Friday. 28/10/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Made

Opinion / David Hodari

Ready for disassembly

“Yesterday’s news was as heart-breaking as it gets for a founder,” began Made.com’s Ning Li in a LinkedIn post. The original copy includes a broken-heart emoji, which I’ve removed (you’re welcome). This is in reference to the British online furniture brand finding itself on the brink of collapse, having suspended sales and abandoned attempts to find a rescue buyer.

What’s remarkable about the company’s implosion is the speed at which the direct-to-consumer retailer has gone from being a stock-market darling to having to look to “preserve value” for its shareholders and creditors. In just over a year since launching its initial public offering at a valuation of £775m (€899m), the company is no longer taking any orders. From a personal point of view, I’m disappointed; I’m very fond of the velvet and mahogany Made.com armchair that sits in my living room. What went wrong?

One reason why Made.com ended up here is seemingly universal for anyone who delivers goods manufactured largely in Asia. Shipping costs have leaped in the past few years for the same Ukraine-war-and-pandemic-supply-chain issue that will by now be obvious to anyone with access to a newspaper. See also: waning demand for expensive items such as furniture during economically rocky times.

The other factors are perhaps more in Made.com’s control. Take your pick: the company assumed that customers’ pent-up cash and focus on making their homes more cosy during lockdowns would continue uninterrupted; Made.com pitched itself as “digitally native” at a time when customers are rediscovering the pleasure of bricks-and-mortar trade; and then there’s the business strategy. The retailer spent too much money scaling supply in an effort to expand and cut the long lead times that customers (me included) had experienced.

The world is changing: it’s much harder than it used to be to serve customers straight from a warehouse, particularly when shipping large items. If it goes to the wall, Made.com will be remembered most for making charming furniture at accessible prices. In its strategic thinking, however, Made.com will be viewed as a company that left its undelivered velvet armchairs outside and hoped that it wouldn’t rain.

David Hodari is Monocle’s business editor.

Image: Reuters

Diplomacy / Palestine & Singapore

Power balance

Mohammad Shtayyeh (pictured), the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, landed in Singapore on Wednesday to meet president Halimah Yacob and prime minister Lee Hsien Loong. Singapore does not recognise the state of Palestine but it does support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Singapore has always had a close relationship with Israel but it remains cautious publicising it; neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia have no diplomatic ties with Israel and are close with Palestine. In the 1960s, when Israel’s military helped a newly independent Singapore build up its defence forces, officials referred to the Israeli advisers as the “Mexicans” to disguise their true identities. Singapore’s handling of its relationships with Israel and Palestine reveals its attentiveness to balance; earlier this year it announced plans to open an embassy in Tel Aviv and earlier this month it opened a representative office in Ramallah. As a tiny island nation surrounded by larger, historically hostile neighbours, neutrality remains key to Singapore’s diplomatic strategy.

Image: Alamy

Geopolitics / Mexico & USA

Meeting of minds

Known for its mining industry, the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora is a fitting backdrop for today’s meeting between Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador and US climate envoy John Kerry. The leaders will discuss the Sonora Plan, an incentive to turn the state into a green-energy hub. With a focus on solar farms and the development of the electric-car industry, the plan includes the production of lithium, a key component in batteries for electric vehicles.

Lithium batteries are currently not produced at commercial scale by any Latin American country and while Mexico nationalised its reserves earlier this year, experts say that it could take years for production to start. Mexican-US relations have been strained in recent years, most notably as a result of illegal border crossings, but combatting the climate crisis might be one endeavour on which they can find common ground.

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / Doha

Perfect fit

This week the international fashion community flocked to Doha in Qatar for Fashion Trust Arabia’s annual design competition. The event, which was started in 2018 by Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, has grown to become a well-established and high-profile industry gathering. This year, 24 finalists from the Middle East and North Africa were given the opportunity to showcase their designs.

This included Beirut-based Rym Beydoun, whose clothing is created with hand-dyed fabrics from her childhood home of Côte d’Ivoire; Moulham Obid, who uses traditional Syrian lacework on sleek women’s jackets; and Artsi Ifrach from Maison ARTC, whose tailoring from upcycled fabrics pays homage to Morocco. The competition highlights the breadth of design talent and craft skills across the region and offers young creatives a global platform.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / Switzerland

Station to station

To celebrate 175 years of Swiss rail travel, the country will do what it does best: organise a logistical masterpiece. On Saturday the Rhaetian Railway (pictured) will attempt to operate the world’s longest passenger train, consisting of 100 coaches. The 3,000-tonne haul will require 25 trains and seven drivers to get rolling.

Belgium’s longstanding record of 70 coaches might well be broken when Switzerland takes its 1,910 metres of carriages on the world-famous Albula/Bernina Unesco World Heritage route, which includes the breathtaking stretch from Preda to Bergün. “It took us months of planning and all the available rolling stock that we have will be out on the track on Saturday,” says Heinz Zwicky, specialist operations manager at the Rhaetian Railway. For those who did not manage to get one of the 4,450 tickets to be onboard, the record attempt in the Swiss Alps will be broadcast via livestream.

Image: Claire Menary

Monocle 24 / The Entrepreneurs

MĀ and Mugi

Esther Payerols and Nina Marti are the founders of MĀ, a Lugano-based brand that promotes wellbeing and emotional harmony through home scents made from sustainably sourced, organic essential oils. They explain MĀ’s natural roots and how they were inspired by a Japanese concept of better balance in life. We then meet another bold entrepreneur who has taken inspiration from Japan: Mugi’s Michael Steber.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: November issue

Looking to kit out your home, office or hotel for the colder months ahead? Look no further than our Design Top 20, with furniture finds, inspiring interiors and insights from key industry leaders. Plus: who will be keeping the lights on this winter, the rail industry gets back on track and a hotel special featuring openings from Manhattan to Hakone.

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