Imperialism and razors


Weishi razorI’m looking at my recently-acquired, matte black, Weishi adjustable, TTO (Twist To Open, aka butterfly-head) razor. Quite attractive, smart even, and a solid heft in the hand. Chinese-made, Amazon-sold. I am still bemused by my ability to buy products – especially household items, things I use daily – from half a world away with a simple click. Especially when I can’t find any of those items locally (and, yes, I’ve looked…).

Convenient, yes, but also a symbol of the new imperialism: the transnational corporate empires.

Most (all?) of the safety razors I’ve purchased in the past six months since I switched to these devices have also been made in China, despite their companies being located nominally elsewhere (executive offices, anyway). And these razors are all pretty damned good. As good as those made in Europe or Canada (well, okay, once made… as far as I know, no one makes them in Canada, precious few are made in the USA these days, and the Europeans seem to be making most of theirs offshore, too…).

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have said that about a lot of Chinese products – I had numerous experiences with poorly built, low-quality control items. That seems to have changed for the better. But it’s hardly surprising.

Look at the history of offshore manufacturing: after WWII, American (and some European) manufacturers opened (or took over) plants in Japan, in part to restart the Japanese economy, in part to develop lines of low-cost consumer items to feed into the growing western economies, and to take advantage of the cheap Japanese labour. The Soviets did this in Eastern Europe, although their results were very different.

These factories were initially designed to build low-end lines of products. And the phrase “made in Japan” signified low quality for many postwar years. But the Japanese steadily improved their production, designs and quality. The Japanese first progressed by copying, then innovated and improved Western designs. They created products that instead said quality, dependability and luxury. Made in Japan became a boast, not a liability.

And as they did so, the Japanese consumer market itself grew. Workers became more skilled, demanded higher wages. Japan’s economy accelerated and the costs of production rose with it. On a side note: Soviet-managed factories in Eastern Europe produced crap from the start to the end of their regime with little to no effort to improve or innovate.

Weishi razor comparedSo when Japan became too expensive for the profit-hungry, corporations in search of the lowest cost and cheapest labour moved elsewhere: many to South Korea. And the cycle began anew: poor quality control and cheap products gave way to quality and innovation. Korean products soon competed with Japanese for quality. And Korean wages rose, too, making it more expensive to do business there.

Then the corporations moved to China – an amusing irony: capitalist firms setting up shop in the most Communist of nations in order to create higher profits for their at-home capitalist shareholders. But greed has no morality, so of to China the capitalists went in search of higher profits.

Seeing an improvement in Chinese-made products today is simply seeing the evolution of the quality and design in manufacturing as we have seen previously in other Asian nations. Which also suggests that, like with Japan and Korea, costs and prices will rise accordingly. And where will the capitalists move to next? Africa? Brazil?

Corporations always seek the highest profits. Their concern is solely for the shareholders and the executives. The benefit to customers, to workers, to local communities never matter. Offshore manufacturing benefits the countries where the factories go to and hurts the countries where they were taken from, but in the current global economy, profit is the only yardstick that gets used to measure success. Ethics don’t come into the equation.

Imperialism didn’t die with the British empire. It simply became trans-national and commercial, leaving its national restrictions behind. Corporations form the new empires, the backbone of the new capitalism. And I hold a sample of it in my hand, albeit a cunningly copied and transformed one meant to lull the capitalists to unsuspecting sleep…

Let me get back to the Weishi. According to Sharpologist, it’s based on the Gillette Superspeed razor, an adjustable first launched in the late 1940s and popular through the 1960s, with models being made right into the 1970s. This version, however, is upgraded with a matte black finish.

Weishi razor comparedTwisting the bottom opens the head to replace the blades. As Shave Like Grandad notes, this requires a bit of care to avoid snagging the blade in the doors, and the adjustable setting has to be altered every time you do it. It’s a modestly finicky process, but not a real issue once you get the hang of doing it according to the instructions included. It’s certainly easier (and less likely to cut a finger) than the two- or three-piece razors that have to be disassembled to change blades.

A dial under the head numbered one to seven raises or lowers the bottom plate, thus altering the gap between blade and base. The wider the gap (seven is the widest setting), the more aggressive the shave. This process not only increases the blade gap; it changes the angle of the blade (by bending the blade itself via increased pressure).

Personally, I didn’t find even the maximum setting very aggressive, but I dialled it back to five for daily use. It may also be the blade I’m currently using – a Shaverboy, sold by a firm in Montreal, but also Chinese-made – which seems fine to me but may not be the sharpest of the many blades around (it isn’t listed on the Refined Shave sharpness scale either). However, I have numerous  other blades with which to test it afterwards.

As you can see by the photos above, the Weishi (left) has a very long handle compared to my other razors (the Merkur is middle, the Rockwell R1 right in the first photo, these two are switched in the second – the R1 is the shortest in my collection). I appreciate this because I like longer handles. It also offers a nicely knurled grip, and not too thick a barrel.

You can also see the difference between head constructions in the next photo down. The Weishi lacks the typical drainage slots in the bottom part of the head, but I haven’t found that to be a problem – when I rinse it out after shaving I simply open the head to let it flush out. Small holes near the base allow come drainage and air circulation.

Weishi razor packageRather oddly, this modern-looking razor is identified as a “nostalgic” model;  this version came in a fancy box that included five blades and a bandanna (see photo) as well as instructions on how to use a bandanna. Why a bandanna was included with a razor remains unclear. Must be something hip-ish or young-ish but not me-ish. Plus there was a small pamphlet on how to shave with it, noting helpfully “never move razor side to side across skin.”

So far, I am very pleased with this Weishi. The build quality is satisfactory, the weight is satisfactory (92g – the second heaviest after the Rockwell 6C) and the extra-long handle appeal to me. The doors open smoothly and the head adjusts with no effort. And I find the matte finish very nice, too: it stands out among all the chrome and brushed metal razors (I ought to get some Treet Black Beauty blades for it just for the colour coordination…). 

I might note that so far all of the metal/counter razor stands I’ve purchased are designed for much shorter handles, and are a misfit with this razor. And I suppose I should have bought the non-hipster version with the carrying case, since this one doesn’t fit in anything I have for razor transportation. But razor cases and stands will have to wait for another post on accessories.

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