Activity: Talk or presentation types › Conference presentation
The global, spatial distribution of design work is changing. The core-periphery model, in which design is located in one part of the world and manufacturing in another, is being reconfigured in global networks of design. By dissecting one commodity and exploring the many actors tied to various iterations of its design, this paper shows how an everyday object – a pair of steel-toed safety boots – represents this shifting landscape. The case study boots are proudly ‘made in Canada.’ They are manufactured in the last shoe factory in Ontario but their design and production would be impossible without global commodity chains stretching across North and South America, Europe and Asia. The boots highlight in particular the transnational exchange taking place between Italy and Mexico, illustrating how post-industrial and industrial centres are redefining design expertise in often invisible ways, challenging old hierarchies of ‘design-led’ and ‘manufacturing’ nations as well as notions of value attached to countries of origin. Building on long traditions of leather goods, and offering different cultural and economic advantages, Italy and Mexico bring together producers from around the world in locations ranging from ‘shoe cities’ to trade shows, academic institutions and factory floors. Old and new technologies, trends, and practices converge in these microcosms of global design, generating new design knowledge. Back in Toronto, the shoe designer’s work reflects the global fragmentation of production. For the designer, global supply chains offer opportunities and constraints, like the challenges of fitting together pre-existing components that are designed elsewhere. These components are sourced not only for their low price but also because their points of origin offer expertise and resources that Canada does not. The Canadian designer draws from his training in Italy and time in Mexico to create footwear that is at once ‘global’ in its appropriation of styles, forms, and manufacturing techniques, and ‘vernacular’ in that it represents unique local conditions of production, the result of a consolidated and diminished Canadian footwear manufacturing sector and further evidence of global shifts in design capacity.