In a 2011 blog post Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine and cyberculture guru, pointed out something that Apple has been doing for some years: to label its products with a caption stating “Designed in California” and, less visible, “assembled in China”. Something that, according to K.K., is the same as stating: “Yes, Apple stuff is manufactured in China by robot-like young people in precision synchrony, but it is designed — that high art — in California — where the sun always shines — by wild haired groovy mac guys who like to question authority. At least that is the branded myth.” The author notes that also other companies, like the sneaker brand Vans—Designed in California—or Nokia—Designed in Finland—are adopting a similar strategy. Other examples are pointed out by the readers of the blog.
This post allows us to make two observations. The first—the most obvious—is that today a global brand identifies itself with the activity of imagination and planning of the product, rather than with the manufacturing of it. Today, in the age of the outsourcing of non-strategic activities, the manufacturing phase has no more the importance it had during the Industrial Age—it can happen everywhere and can even be delegated to others. For sure this condition doesn’t apply to all products, but the tendency is evident for all mass productions.
The second observation is about the return of the place as a factor of identity. Not the manufacturing location—which anyway remains an information to be declared because of the law—but the place of creativity and design. We believed, thanks to hyper-fast communication technologies, that places had become irrelevant. It is not so. They are still able to produce identity and value, as long as they are the locations where the culture generating the products is born and lives. This, at least, seems to happen where the so-called industrial districts have been transformed into creative districts. Maybe the “Made in Italy” label is not so shiny as it used to be—simply because the “made in” segment is no more relevant. Perhaps, in a near future, we will too append to our products labels like “Designed in Italy” or “Designed in Milan”, or Veneto, Florence, Sicily—sure that these will be the new values recognized by the market.
Another possibility is that our country will continue to send to work abroad the best minds produced by its culture, becoming itself the place where the objects imagined by big multinational brands in other places are—skilfully—realized. This would be a crisis for our cultural identity.