As seen on TV: Chinese hi-vis vests and Europe’s yellow jacket protests

  • One Chinese manufacturer reportedly receives big urgent order as demonstrations take off in France
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2019, 8:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2019, 11:12pm

As Chinese businessman Yao Weining watched coverage of the “yellow jacket” protests erupt in France and spread across Europe late last year, he thought he saw something he recognised.

Yao, founder of Zhongding Protective Products in Yongkang, a small city in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Zhejiang province, said he believed that some of the emblematic high-visibility vests used in the protests were made by his company, Shanghai-based news outlet Thepaper.cn reported on Sunday.

“These vests [in the protest videos] are quite similar to the products we usually make,” Yao was quoted as saying.

Around the same time in November, the factory received an unusually “urgent European order” for more than 50,000 of the vests to be delivered before Christmas, he said, suggesting the protests had led to the order.

For a plant capable of producing up to 7,000 of the vests a day, such an order would not take long to fulfil, the report said.

“Basically, most of the fluorescent jackets in the European market are produced in China,” Yao was quoted as saying.

Low turnout as support wanes for France’s ‘yellow vest’ protests

But many other manufacturers of the high-visibility clothing in Zhejiang said they thought the European protests would not have a big impact on their sales.

“To be honest, it is only a small wave over in Europe. The media over here may be exaggerating things. We haven’t seen a huge boom [in orders],” a spokesman from Zhejiang Silver Reflective Company in Wuyi said.

“[The protesters] are certainly buying yellow jackets, but mostly over the internet from websites like Amazon. Large-scale wholesale orders from manufacturers are quite rare.”

An employee at Chinastars Reflective Material Company in Hangzhou, the Zhejiang provincial capital, said: “There hasn’t been a particular increase in orders, perhaps because the vests were owned by [the protesters] already. We regularly export to Europe, but if we received a large order in November then we probably could not have finished production by now.”

Only one firm, Shunfa Reflective Clothing in Wuyi, said it had received significant orders during this period from “Europe and other countries”. But it refused to give more details about which countries.

According to French law, all motorists must store yellow safety vests in their vehicles but the movement has spread beyond drivers to other members of the public.

About 72 per cent of French people expressed support for the protests in a December poll, while the movement was denounced by French President Emmanuel Macron in his New Year’s Day address.