Hard work at Santa's 'real' workshop

A worker cutting fake branches in a Christmas tree factory in Yiwu. While the factory exports 80 per cent of its output, domestic demand has doubled in five years.
A worker cutting fake branches in a Christmas tree factory in Yiwu. While the factory exports 80 per cent of its output, domestic demand has doubled in five years.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

YIWU (China) • With Christmas looming, it is crunch time in the manufacturing hub of Yiwu, which has earned a reputation as Santa's "real" workshop.

In Ms Sun Xudan's artificial Christmas tree factory, workers cut and twist long ropes of fake branches into simulated pines destined for homes and public holiday displays.

It is a nearly year-round operation in Yiwu, estimated as the source of at least 60 per cent of Christmas trinkets worldwide.

Ms Sun's factory exports 80 per cent of its output, but in the final two months of the year, her migrant labourers toil for buyers in China, where the glitter and pageantry of Christmas is gaining popularity.

"Domestic demand has been gradually rising," she said, adding it has doubled in five years.

Many orders come from Chinese e-commerce businesses such as Taobao, China's online shopping leader.

Her workers typically earn around 3,000 yuan (S$620) to 4,000 yuan a month, working 10 months of the year.

At a Christmas-product emporium, merchant Qiu Xuemei said exports jumped 20 per cent this year, despite losing orders from key market Russia due to economic woes.

The fall of China's currency, which makes Chinese products cheaper and more attractive overseas, has buffered the impact.

"Our business has gone up mainly because we focus on the North and South American markets and the yuan falling against the dollar helped," she said.

Ms Sun's workers will get a holiday once production stops in mid-December, but it will not necessarily be one full of Christmas cheer.

"I haven't bought a tree. We don't really pay much attention to Christmas," one worker said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2016, with the headline 'Hard work at Santa's 'real' workshop'. Print Edition | Subscribe