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Putting Quality and Design at the Centre of Chinese Fashion

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Awareness of the sourcing of materials for fashion has been on the rise in the past decade. Concerns about how the global fashion industry functions and its impact on the environment have given rise to savvy retailers who take care over the sourcing of their materials and the working conditions of their employees. Consumers have shown a willingness to pay a little more to know that a garment is sustainably produced and has the lowest possible impact on the environment.

The global textile industry is the second biggest consumer of water in the world. The dyeing processes used by these manufacturers do extensive damage to the water table that is used for drinking water.

In China, there have been violent demonstrations over working conditions and increasing concern over the health consequences of many modern manufacturing methods. In order to get change, new business models need to emerge, and consumers and customers need to be educated and to demand better-quality, low- or non-polluting products.

One business has accomplished something remarkable: it has succeeded in producing high-quality, ethically sourced products while also employing vulnerable people who have significant care duties and need a flexible and understanding employer.

NuoMi (http://www.nuomishanghai.com) has three stores and a store/design studio in Shanghai, China. NuoMi means “sticky rice” in Mandarin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandarin_Chinese). It was founded by Filipino fashion designer Bonita Lim, a mother of four, who uses her business to help single mothers and the less fortunate.

NuoMi is also pioneering sustainable and green goods for the Chinese market. This is unusual in a country more known for its sweatshop, low-wage manufacturing industries that have propelled the country into an economic powerhouse.

NuoMi sells women’s clothing made from sustainable sources while creating jobs for people from disadvantaged communities. There are organic cotton, bamboo, silk and wool garments, and no artificial dyes or synthetic materials are used.

The design team works on colourful knitwear, dresses and baby clothes. They also offer a custom order service.

“When I was 13 or 14 years old, I dreamed of building a special company that could help people who have trouble finding a job,” Lim told the Global Times.

“I called the name of my brand NuoMi, which is (the) Chinese name for sticky rice … Our company works like sticky rice; we support and love each other.”

Born in the Philippines and educated in Canada, Lim had become frustrated while working with the Filipino government and wanted to help the poor. She started NuoMi in 2006 in Shanghai, a city booming as China’s economy continues to grow. It is also a city with a population with long-standing sophisticated consumer tastes. Shanghai had been home to various foreign concessions before the Communists took power and its population was exposed to foreign languages, cultures and tastes.

Lim became a single mother after she divorced, and this experience made her sympathetic to how hard life is for single mothers. Drawing on her passion for fashion, she hired a designer to work with her on designing a line of clothing.

“I was surprised that many of my friends really liked my designs, so they asked me to design clothes for them and introduced some clients to me,” Lim told Global Times. “I tried to design and sell clothes abroad. I got a lot of good feedback, but it exhausted me so I decided to work in Shanghai.”

Despite starting out as a hobby, the business had built a network of 20 clients. It had become impossible to just do it part-time so she formalised the business as NuoMi.  She began hiring single mothers in prison in the Philippines and designed clothing that could be easily made by them.

“Those single mothers in prison were very anxious because they had no way to help their children. Most of them committed crimes because they needed money for their kids,” Lim said.

By 2008 she had built a professional design team and now had 60 clients. With the brand NuoMi growing, she opened its first store. This has grown to four stores in Shanghai. Most of the company’s workforce is now in Shanghai but they are still people living in a vulnerable situation.

Nuomi’s newly opened store in 2008 carried a spring and summer collection of long dresses made from bamboo, cotton and soya. These fabrics were chosen for their breathability in the hot, steamy Shanghai weather.

One of the employees is 52-year-old Zhu Linfang, who takes care of a stroke-damaged father and a mother with liver cancer. “I was introduced through a friend. They paid me more than other companies. At my age almost no company wants to hire me, but working for NuoMi, I earn between 2,000 yuan (US $300) and 3,000 yuan per month,” she said.

Other employees look after ill children and have care duties that occupy much of their time. They do sewing and make toys for NuoMi.

