy environment and we believe in our people! We hope you do too.

May 14, 2017 — Alex Shirley-Smith



Steven said:

As a philosopher working in ethics, I am always somewhat sensitive to ethics within power structures. You, as an owner of a company, are in such a power structure with your employees, and so I was pleased to read this blog that discusses your experiences and factory in China.

I also own one of your Connect tents and am interested to discover that it is made by hand. I am also less worried by flaws in the products, understanding that things made by people occasionally bear witness to human imperfections.

I am most impressed, however, by your attention to detail and your commitment to the environment (for instance, your commitment to planting trees and producing and providing ‘No Trace Kits’). I would be very interested to know whether or not you had investigated the potential of powering your factory with sustainable energy — knowing that China is investing heavily in that area.

I adore my tent and I am proud to say that I bought it from a company that seems to have some sense of ethical responsibilities. Like me, the tent is different, unique, and resolves a problem that people didn’t know they had. Epictetus noted, and I think it is true of me as well, that “I seek always to be the purple thread in the toga — but I want to be the purple; that touch of brilliance which gives distinction and beauty to the rest.” I think this is also perhaps true of Tentsile; try not to lose sight of this ideology as you become more successful.

Thank you for letting it be the case that I may make these claims assuredly.

Kirstie Grego

Kirstie Grego said:

Leffe, what a great comment – thank you very much! Wishing you many more adventures with your Connect :)


Leffe said:

As a proud owner of the connect; I believe the Tentsiles are an ingenious work of art and worth their weight in gold and I’d embrace every flaw I may stumble upon.
I would hand it in to the nearest tailor to fix what’s defect/damaged and salute you meanwhile.
Cheers from Sweden


hardi said:

Sy sudah tiga minggu bermimpi memiliki tenda tentsile.

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