Made in [your country] credentials are a bit of a confusing issue when it comes to ethics. We have outlined this from different angles in previous articles, e.g. here and here.
There are of course very practical reasons why to produce more locally – a smaller carbon footprint as well as tighter control over production are just 2 of many conceivable reasons.
There are numerous things I’m not very fond of in this whole discussion on bringing production back to Europe. The first and most important one is a distinct national, even racists, flavour to this discussion:
No matter whether I go around trade exhibitions in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Japan or Switzerland, the term Made in [insert your country] is used to suggest that by merely producing in ‘your country’:
- the quality is better, notably better than something made abroad
- people have been paid fairly
- labour conditions are completely adhering to best standards, which means to stringent European laws at the very least
- the design is world class
- local (national) skill is maintained (or revived)
- jobs have been created in the national economy.
It suffices to say that none of this is necessarily true. It is easily possible to produce in Europe, in ‘your country’, and have none of the above mentioned boxes ticked.
In other words: this type of nationalist attitude does those little justice to those manufacturers, that are at the heart of this development, and merit to be seen as what they are: producers, or brands, of some of the most outstanding products on this planet.
Nationality has nothing to do with craftsmanship, ethics or quality. Just with geographical borders and political systems.
Pride, commitment, vision, and a lot of hard work, though, does have a lot to do with what the discussion should be all about. The question that remains to be asked is: Why is all of this invariably, and nearly always only discussed in the context of Made in [...]? It does the products and designs no justice at all, and to make matters worse it creates a movement that pulls countries, specifically within Europe, apart, in a time and age when we should be pulling together. With a whole landscape of new production countries further East, Europe – as a whole – cannot afford to fall back on cheap nationalism and laurels from colonialist times, believing that it will bring back the heydays of the past. Bad idea. This type of explicit competition is not helping any individual EU market, but rather, is slowly eating up all of them from within.
Celebrating each others expertise, even sharing knowledge where needed to leverage and show case each others achievements, that’s what the future is all about. That, or no future at all.
And this, in short, is why I’m very critical about what is currently happening in Britain under the flag of ‘Made in the UK’ – as well as the promotions of other ‘Made in [my country]‘ products under nationalist flags.
Maybe more accurately: HOW it is happening. Because much of it leaves a shallow after taste of ‘us’ against ‘them’, reminiscent of past empire and industrial revolution glory. And it is not a nice taste.
This all said, there is nothing wrong with genuinely celebrating quality craftsmanship, ingenuity in design, and well-made quality products that engage with their owners on a deep, visceral level. Quite to the contrary: there should be more of it, and we need to genuinely do our best and grasp every opportunity to celebrate such craftsmanship.
While I was initially very wary and fearing the worst ‘nationalist’ flavoured event, Best of Britannia, overall, did a thorough job to promote just that: products of British origin that have that ‘special something’ to them. And the organisers certainly did a good job at finding products with that strange lasting quality design feel to them. Proudly British, yes, but in adequate portions.
Maybe equally interesting was the mix of very young brands – some of the exhibitors literally used the event as a launch base (e.g Blake) – and very, very traditional brands (such as Fox Flannels or Globe Trotter). Equally balanced was the representation from across the British landscape. Erm – actually, that is inaccurate. England was ways over-represented: I can in fact only remember having seen 1 Welsh and 1 Irish brand, and not a single one from Scotland.
Catering apart – the event was in my eyes just as much a representation of Britain with regards to its food culture (i.e. Burgers, Beers and Sweets) – the range of quality exhibitors and their products was stunning. It remains only to be hoped that their offering will find a public willing – and able – to pay for what they are worth.