Lim takes the time to train the employees to make sure they can do the work to a high standard.

“I tried to design products that were both suitable for them to make and could be sold in the market,” she said.

NuoMi also sells environmentally friendly glycerine soaps in flavours from mango to chocolate, jewellery made from recycled industrial materials and bathwear, pillows, and purses. The stores even carry matching mother-daughter and father-son clothing.

Wisely, service is offered in Chinese and English to customers – Shanghai is a popular destination for tourists. NuoMi is clearly a trail-blazer and a business to watch.

Resources

1) Ecodesignfair: Eco Design Fair is a bi-annual grass-roots community event whose purpose is to showcase eco-conscious designers and products to general consumers. Website: http://www.ecodesignfair.cn

2) Nest: Another eco-conscious design company in Shanghai. Its motto is “design with a conscience”. Website:http://www.nestshanghai.com/nest.html

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Brazilian Design For New Urban, Middle-Class World

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

Countries across the global South are experiencing rapid urbanization as people move to cities for better economic opportunities — and this massive social change is creating new business opportunities. Those who recognize how fundamentally people’s lifestyles are changing will be those who will benefit from this big shift in populations.

Finding ways to live well in urban areas will be critical to determining whether this move repeats past urban failures — from the favelas of Brazil to the slums of India — or introduces a new way of living that is exciting and colorful. Design and designers will be critical to this change.

One young design company in Brazil, Sao Paulo-based furniture studio NUUN  (nuun.nu), is attempting to resolve a dilemma common across the rapidly urbanizing global South: How to create a design aesthetic that fits with the new way of living and being?

The company consists of designer and founder João Eulálio Kaarah and architects Renato Périgo and Carolina Sverner.

Périgo specializes in furniture and interior design, while Carolina Sverner worked with respected Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban (shigerubanarchitects.com), who is well known for designing buildings and houses made from paper and for creating easy-to-build homes for people after a disaster has struck (http://www.ted.com/talks/shigeru_ban_emergency_shelters_made_from_paper).

A collaboration among upcoming artists, designers and architects, NUUN tries to infuse its designs with a sense of “brazilianness”. Brazilianness is a modern aesthetic, made for modern lifestyles in the new urban landscape, that draws on aspects of Brazil’s culture and environment.

The young studio’s first collection of furniture offers simplicity. Called Eos, it tries to blend urban cosmopolitanism with raw nature. Brazil is known for its jam-packed urban cities as well as its vast expanse of Amazon rainforest. In practice, NUUN’s look is a mix of contrasts redolent of what used to be called brutalism: concrete mixed with glass, steel, wood and semi-precious gems. NUUN takes inspiration from NASA’s Earth Observation System (EOS): the collection vibes off of space satellites, antennae and the dry soil of the backwoods. NUUN says that “despite its Martian features, [the collection] is as Brazilian as it comes”. There is the modular Panorama sofa (http://nuun.nu/products/panorama) in five colors, capable of being re-shaped to fit a variety of living arrangements. A glass-topped coffee table with a concrete base and a side table with a carbon steel metallic structure to complement the sofa.

Elsewhere in the world of Brazilian design, footwear brand Grendene S.A. (http://ri.grendene.com.br/EN/Company/Profile) has become one of the world’s largest producers of footwear and made one of its founders a billionaire. And Grendene has boosted its international success by turning to another Brazilian success: supermodel Gisele Bündchen (giselebündchen.com.br).

Grendene began in 1971 and owns various successful shoe brands, including Melissa (melissa.com.br/en/), Grendha, Ilhabela, Zaxy, Cartago, Ipanema, Pega Forte, Grendene Kids and Grendene Baby.

It has six industrial zones with 13 footwear factories and can produce 240 million pairs of shoes a year. It undertakes all areas of production— from making its own moulds for the shoes to creating PVC (polyvinyl chloride) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyvinyl_chloride) – and handles its own distribution.

