The nine signatories of a new manifesto are pleading to reopen their factories
Though there’s no doubt that the current COVID-19 situation remains a pandemic, certain European countries, including Italy, are at least starting to imagine and plan for what life after a lockdown would look like. Though restrictions remain in place, a makeshift consortium of Italian design and furniture brands have come together to ask for the chance to get back to work, warning of dire consequences for the industry should a shutdown continue much longer.
Last week, representatives from nine Italian firms—B&B Italia, Bisazza, Boffi, Cappellini, Cassina, Flexform, Giorgetti, Molteni Group, and Poltrona Frau—issued a manifesto asking to reopen production efforts April 14. On April 10, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended Italy’s full lockdown to at least May 3. While some governmental concessions are set to allow timber companies and book shops to get back to work, factories are still closed for the time being.
The Italian firms are worried that a mounting backlog of orders and competition from other countries with fewer current restrictions on production could end up causing long-term devastation to Italy’s famed furniture industry. If the chance to get back to work is delayed much longer, the manifesto warns, “We could lose 20–30% of our industrial heritage and witness serious damage to the industry. All of this would inevitably result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.” In conclusion, the group asserts that “it could take 20–30 years to recover what we would lose in a few weeks.”
Though the idea of large-scale furniture and design production may seem odd at a time when the country’s death toll is reportedly still rising, the petitioning firms point to several structural characteristics of furniture production and sales that could make it possible to get back to work while maintaining social distancing. Beyond more typical measures, like the use of certified personal protective equipment, temperature scanning, and regular deep cleanings, the companies note that “our plants are safe spaces, thanks to the layout of the production areas that respects social distancing.” Additionally, the location of their factories allow employees to reach work without relying on public transportation.
Furthermore, the firms believe it’s possible to safely operate furniture showrooms with some restrictions still in place. “We usually have very large shop floors with a small and distributed influx of people, not at all concentrated at the same time. The risk of overcrowding is practically nonexistent,” the manifesto reads, adding that they’re willing to adopt a temporary appointment-only model if need be. The manifesto’s signatories note that they’ve already banded together to request a 50% rent moratorium for the rest of 2020 on all of their rented properties across the world. But convincing the Italian government of their need to prevent COVID-19 from becoming an “industrial and economic catastrophe that would destroy thousands of businesses” may prove more difficult.
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