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Design and Made in Italy: how to relaunch key sectors

Rho (MI), 10/06/2022, National Roundtable

The world needs to be reassessed. A design overhaul is called for, and this presents a unique opportunity for Italy. The post-pandemic recovery brought a major uptick in Italian exports, which are among the most diversified in the world for number of products. This is the result of a massive creative effort that is amply represented by the key sector of fine wood furniture. The efficiency of family-run businesses, the resilience of niche product leaders and diversification are all factors that contribute to the success of Italian design around the world.

This sector today has the opportunity to participate in a watershed moment of lifestyle changes stemming from the pandemic. The redefinition of work and domestic space poses new challenges to which Italian sector companies must respond. Moreover, the elevated demand for new residential and work solutions is clearly borne out by the attendance figures at this year’s edition of the iconic Milan Salone del Mobile, back after the Covid suspension.  

Nevertheless, companies are also being called upon to address another trend that has been accelerated by the pandemic: digitalization, which involves not only new models of customer contact and sales, but also new forms of corporate governance. Indeed, the challenges of innovation call for new skills, and for a sector consisting predominantly of medium-sized family-run businesses managerialization is a key stage.

Italian industry is also coming to grips with the new geoeconomic scenarios that have been shaping up over recent years. The war in Ukraine has shut down some major markets for high-end Italian products, which are facing the growing hurdle of protectionist practices often masked as onerous certification obligations. In order to overcome these obstacles, public support for industry disbursed in various forms during the pandemic emergency should become systemic, with clear conditions and a long-range perspective. The goal is not to provide subsidies to firms in crisis but rather to support competitive firms in an increasingly complex world, and not least from the standpoint of protecting intellectual property. Value chains need bolstering to be internationalized, which calls for system instruments that are not always within reach of an industrial fabric made up of small and medium-sized enterprises.

In niche – and not mass – globalization, Italy has found a way to save and nurture its industrial sector. Only by pursuing this path will Italian design be able to strengthen, innovate and move forward with new instruments to export its valuable know-how to the rest of the world.