YIWU, China: With Christmas looming, it's crunch time in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Yiwu, which has earned a reputation as Santa's "real" workshop.
In Sun Xudan's artificial Christmas tree factory, workers cut and twist long ropes of fake "branches" into simulated pines destined for homes and public holiday displays.
It's a nearly year-round operation in Yiwu, which has been estimated as the source of at least 60 per cent of Christmas trinkets worldwide.
Sun's factory exports 80 per cent of its output, but in the final two months of the year, her migrant labourers toil for domestic buyers in China, where the glitter and pageantry of Christmas is gaining popularity.
Christmas trees in a display room of Sun Xudan's artificial Christmas tree factory in Yiwu. (Photo: Johannes EISELE/AFP)
A worker operates a machine producing fake "branches" in Sun Xudan's artificial Christmas tree factory in Yiwu. (Photo: Johannes EISELE/AFP)
"Domestic demand has been gradually rising," she told AFP, adding it has doubled in five years.
Many orders come from Chinese e-commerce businesses on websites like Taobao, China's online shopping leader. Her workers typically earn around 3,000 to 4,000 yuan per month (US$435 to US$580), working 10 months of the year.
At a Yiwu Christmas-product emporium, merchant Qiu Xuemei said exports of her ornaments and lights had jumped 20 per cent this year despite losing many orders from her key market Russia due to its economic woes.
A worker cuts fake "branches" into pieces in Sun Xudan's artificial Christmas tree factory in Yiwu. (Photo: Johannes EISELE/AFP)
The recent fall of China's yuan currency, which makes Chinese products cheaper and thus more attractive overseas, has buffered the impact.
"Our business has gone up mainly because we focus on the North and South American markets and the yuan falling against the dollar helped," she said.
Sun's workers will get a holiday once production stops in mid-December, but not necessarily one full of Christmas cheer. "I haven't bought a tree. We don't really pay much attention to Christmas," one worker said.