The transition from summer to autumn in Western Europe’s largest metropolis can mean many things, but in 2015 one of them is undoubtedly the reassuring thunk through London’s front doors of no less a volume than the IKEA catalogue. In recent times, this is undoubtedly proving to be a moment of genuine meaning as significant sections – perhaps even an absolute majority – of the capital’s population are seeing their economic fortunes stagnate or decline, and increasingly look to retailers such as IKEA to provide them with new and affordable household items; in times like these, it is hard to believe that the Sweden-founded, Holland-headquartered retailer was once routinely looked down upon by the middle-classes.
But this year’s catalogue brought a special surprise: IKEA has started serving GRÖNSAKSBULLAR (their emphasis) veggie balls in their restaurants, with a frozen take-home option available from the Swedish Food Markets that operate at select stores. This may not seem like news, but it is in fact remarkable on a number of levels.
For years, we at Mediolana had wondered why our favourite branch (at Brent Park, near Wembley) of what is fast becoming the world’s popular home furnishing store insisted on serving only one variant of Swedish meatballs – a recipe containing both beef and pork meat – despite being located next to two of the largest Hindu and Jewish communities anywhere in Europe (and a substantial Muslim population). Now – twenty-seven years after its 1988 opening – it has finally got around to addressing this obvious lacuna.
There are two take-home messages from this development. Firstly, IKEA is exhibiting both market sensitivity and sheer good sense in giving a large cross-section of their customer base a viable meal option: businesses which do not follow suit will almost inevitably lose out to those who are visionary enough to recognise the deficits in their offerings. Secondly, this instance provides yet another illustration of why small can sometimes be beautiful: what should have been the simplest of additions to what is already hardly the most complex of menus has taken literally decades to be conceptualised and/or implemented by an acknowledged world-leader in logistics; SMEs everywhere should take heart from their ability to rectify mistakes on the fly.
While we at Mediolana have extensively documented how global society is in thrall to all things mobile and telephonic, as a company we find it hard to get excited by the actual processes that go into making smartphones: it is more than a little dispiriting to reflect on the fact that a device which helps define one’s life is more often than not enabled by murky resource wars and sub-slave labour.
However, recently this changed when our Creative Director & CSO – himself on the search for a new smartphone – stumbled across Fairphone, a social enterprise company headquartered in Amsterdam which produces self-styled ethical smartphones. Through respective agreements with suppliers and contractors in the Democratic Republic of Congo and China, Fairphone promises to deliver to consumers a handset free of conflict minerals and blood-stained factory walls. Fairphone have candidly stated that while it is not yet possible to produce a smartphone which is 100% ‘clean’, this is very much a key objective of the project.
In a world flooded with noble initiatives, Fairphone stands out for three key reasons:
- Spotting the Ethical Chasm. Fairphone have recognised that there is a vast ethical hole in the operations of most major smartphone manufacturers – not a small issue given the increasing global ubiquity of these devices. Acting on this observation clearly has the potential to strike a huge chord.
- Making it Sexy. Most social enterprises fail for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them is the lack of investment in design and branding. All too often, social enterprises rely on the push of goodwill while almost totally neglecting the pull of allure. Conversely, the Fairphone star logo is a genuinely good marque – rebellious for all the right reasons – which one can imagine actively wanting to be associated with.
- Making Small Plausible. While a surprising number of countries have their own successful smartphone brands – think Xiaomi in China, Casper in Turkey, Yotaphone of Russia – producing cutting-edge electronics is largely the preserve of corporate giants in service-dominated economies. But Fairphone has shown that a social enterprise in a smallish European territory can make its mark in a notoriously competitive sector: the tens of thousands of Fairphone 1.0 handsets have sold out, and 2.0 is in the pipeline.