Wednesday. 4/1/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Taking the shine off

SC Johnson has announced that it will be halting sales of its Kiwi shoe-care products in the UK. The US multinational declared that “after a thorough evaluation” it had “decided to exit the shoe-care business in the UK in order to redirect investments and resources.” Newspaper opinion writers began harrumphing that Britain “no longer cares about shiny shoes” and that “polished shoes are now deemed irrelevant”.

The causes of the decline in buffing one’s brogues were apparently all too obvious: the work-from-home movement and a general decline in how people dress. But, of course, this is nonsense. When I was a child, there was a box of brushes, cloths and tins of Kiwi shoe polish kept in the cupboard under the stairs that were used almost daily, as they were in many households around the world (Kiwi is still believed to have 53 per cent of global market share in shoe polish). Yet even though there has been a slip in the use of tinned polish, this is not an omen of sartorial, let alone social, decline.

Young men, in particular, have become increasingly obsessed with keeping their casual footwear box-fresh, sparking an uptick in the global value of the shoe-care market (estimates place it at about €4.7bn). And there is also a return to more formal footwear that SC Johnson will miss out on. If Kiwi’s exit from the UK turns out to be true then they also have themselves to blame – for too long they have been flogging nasty wipes and moist sponges as a supposed shortcut to us becoming shiny happy people and have left the market open for specialist, quality shoe-polish makers. So take heart; Britain has little to fear – although one still weeps over the demise in popularity of the bowler hat.

Andrew Tuck is Monocle’s editor-in-chief.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / China & Philippines

Changing tides

Philippine president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr began a three-day visit to China yesterday that he hopes will result in a tightening of ties between the two nations. Before departing Manila, Marcos told reporters, “I will be opening a new chapter in our comprehensive strategic co-operation with China.” President Marcos (pictured with his wife, Louise Araneta-Marcos) has been busy: this is his seventh official overseas trip since assuming office in June but none has taken place amid the kind of tensions that currently exist between Manila and Beijing. Last month the Philippine defence ministry called for an increased military presence in the South China Sea after reports that Beijing was militarising a number of unoccupied reefs and cays in contested waters. Marcos has said that he will discuss security and maritime issues during the trip and will be hoping for cast-iron assurances that China will desist. The future of regional security could hinge on whether such promises will be made.

Image: Alamy

Business / France

Market value

Figures released this morning show that France is still struggling with high inflation. The hit to its citizens’ wallets is, however, helping to fuel the European expansion plans of Danish discount retailer Normal. With its distinct turquoise-and-black logo, the chain buys up overstocked and unsold products made by consumer giants such as L’Oréal, Colgate and Mars, and sells them at discount prices.

One of the company’s founders, Torben Mouritsen, told Le Monde that Normal had more than one million customers in 2021. Plans are in place to add 30 more shops to the 80 it already operates in France. But while Normal caters to a more frugal customer, that euro-pinching doesn’t extend to its employees. Late last year the company dished out €4m to the most loyal of its 8,000 global workers. It’s a win-win: helping staff facing straitened times while winning kudos from them – and the wider business community.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Venezuela

Power cut

Venezuela’s opposition has voted in favour of dissolving the interim government of Juan Guaidó due to its failure to oust the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro. Established in 2019 by the opposition-controlled legislature following Maduro’s disputed re-election, this interim government sought to replace him until free and fair elections could be held. However, despite US backing and control of Venezuela’s foreign-based assets, Guaidó (pictured) failed to gain the support of the country’s military, judiciary or people.

Guaidó described the vote as “a jump into a vacuum” – and he might be right. Venezuela is still reeling from multiple political and economic crises that have led to widespread poverty and the emigration of seven million people since 2015. However, Maduro’s survival, combined with the elections of fellow leftists Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Gustavo Petro in Colombia, would seem to signal the potential for Caracas to be brought in from the cold on the global stage. Ordinary Venezuelans will be hoping that any neighbourly rapprochement comes with economic support.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / USA

Paths to success

More than 5,000 citizens of Denver have taken advantage of an ambitious programme offering generous tax rebates on new electric bicycles since its launch last year. But while the programme’s success has been praised by many, residents have pointed out that the city currently lacks the infrastructure needed to accommodate this growing number of new cyclists. The majority of Denver’s 480km of cycle paths are unprotected, meaning that there is little distance between novice riders and passing cars.

City officials appear to be listening: Denver has pledged to build more cycle lanes in 2023, as well as improve the ones that it already has. “We are, in some ways, a victim of our own success in our bike infrastructure,” said city councilman Chris Hinds. “We wouldn’t have had these questions if not for the e-bike rebate programme that has put a lot of e-bikes in our bikeways. It is time to take a look at that infrastructure.”

Image: Mike Nelson

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Culture

Culture in 2023

Robert Bound looks at the cultural year ahead with guests Francesca Gavin, Chris Power and Scott Bryan to explore the very best forthcoming art exhibitions, books and TV shows.

Monocle Films / Japan

Tokyo’s colourful community bus

An electric bus service has injected a new playfulness into a borough of Tokyo in need of a revamp. We hop aboard and meet Eiji Mitooka, its creator and Japan’s foremost train designer, who explains why he puts fun at the top of his list when designing public transport. All aboard! Read more in the June issue of the magazine.

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