Tag Archives: craftsmanship

Designed by Apple in California, but where is it made?

I opened up The Age newspaper today (yes, the dead tree version), to find a double spread promoting ‘Designed by Apple in California’.

Newspaper advertisement 1 July 2013

Newspaper advertisement 1 July 2013

It’s the picture of divine innocence. A young girl lying in bed bathed in light from a tablet she holds above her. The accompanying text reflects on the ‘experience of the product’ and the discipline exercised by ‘engineers, artists, craftsmen and inventors’ to ensure that Apple products enhance that experience.

The latest Apple advertising campaign involves a commitment to sign its products ‘Designed by Apple in California’.

There are two elements worth noting in this attribution.

First, it specifies California rather than USA. With the upcoming Steve Jobs biopics, this may be to draw on the romance of free-wheeling Silicon Valley as a cradle of digital invention. It potentially helps counter with any resentment at US monopolies on soft and hardware patents.

Second, it is more common to identify where a product is made, rather than designed. The question of where Apple products are made has been the source of some anxiety, as it has been revealed these treasured devices involve considerable exploitation of workers in Southern China.

It’s about design, not manufacture. Design takes on the responsibility of production by becoming a craft, a focused exercise towards the achievement of a singular goal.

Control is everything to Apple. Compared to other platforms, it strictly regulates access to its system by other hardware or software providers. Its power is to say ‘no’. While a quintessential feature of modernist design, this control can come at the expense of serendipity, when bold invention comes from trusting in chance.

Apple says no. One of the richest corporations in the world has no featured philanthropic program. Now it attempts to repress the nature of its outsourcing of manufacture. Can they really call themselves craftsmen?

When there’s no one left to make things



Perucci factory closing down

For many years, I’d been intrigued by the factory located on my route to Brunswick Station. The claim to be ‘Actual Makers of Craftsman Tailored Shirts in the European Tradition’ seemed almost medieval in a contemporary retail culture of brands.

So I was quite sad to discover that it was closing down. Why? Today I went it to find out the reason this venerable business was coming to an end. Inside I was met by the ebullient owner, Bill Perucci. Bill was more than happy to take me through the epic story of Perucci Shirts to its current demise.

It appears that he acquired the shirt business from his Jewish father-in-law, an Epstein who escaped from Radom in Poland just before the Second World War. Epstein had been running a fruit business and was looking for something different. A friend approached him to be partner in his shirt business, offering to teach him all that he needed to know. After the partner’s marriage breakup, the wife’s new husband became the business partner.  Neither he nor Epstein knew anything about shirts. It was left up to one of the workers to teach them the business.

Bill Perucci

Bill Perucci

Bill Perucci with the first shirt made in the factory and the photo of his parents in law

Eventually they relocated the business from Lygon Street Carlton to its present Brunswick premises. Epstein eventually passed the business down to his educated son-in-law. They invented a new brand, Perucci – a mixture of letters of Epstein and his original name Russeck. Bill then changed his name to his brand as that would be easy for business.

And the business flourished, with the assistance of skilled labour coming from Italy, Greece and Vietnam.

So why are they closing? Is this part of the economic downturn? Do people no longer care for ‘craftsman’ made shirts?

Far from it. According to Bill, demand has never been stronger. The problem is that all their skilled staff have all eventually retired, leaving them without anyone who can make shirts. ‘We’ve been sacked by our workers!’ Bill exclaims.

Now that unemployment is rising, and globalisation is fraying at the edges, the closure of Perucci sends an important message. Perhaps it’s not only outside pressures that are affecting economies like Australia’s. There may well be inside forces eating away at our capacity as well.