Relocating the Craft
Photo credit: Royal Copengahen
Royal Copenhagen, official royal porcelain supplier, was founded in Copenhagen in 1775 under the patronage of Queen Juliane Marie. This venerable house still carries on the hand painted tradition of porcelain, in a typically Danish know-how which has made its reputation worldwide. Emblem of a Danish unprecedented sophistication, Royal Copenhagen tableware is recognizable by the whiteness of its pottery and its delicate hand painted florals, expression of long hours of precise work of their in-house craftsmen. It is therefore rather surprising to find out that the majority of its production is no longer made in Denmark as one might imagine, but in Thailand, in a large workshop located in Saraburi, near Bangkok.
How to keep the identity of a local craft while producing abroad?
In a time of globalization, the company, sold in 2012 to Fiskars, a Finnish decorating and gardening multinational, has therefore set to reduce its production costs by outsourcing. After producing the porcelain in Denmark for 225 years, the choice of Royal Copenhagen has been oriented towards a country with a strong tradition of craftsmanship. Thailand is famous for its porcelain production and recognized for their skilled craftsmen.
This adventure starts in 2003. Royal Copenhagen sent two Danish craft instructors to form ten Thai apprentices, all coming from an art school in Bangkok. With this first step success, Royal Copenhagen has partnered with Patra, a Thai industrial company, and acquired a land located 80 kilometers at the North of Bangkok in 2004, to implant its first workshop which remains to this day directed by Danish executives. The production has then increased and therefore the number of craftspeople has gradually passed from fifty to several hundred employees all benefiting from social security and an income higher than the local Thai rate.
The design process is still based in Denmark, as well as the porcelain material preparation in respect of the centennial legacy and the in-house style. The production relocation has forced the company to rethink their complete process, establishing regular exchanges between Denmark and Thailand, to validate each step of prototyping and production. Since 2004, Thai artisans have attended Danish language classes to avoid communication pitfalls, in order to improve the know-how transmission. Only a few particular components such as heat pumps and filter systems come from Thailand. Brushes used to decorate the plates come from Denmark, the furnaces from Germany and production rails are imported from Italy.
"T" for "Transparency"
Royal Copenhagen still owns a factory in Glostrup in Denmark where they produce the high-end Flora Danica tableware line. The chosen materials are the same in Denmark and in Thailand.
Where many houses boast their local origins and silent their relocated production, the Danish institution has opted for transparency and advertise without hiding. The origin of their products is always shown on the pieces with a "T" for Thailand and a "D" for Denmark, accompanied by the mention "Design in Denmark".
The house makes no difference between made in Thailand and made in Denmark, convinced that the craft and the time taken for the production remain resolutely identical.
The challenge is then to get the same level of quality from one country to another, with the same common heritage and techniques, so that consumers can perceive no difference in quality between the two manufacturing origins and where know-how exceeds the question of made in. This allows the brand to offer more affordable products to the public, with the risk of losing its exceptional aura and 100% Danish identity.
Co-lateral effects: a new generation of designers-craftsmen
The factory foretype, which in Europe is based on industrial organization often inherited from the 18th century, is poorly suited to the international design contemporary approach and cannot really promote local production. It is a fact often noticed in many sectors such as tapestry, ceramic or glass.
The mark left by Royal Copenhagen in the cultural imagination of the younger generation, has contributed to the rise of new designers-craftsmen who produce locally smaller and more creative series of ceramic objects. This is for example the case of Gitte Helle who upcycles Danish heritage to give life to unique pieces in a blend of existing china pieces founded in Danish antique and flea markets.
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