While Grendene is already a well-known shoe brand in Brazil, it wanted to expand its presence overseas to increase profits. Named after the two brothers who founded the company, Alexandre Grendene Bartelle and Pedro Grendene Bartelle, Grendene started working with supermodel Gisele Bündchen in 2002 to help her launch her own line of affordable flip-flops, iPanema (ipanemaflipflops.co.uk). The brightly colored sandals with elaborate patterns became an instant success.

But do celebrity endorsements really work? In the case of Bündchen and Grendene, the answer is yes. According to Forbes, 25 million pairs of the flip-flops and sandals are sold every year, accounting for 60 per cent of Grendene’s annual exports of about US $250 million.

Brazil was able to produce 864 million pairs of shoes in 2012, up 5.5 per cent from 2011.

Of these, 113 million pairs were exported to the United States, Argentina and France.

Brazil, like many other countries, has had to work out how it could compete with cheaper shoe imports from China. The strategy it chose was to target the growing number of middle-class people both in Brazil and elsewhere, as well as the high end of the market.

In 1979, Grendene created the Melissa brand, which has now become a coveted style leader. It collaborates with top design names such as Karl Lagerfeld and architect Zaha Hadid.

Making a partnership with Bündchen is part of the company’s strategy to reach higher-income buyers.

And it is working: Grendene increased its export revenue by 50 per cent in 2013.

Co-founder Alexandre Grendene Bartelle became a billionaire according to Forbes World’s Billionaires list and is worth US $1.4 billion. He owns 41 per cent of Grendene S.A. and close to 40 per cent of the Dell Anno brand.

This is a critical lesson for manufacturers in the global South. Grendene had achieved strong market dominance at home, and was already benefiting from growing wealth among Brazil’s middle classes. But it was the overseas market that had the potential to clinch even more profits for the company.

Bündchen’s high brand profile has enabled the company to compete head-to-head with the well-known Brazilian flip-flop brand, Havaianas (havaianas-store.com).

Another modern design leader owned by Grendene, Dell Anno (lojasdellanno.com.br), is a maker of modernist cabinets and furniture.

Dell Anno only use wood from renewable forest sources, to protect and preserve the Amazon and other native forests. Dell Anno tries to recycle as much as possible: up to 80 per cent of the water used in manufacturing is recycled, and byproducts from the production process such as a sawdust, wood, plastic and cardboard are also reused.

Dell Anno makes a full range of furniture for kitchens, bedrooms, closets, home theatres, home offices, service areas, restrooms and commercial environments. Dell Anno uses research and development to study trends and advise customers on the best options. The brand offers its staff training to help standardize customer service, and also has an excellent blog covering developments in modern design around the world (http://www.lojasdellanno.com.br/blog/).

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: May 2014

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Follow @SouthSouth1

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=NhQ9BQAAQBAJ&dq=development+challenges+may+2014&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/may-2014-development-challenges

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Old Boats Become New Furniture In Senegal

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

Every country has its fair share of waste and the remnants of past economic activity. Old cars nobody wants, discarded tins of food, old plastic bags, spare copper wire, cast-off clothing – all can have a new life in the right hands.

An intriguing twist on recycling is happening in the West African nation of Senegal. The country has a strong fishing tradition, and plenty of boats are used to haul in the catch every day. These boats are elaborately decorated and dazzle the eye when lined up on the beach awaiting the next journey to sea. But what to do with the boats when they have completed their service?

One ingenious social enterprise is turning the weatherbeaten but colorful boats into highly prized pieces of furniture that sell in the boutiques of Europe. The enterprise Artlantique (slogan “Made in Africa”) (http://artlantique.com) gathered together local craft folk, both masters and young apprentices, to tackle the challenge of re-shaping old fishing boats into furniture.

Artlantique’s founder, Spanish designer Ramon Llonch, then sends the furniture back to his shop in Barcelona, Spain where it is in turn distributed to shops around the world. Llonch ploughs Artlantique’s profits back in to expanding the business and hopes to hire more skilled craft folk in Senegal.

