Friday. 26/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Scene stealers

At this point in the tribulations of the pandemic, many cultural sectors have had to find alternative ways to operate to remain economically sustainable. Some, such as cinemas and galleries, have been able to open their doors for a few short-lived months. But in most European countries, music venues and theatres have been shut for the vast majority (if not the entirety) of the past year and will have to wait many more months before they open again. It’s therefore understandable that musicians, dancers and actors are worried about their future and, as they have in Italy, are protesting about being valued less than shopping malls or church services.

In the UK, the roadmap out of lockdown outlined by Boris Johnson this week is giving some hope to performers. The reality, however, is that once the spectre of coronavirus begins to feel more manageable, another (arguably tougher) hurdle is on the way. While the impact of Brexit is already being felt by many businesses, plenty of cultural players have yet to deal practically with some of the consequences of the UK leaving the EU.

Once festival season begins again in earnest, the UK government’s failure to reach a deal with the EU on granting visa-free movement for touring artists, and the increased cost of moving equipment and sets across borders, will be felt painfully. As a result, getting back on stage here in the UK probably won’t be accompanied by the sigh of relief it deserves.

Diplomacy / Indonesia

Voice of reason

Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi (pictured) held talks with her Burmese and Thai counterparts in Bangkok this week to discuss solutions for restoring peace in Myanmar. The meeting took place in the midst of Indonesia’s attempts to rally Asean members to hold a special ministerial meeting on Myanmar – a difficult task as countries in the economic alliance have been divided in their responses to the crisis. Indonesia is Asean’s largest member, accounting for 40 per cent of its population, and it’s not the first time that Jakarta has taken a lead role on pressing issues. In 2011, for instance, it initiated talks over the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. For Marsudi, it’s a simple case of upholding Asean’s principles: democracy, rule of law and respect of human rights. “Indonesia has to do it because there are some principles that must be respected,” Marsudi said in a press conference on Wednesday. “To do nothing is not an option.”

Fashion / Finland

Tree shirts

Cotton and denim may be natural materials but turning them into clothes can be a wasteful process. Spinnova, the Finnish textile company that turns wood into environmentally friendly fabrics yesterday unveiled plans to build the company’s first commercial-scale production facility near its pilot factory in Jyväskylä, as part of a new €50m joint venture with Brazilian wood-pulp producer Suzano. Demand is growing for fibres like Spinnova’s, which use less water and produce less waste than cotton, all without the plastic microfibres generated in the production of polyester.

CEO Janne Poranen highlights the environmental benefits and sets an ambitious goal: “to be nothing less than the preferred textile partner for global fashion brands by 2028”. With production expected to begin late next year and Sweden’s H&M joining the likes of Bestseller, Marimekko and Bergans in signing up to use the fabric, expect to be picking up Spinnova T-shirts, trousers and jackets on high streets in 2023.

Mobility / Japan

Charging ahead

Sagawa Express, one of Japan’s largest delivery companies, says that it plans to turn its entire mini-truck fleet electric by 2030, in line with the Japanese government’s goal for all newly released cars to be electric by 2035. At last count, the Kyoto-based company had a fleet of 27,000 vehicles, including 7,000 mini delivery trucks, which together emit about 280,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. About 4,000 run on natural gas or hybrid engines but just 19 are electric, so the decade-long overhaul is quite ambitious. The new EVs will be developed with a Tokyo start-up called ASF, which is creating a special model for use in Japan, where private homes and businesses are often connected by networks of alleyways that call for compact vehicles. The prototype is expected to be completed in spring and, once it’s successfully out on the road, Sagawa and ASF say that they will consider selling the model to other companies in the delivery business.

For more on the future of electric mobility, check out the Business section of Monocle’s March issue, including interviews with the CEOs of lorry-maker Scania and electric car-maker Polestar.

Design / USA

Constructive dismissal

Joe Biden has quietly reversed Donald Trump’s executive order “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture”, which mandated agencies to prioritise classical styles in the design of new federal buildings. The initial decision was sharply criticised by architects and planners as short-sighted and counterproductive. Such “uniform-style mandates” belie the diversity of US architectural traditions and culture, said the American Institute of Architects earlier this month. Indeed there’s no reason why modernism, brutalism or any other style shouldn’t be classed as “beautiful” – the key is in the quality of the design. What’s important here is that Biden’s rollback isn’t about aesthetics at all. Instead, it hints at the capacity of different architectural styles and ideas to improve the spaces and cities in which we work and live. Buildings aren’t ornaments and shouldn’t be treated as playthings in a president’s toy box. Allowing experimentation and new ideas is the first step towards building a better future.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Kimai and Hotel Starlino

We meet Jessica Warch and Sidney Neuhaus, childhood friends who grew up in family jewellery businesses and are now co-founders of Kimai, a brand built around lab-grown diamonds in Antwerp, which is appealing to more socially aware buyers. Plus: spirits-branding expert Elwyn Gladstone joins to discuss Hotel Starlino, an all-natural aperitivo and vermouth range distilled in Turin.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: March issue, 2021

Monocle’s optimistic March issue challenges us to do it better, whether that be by growing your own forest or running a cleaner, leaner business. We visit the cities bringing the wilderness back to urban life and find out why you can mend almost anything. Plus: nature’s fluffiest film stars. Available now at The Monocle Shop

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