* In this blog series, we will be posting 8 short stories displayed in Unidentified Acts of Design, exploring contemporary production and manufacturing in Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta. This week we look at Shenzhen’s unique ecosystem of ‘Shanzhai’, and how it is evolving from the production of fakes to the production of innovative products.
The Pirates and the Makers / Shanzhai
‘Shanzhai’ was a term originally used in Shenzhen in the 2000s to refer to cheap and low-cost counterfeit products imitating big brands such as Apple, Motorola and Nokia, usually sold in the Huaqiangbei electronics market or on-line. ‘Shanzhai’ also refers to customised products responding to specific user requirements, such as phones for the elderly, long-lasting batteries, or mobiles with multiple sim cards and speakers. Several are specifically produced for export to Africa, India and SE Asia.
The ‘shanzhai’ open culture operates on fast prototyping and manufacturing processes that allow quick adaptations for changing market demands.
Following the 2008 crisis and increased competition, several companies are now focusing on design and manufacturing services for clients or on developing their own brand. Some are collaborating with makers for more innovative designs.