The idea is to create a “contemporary, modern design, which is above all 100 per cent African, as much in the material as in the making.”

Each unique piece of furniture is a riot of color, with planks of wood harvested from the boats creating an original and eye-pleasing pattern. The furniture has the weathered look expected of wood battered by years of exposure to salty sea water, and is streaked and branded with colorful patterns from its previous life as a fishing boat. The furniture items include cabinets, tables, benches, work tables, chairs, picture frames, coffee tables and even a fusball game table for lovers of soccer (football).

The catalogue that accompanies the website shows the families of the fisher folk, their boats, the workshop where the furniture is made, and the finished product. As the catalogue says, the boats “are stylish and elegant, their sides covered by many layers of paint, faded, and affected by rust from the salt and sea air, giving the wood a rich texture of different tones. Attracted by their beauty, and their history, we wondered whether after all the sea faring they had undergone, the wood would still be in good enough condition to begin a new life, to be ‘reincarnated’ into furniture.”

Negotiations are made with the fisher folk to acquire boats when they look like they have reached the end of their work life. The purchased boat is taken to a beach-side workshop and the craft folk discuss what to do with it. Young apprentices work alongside skilled craft folk, gaining the skills to make a high-quality wooden product capable of being exported.

The craft folk draw on their years of experience to add value to the final product. “Their contribution is essential as they suggest which type of furniture would be the most suitable to make,” Artlantique’s website explains. “They discuss their past and that of their forefathers: their cultural heritage, how to take full advantage of the wood, according to the size of the boat, and its color combinations.”

The furniture made from the boat wood has a high value because each piece is unique and can not be replicated. The raw “Samba” wood comes from an African tropical tree (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triplochiton_scleroxylon) and remains untreated by chemicals. It is seasoned naturally by the sea from its years of service as a fishing boat.

“This wood … has certain limitations, not only because it has a shape but also because it’s very damaged by the salt, the sea, the sun and the lime. But these artisans are very talented,” Llonch told CNN.

“Their creativity is not academic, they are like this by nature because [for them] recycling and reusing is not a fashion, it’s not a trend.”

Artlantique-branded furniture is now on sale in boutiques in Barcelona, Spain, Paris, France and Rome, Italy.

In Brazil, artist Sérgio Dido (http://www.artinsurf.com/art-dido.php), who lives in the dynamic beach resort town of Buzios (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/brazil/the-southeast/buzios), also salvages wood from fishing boats to create art with a surfing theme. The work is featured in the Art in Surf shop (http://www.artinsurf.com/index.php).

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: July 2014

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Follow @SouthSouth1

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=qBU9BQAAQBAJ&dq=development+challenges+july+2014&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challenges-july-2014-published

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Indonesian Wooden Radio Succeeds with Good Design

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

One Indonesian industrial designer has pioneered an innovative business that has rejuvenated the economy of a farming village and improved the sustainability of local forests – and he’s doing it all with wood.

A range of wooden radios (wooden-radio.com) hold pride of place for the Magno brand (http://www.magno-design.com/?id=wr01a), which has carved out a niche as a maker of high-quality, crafted products that marry traditional skills with modern design. Magno is creating jobs and skills while also creating a unique, exportable product that commands a good price.

Indonesian designer Singgih Susilo Kartono developed the radio design concepts while at the Faculty of Fine Art and Design in Bandung, Java, Indonesia in the 1990s.

He takes an organic approach to designing, enjoying the journey and not necessarily being sure where he is going.

“I never start my design according to the market research or demand. I design by absorbing events, global or local events and even mundane daily life things that happen around me. Consequently, I start to think what will be good and better for these people,” he explains in his brochure.

The workshop in which the radios are made is a handsome wooden-roofed building and craftspeople sit at long wooden tables to assemble the models.

Each radio is made from a single piece of wood and takes a craftsperson 16 hours to construct, drawing on traditional woodworking skills. The radios are made from Indian rosewood, which is often used to manufacture many musical instruments because of its excellent sound resonance.

