Long-time readers of this blog know that I have a nearly absolute conviction regarding the avoidance of Chinese products and the desirability of supporting “Made In USA”. Where possible, I buy American, then I follow a preference ladder based on my own personal genetics and/or belief in our country’s interests: German, then English, then Russian, then Japanese, then other European countries, then Canada/Mexico, then the so-called Asian Tigers, then Taiwan, then China.
Usually this is easy but expensive, as with clothes, tools, and stereo equipment. Sometimes it is absolutely impossible, as with laptop computers or random fasteners. In between you have a grey area where it takes nontrivial research and effort to make a choice.
Then we have “Roka”.
I own a half-dozen pair of prescription glasses, all made in the USA, Italy, Japan, or Denmark — but on most days I wear photochromic “Rory” glasses from Roka. They are, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the best glasses I have ever owned, for my purposes at least. I ride a bicycle or motorcycle most days of the week, every day of the week more often than not. The Roka glasses are flexible, thanks to an exceptionally high grade of transparent plastic reinforced by titanium plates. They are optically good, although not as good as Dillons, and the “transition” from light to dark is nearly unnoticeable. Right now this is important to me because we have a new downhill trail in Ohio that runs between open and forested sections. They have a “Gecko” temple pad material that prevents the glasses from slipping under impact or pressure; sure enough, three weeks ago I bailed at a skatepark hard enough to put a noise in my head and the glasses stayed put.
The only time I don’t wear the Rokas is when I’m certain I won’t be anywhere near a bike or a motorcycle, at which point I wear a nice set of Silhouettes made in Austria. When Roka burst on the scene a while back with the endorsement of multiple half-decent cyclists, I searched their marketing materials, couldn’t find anything about country of origin, and I ordered them with fingers crossed.
Since then, the Roka website has been updated to note that the frames are made in China and the lenses are made “throughout Asia”. Of course, you wouldn’t know that to look at my glasses, which have “DESIGNED IN USA” on the temples, or the marketing materials, which mention Austin, TX more times than a 30-year-old female bartender in Ohio discussing her life plans.
This is made more frustrating by the fact that the Rokas weren’t cheap: $325.62 with all discounts and shipping charges rolled in. Less than a set of Dillons, to be sure, but not the price point you’d associate with Chinese products. Speaking frankly, I’d pay a flat grand for a set of glasses just like this that were actually made in Austin, and I’d buy three pairs. As it is, I’m nursing these Rokas along in the hope than an alternative arrives before it’s time for my next set.
There’s certainly a lot of profit in that $325.62. Where does it all go? Part of it goes to a partnership with the wokeist ding-dongs at Strava (reminder to myself: cancel Strava membership before it renews) and obviously part of it goes to whatever food-truck-and-$15k-carbon-road-bike lifestyle the “founders” of Roka are leading — but part of it also goes to the production of a glossy catalogue delivered to my house four times a year.
I’m kinda-sorta in the magazine business, at least by proxy, so believe me when I tell you that this little book almost certainly costs more to produce than an issue of Road&Track. The paper is miles better, the photography clearly costs more, and it has nearly as many pages. Tremendous effort is make in every issue to ensure that the percentage of white men pictured does not exceed 25%; I never knew there were so many people of color in the long-distance cycling and running disciplines, having spent 35 years as a long-distance cyclist and a decade as a casual event runner, and meeting about three of them. I kid, of course; it was more like ten, and we all know it’s basically corporate suicide now to admit that you have white men as a customer at all. Truth be told, I pity today’s marketers. Everybody knows that the vast majority of junk-you-don’t-need-for-noncompetitive-sports is bought by white men between the ages of 35 and 65, so you have to build a campaign that sucks the cash out of those marks while simultaneously ignoring their existence the way Peter denied Christ.
We live in an era where virtually nobody sends out this kind of glossy (well, for Roka there’s an expensive-looking matte finish to the paper) marketing material anymore. I mean, my tailor does, but he charges nine grand for a suit. How do you do it with $325 glasses that most people won’t buy more than once or twice?
This is what I suspect: that Roka could, in fact, make their glasses in the USA for the same price, but in so doing they would have to cut out the Strava partnership and the catalogues and some of the other marketing dreck. My reason for thinking this is that YouZee makes a clip-in goggle prescription insert in Sweden for half the price of Rokas. I use the YouZees for airsoft and would use them for mountain biking if I liked wearing goggles, which I do not.
YouZee doesn’t do much marketing; they occasionally run an Instagram ad, but they don’t sponsor anyone, they don’t have partnerships, they don’t send a magazine. They just make these inserts in Sweden, pretty much instantly; I got mine via international UPS three days after I ordered, and they match my prescription perfectly.
Therefore, the choice to make Rokas in China is exactly that — a choice. It enables Roka to take money they would normally spend on the grubby, eyeglass-manufacturing Morlocks and spend it on the shiny, happy marketing Eloi instead. Who can blame them? Making things is hard and boring and you have to deal with engineers. Marketing things is fun and social and woke and you get to hang out at the food trucks with pretty people.
The Chinese have no problem with the way the baizuo class in America views them, as disposable subhumans who will do the dirty work while the American intelligentsia does “all the thinking”. They have the intelligence and discipline to know that the real power always lies with the factories. Wars are won by factories; ask the Germans, who sent terrified 14-year-old boys into the clouds to shoot down three P-51 Mustangs for every Fw190 they lost and were rewarded for this with enough Mustangs to darken the sky. Did you know that every one-piece disk brake rotor in the world is cast in China? All of them. Every single one. If you see a disk rotor that is marked as “Made in Germany” or “Made in Canada” it means they took a blank disc from China and machined it to fit.
That’s how you win wars, because in Month Six of the conflict someone will need a disk brake and only China has them. And for “disk brake” you can read everything from “most grades of industrial fasteners” to “motherboard production”. If the shipping containers stopped coming tomorrow, the nice people at Shuron would find that their share of the eyeglasses market just jumped to 100%… but where do they get their acetate? There are just two American acetate producers left, and one of them is busy with vaccines.
We’re not worried about that in the States, of course; we are fighting our own Kulturkampf, one in which we are using any means necessary to redistribute cash and resources from the productive class to the chattering class. Sending production to China is a double good when viewed in that light: not only does it let you pay a bunch of people with blue hair to sit in an office and use Photoshop, it also shuts down a factory in Ohio or Texas that employs all those deplorables. It puts them on welfare and Medicaid, at which point they have to vote the same way you do — and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you forced them to do it, which is the very definition of power.
Some wag on Twitter recently opined that the “defund the police” movement is actually a long con to take jobs from blue-collar white (and black, and Hispanic) men and give them to the white-collar white women with liberal-arts degrees who tend to proliferate in social work. Is that deliberate? I can’t say, but it would certainly have that effect. Like the Roka business model, in which you exchange two blue-collar American production jobs for a Chinese contract and a desk gig in Austin, it amounts to a subtle and powerful economic warfare. Oh, and you can use the excess profits to advocate for your political stances as well. This waltz can continue until the dollar loses steam, at which point these same people will express complete bewilderment as to how we became a vassal state of China.
All of this ends up mattering more than you think it does. Which is why I resent my Rokas so much. They are good, but they are not good. If any of you can find an alternative, I’ll owe you a favor.