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Reinventing The Wheel

Behind the scenes with Bike Engineers and Entrepreneurs. Fortified Bicycle Alliance.

14 Chinese Factories in 3 weeks: The Terrible, The Filthy, and the Wonderful.

The black 2012 Buick picked me up at my Beijing hotel at 7am.  During the two hour drive I made small talk with the engineer who shared the back seat with me, asking him, “how’s the factory?”  He paused and then laughed a sheepish laugh.  “They have dogs,” he said.

The engineer told me it was a bad day in Beijing – 350 parts per million in air pollution. Unhealthy starts at 100 ppm – dangerous is at 200 ppm.  I don’t know what to make of 350, I just know it makes me cough and the sky looks like a dense and low fog.

Having been farmland for centuries, the provinces south of Beijing have seen an explosion of heavy industries in the last 10 years.  But the industrialization of China doesn’t mean that farms turned into factories.  The farms never left – they just put the factories next to them.

River (1)

The above photo shows a river of sludge next to reaped corn fields. Adjacent is a brick-making factory fueled by smoke stacks spewing black coal sediment into the grey sky.  The rivers and creeks are filled with plastic bags and sludgy water.

We drove through miles and miles of grey and until we arrived at a stone-walled compound with red gates.  Driving inside, underfed mutts growled and barked at us viciously as the factory owner approached us with a smile and a business card.


He proudly gave us a tour of his injection molding facility – a metal roofed room overflowing with sacks of plastic and rubber resin beads.  These beads are melted into the molds to make small parts.  He showed me the current product they’re working on – rubber motorcycle pedals branded “YANAHA” and labeled “Made in Japa”.  This isn’t a typo.


The air smelled of melting plastic, after ten minutes and I began to get a headache.  Meanwhile, his employees have spent the last 15 years working in these conditions.

Through the translator I said, “we won’t produce at a factory that doesn’t care about its employees.” After some awkward pleasantries between the translators and the factory owner, we got in the Buick and had a long, quiet, grey drive back to Beijing.

Fortified would refund all of our Kickstarter backers and bankrupt our company before producing products in a factory like this.

Here’s the silver lining on these grey, polluted clouds.  There are wonderful factories in China.  We found one on the other side of China, in Shenzhen – a two hour plane ride from Beijing.

Much more info to come but here’s some photos to enjoy….

1. Our factory cares about its people


Above shows the automated PCB assembly area. The working conditions are immaculate and the employees have fair wages.

2. Our factory knows quality

Mid-production Assembly

Above shows the mid-production part testing line.

3. Our factory cares about its world

Booties - reusable

We know this from speaking to their leadership about their sustainability efforts, and by the washable, reusable booties they make visitors wear.  Disposable booties would be cheaper, but reusable is more sustainable.

To say that our factory is expensive is true, but it is also short-term thinking.  Low quality factories will cost us with defects in the short run and cost our planet in the long run.

In our next update we’ll take a deep dive into this wonderful factory.





  1. Wow!!! This is a sobering reality check!! Horrifying to be more truthful. I applaud your efforts and wholeheartedly endorse choosing an ethical factory– even if the cost is higher.

    I’ve read about levels of pollution in Beijing–and recall that many l.d. runners refused to participate in the Summer Olympics due to health concerns. Of course, I’ve read about the poor working conditions too–but your pictures showing this level of disgrace convinces me that I’ll NEVER buy Chinese products w/o knowing from what type of factory it comes from. Otherwise, I am part of the problem!
    Thank you again. This is turning out to be so much more than a TERRIFIC bike light!
    Karee Weber

    • Slava Menn

      April 20, 2014 at 8:30 pm


      Thank you for your support! We are trying to make the best of the harsh reality of overseas production. Stay tuned for details of factory #1 next week.


  2. Great to see you guys are doing the right thing. I wish more companies would publicize the working conditions of the factories where their products are made, you guys are role models in this regard. Keep up the good work!

  3. The long view is the right view to maintain. Keep the vision!

  4. Wow, those last shots look like some of the higher end bespoke electronics factories in Europe that I’ve seen!

  5. You guys are really producing a better bike light. Thank you for bringing a light into the dark. I’m more happy than ever for funding you guys.

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