The radios are made in stages, with more than 20 steps involved in assembling each one. The individual parts are precision cut by machines before being assembled using a tongue and groove (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongue_and_groove) construction technique.

Some radio models have a chunky, retro appearance and mix dark and light wood to give an eye-pleasing contrast. Others are more modern designs with a sleek profile. There is a large version, a ‘Mini’, a sleek modern Cube’ version and a rectangular version. There is also a round clock and a wooden desktop office set with various essentials like a wooden stapler.

The radios sell for between Euros 99 (US $124) and Euros 220 (US $276), and are shipped to Europe via Singapore to Hamburg in Germany.

“To me, wood is somewhat a perfect material – especially if I compare it to synthetic ones,” Kartono said. “In wood we could find strength and weakness, advantages and disadvantages or roughness and also softness. Wood is hard and solid but yet it is 100 per cent eco-friendly as it is degradable and leaves no waste materials on the earth.”

Great care is taken in selecting the wood and ensuring it is from local, sustainable plantation sources. According to its website, Magno used 80 trees in 2010 for its radios but in turn planted 8,000 trees around the village. This regeneration has become part of the process of creating the radios.

Magno has won numerous awards, including the Brit Design Award (UK), Design Plus Award (Germany), Good Design Award/G-Mark (Japan) and the Indonesia Good Design Selection Awards.

“The wood I use for the manufacturing process may need as long as 50 years to reach maturity,” Kartono said. “I want people not only to think about exotic or precious woods but likewise about the fact that good things require time. All objects that surround us should be thought-provoking. Craftsmanship originally was the art of dealing with raw materials in a sensible and economical way.”

As Kartono tells it, he faced the typical university graduate’s dilemma about his career path. Should he work as an in-house designer in a city or return to his home village of Kandangan and start a business? His choice was unusual. Once somebody with a university education leaves a small village, it is rare they return. And at first, Kartono did not.

But he was drawn back by the dire situation in the village, and decided to apply his knowledge of product design to revive its economic fortunes. He started by visiting just twice a year because that was all he could afford. This had the advantage of giving him perspective on the situation in the village.

“At first glance, these changes (happening to the village) were seen as a ‘progress,’” he said. “But when I looked more closely I concluded that it was only the ‘surface’ which experienced change. The basic structure of the village did not undergo any changes; moreover, some was actually deteriorating.”

He concluded that the village was being damaged by various government attempts to modernize agricultural practices. The debt problems this caused meant many farmers lost their farms and were forced to seek work in the city or look for another way to make money.

Craft work seemed to be the answer to this problem. It has many advantages, as Kartono sees it. It is something that can grow and fits well with village lifestyles. It is labour intensive, doesn’t need sophisticated technology and can use already existing local resources.

Kartono was inspired by one of his teachers at university, an advocate of the ‘New Craft’ approach, which applies modern management techniques to traditional craftsmanship. The idea is simple but very effective. It begins with making sure every step of the manufacturing process is standardized to ensure consistent quality and materials. A new product or design is first broken down into steps and a product manual is put together. Only then is the manufacturing process carried out.

While the New Craft method sounds simple and obvious, many craft makers do not take this approach. By following this methodology, it is possible to quickly train new craft workers and start up manufacturing in a new village or community. Craft is increasingly being seen as a good way to re-employ people who formerly worked in farming. The New Craft approach can create high-quality products that would sell well in the export market. A common problem with crafts is either poor quality control or inconsistent manufacturing methods. This can feed stereotypes of craft products and make them look second-rate in comparison to machine-manufactured products in the marketplace.

“Design for us is more than just creating a well-designed product that is produced and consumed in colossal amount,” Kartono said. “Design must be a way to solve and minimize problems.”

Resources

1) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. It is a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design. Website: http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm

2) Rio+20: At the Rio+20 Conference, world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, will come together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want. Website: http://www.uncsd2012.org/

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021