COVI/DESIGN #7

As mentioned in last week’s article, in which we discussed the house, today’s topics are production, companies and innovation, with a contribution by MAIS Project.
This crisis has hit hard the sector, not only in Italy, but all over the world: the cancellation of events, but also the problems with trade from abroad, with social distancing and the retail experience, etc…

All over the world there have been several initiatives to face this moment. In Spain, for example, RED – Reunión de Empresas Españolas del Diseño created a manifesto signed by the fifteen main sector associations. In the text, the design sector “claims to establish a stable and wider channel of dialogue between the government and companies to be able to provide ideas and solutions that contribute to the social and economic reconstruction of the country” (1). What’s going on here, in Italy?

The main problem was the cancellation of the largest design event (not in Italy but in the World), Salone del Mobile + FuoriSalone, a seven-day expo that, in line with data by the Milan Chamber of Commerce, produces an income of 350 million euros (2). This has resulted in the instant loss of companies and studies investments, but also of the possible revenues earned by Salone’s visibility. After this, the quarantine period gave the final stroke, with over 80% of losses and drop in orders: the impossibility to move and travel has automatically blocked the contract world with empty hotels and restaurants (3). Retail trade has almost zeroed, while online shopping has tripled compared to 2019, but only for food, and products for the house, for the body and for animals.(4)

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How did the Italian design furniture companies react? First of all there is a radical change that has been faced and it’s smart working, which we already discussed last week. In an interview with Domus (5) titled “Covid-19 will change forever the industry of furniture, according to entrepreneurs” that I invite you to read, enterpreneurs and managers explain their point of view. I summarize:

UniFor Managing Director, Carlo Molteni, tells how, working on an important tender, they successfully seek the help of a new site project manager, working remotely.
Giulia Molteni, Head of Marketing and Communication of Molteni&Co, talks about the acceleration of digital change with new services such as [email protected] and much more. Listone Giordano’s Brand Manager Andrea Margaritelli does the same.
Patrizia Moroso, Art-director of Moroso, tells how the company begin experimenting with Italian start-ups for the use of innovative materials with low environmental impact to replace polyurethane and polyester. The theme is defined a “crucial issue” for the post Covid era. “We can’t change everything in one day, but if we start using ‘good’ materials more, their cost will soon be lower.” We hope that these new collections will be also economically sustainable.
Gregg Buchbinder, CEO of Emeco, talks about more sustainable consumption while Carlo Urbinati, president of Foscarini, focuses on a change of storytelling, from the product to the relationship between man-environment.

A few days later a real manifesto came out (6), I quote AD: “The first tangible result of the group (including B&B Italia, Bisazza, Boffi, Cappellini, Cassina, Flexform, Giorgetti, Minotti, Molteni Group, Poltrona Frau.) was a document, drawn up 2 weeks ago, as a request for a moratorium on the rental price for all commercial properties currently closed. The companies proposed to reach an agreement that would reduce the cost of rents by 50% from April to December 2020… Today, the main objective of the group, and of the entire sector, is to ensure the production recovery scheduled today for April 20 instead of May 4, as is currently expected.

A very different approach from Spain. Without adequate support, here the need to produce and start to sell becomes crucial, and unfortunately, once again, we are not using this moment to stop and reflect, trying to rethink what it means to produce and consume. The crisis has (FINALLY) led some companies to consider the issue of sustainability, but will it be enough? Our recent past is marked by an overproduction of identical pieces of furniture, in which the only difference is the finishing or the detail. Will something change?
Probably not. The stop of some production systems should make us think a lot and suggest a more sustainable behavior.

MAIS Project (Isato Prugger and Matteo Mariani) is a young design studio based in Monza, with a focus on innovation. I asked their opinion and the result is very interesting: this event can be an example of the so-called Theory of the black swan, a metaphor that describes a systemic and financial event not foreseen but with significant effects and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact, with the benefit of hindsight. In these moments, companies tends not to invest anymore in the innovation sector, in favor of the commercial side that can guarantee a safe profit. Also prototyping and the possibility of buying parts from abroad has become a problem (MAIS Project itself has been affected): before this moment, a few days and an airliner were enough. Now you have to be able to find who ships and hope that the material will not be detained by customs, therefore more time and more money spent. We can say that globalization, as we know it, has failed and has highlighted its weaknesses.
However, it is precisely from innovation that we could start again: we should focus more on the local markets, in order to enhance our dying craftsmanship, lower unnecessary CO2 emissions and contribute to the richness of the place where we are based. Circular economies should be enhanced and investments and systemic innovations should also be increased, perhaps by trying to introduce hybrid solutions and new products. All this would be very nice, but it implies time, money and also the presence of politics. Remember Spain?

Below you can find a gallery of products created from industrial waste.

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