#Designgoeson: how to go on after the Covid-19 health emergency. We have interviewed Gabi Peretto, architect, designer and entrepreneur who has been living in Guangzhou, China, for several years
What’s the situation in Guangzhou?
Guangdong, the province whose capital is Guangzhou, is China’s second worst-affected region by Covid-19, following Hubei and Wuhan. While in Wuhan they really shut down any business for over two months, here in Guangdong the total closure lasted just under a month, including the two weeks of Chinese New Year holidays. During that month, schools, universities, offices, factories, and all businesses except those related with food and essential needs were closed; public transportation never stopped completely, working hours were reduced but it still worked. Since the beginning of March, infections have been increasingly rare in Guangzhou, and businesses have been reopening.
Companies reopened, last week (the week before March 18, ed.) they called off-site employees back, and, despite many difficulties, they are resuming activities. Mandatory safety measures, however, are still massive. Every condominium and every productive activity must appoint a health and safety director, who takes people’s temperature when they enter and leave the building. If it turns out that you have a fever, you cannot enter the house, and the Health Officers immediately put you in quarantine in isolation. Bars and restaurants are open, but you have to respect the mandatory safety distance; even many stores and businesses such as hairdresser salons have reopened their doors, but they work very little because people are still afraid. Basically, more than 60% of the activities are open, all construction sites are working, but it will take some time for things to get back to normal. Not too much, anyway. Personally, I think that China will put a lot of effort to get their consumption levels back on track as soon as possible.
China, Guangdong and furniture: what is the current situation?
There are considerable differences from one company to another, depending on the kind of products, supply and distribution chains. I deal with two companies, one with my own production, the Gabi Peretto Milano collection, and one with production for third parties, for large-scale distribution. Among our clients in the large-scale distribution sector are chains such as Maison du Monde and Coin Casa. We should keep in mind that, for giants like Maison du Monde, we are already working on the collections for 2022, so we have not experienced serious production stops. We have had a few orders cancelled, but in general we continue to work. Some colleagues who, like us, used to work only with international markets, are now considering focusing more on the Chinese market, which means working with stores more, therefore with smaller quantities of products and a different distribution model. Which means also investing much more in online shops and reshaping logistics. Currently, the most affected by this situation are freelance designers and independent design studios, which are not linked to any company, neither Chinese nor Italian.
So you notice signs of recovery in China. How long will it take?
Here in China everything is resuming, though slowly. But we have the impression that it will accelerate in a very short time, within a month or two. As to Europe, it is really hard to make predictions. It is possible that China, and Asia in general, will be heading towards a new economic boom, which will imply a considerable reduction in the distance between Eastern and Western economies (or even the definitive overtaking of the East over the West). But we have to wait and see what will actually happen. All in all, the Eastern boom in the long term may also be positive and represent a profitable opportunity for Made in Italy. We will see in a few months, but now Europe has more pressing problems to solve.