Five Argentine Design Firms Join Up to 'Export Together'

Five Argentine design studios are using 'collaborative association,' a format that eliminates competition among members, in order to export products and promote the 'Argentine brand,' Clarín reports.

The art of observation.
The art of observation.

BUENOS AIRES — An ambitious plan for an innovative idea. Five Argentinian design firms have agreed to boost each other and export their products without competing among themselves. The idea began months ago with the Associative Exporter Management program (Gerenciamiento exportador asociativo), wherein the country's export promotions agency, like a reality show, gave the new partners 26 months to progress toward set objectives.

On July 2, the partners presented their associative firm, SUR Design, at one of the day-long events organized by MICA, the Ministry of Culture"s Argentine Creative Industries Market. Sur Design aims to transcend national frontiers and place local designs on the international market.

The designers agree there is renewed interest in local crafts, identity and materials. Their products include pure wool carpets that enshrine the traditional skills of weavers from 12 provinces (Elementos Argentinos), handwoven cotton blankets (Cosa Bonita), wooden and fabric lamps (Objetos Luminosos), ceramic tableware with geometric designs (MeMo) and personalized accessories (Designo Patagonia).

Banquet — Designo Partagonia

The items chosen for exportation meet a triple-impact set of social, economic and environmental criteria. "We've solved the most complex part," says Manuel Rapoport of Designo Patagonia, namely that "we understand each other, there is a positive energy flow and empathy among ourselves." "The first challenge was to set up internal rules," say Fernando Bach and Pablo Mendivil of Elementos Argentinos, including the functions of each participant, actions to be taken and who was to do what. The rules also define the group's profile. "We do design that speaks about us," says Carola Moris, who runs MeMo with Patricia Mezzadra. They had to think before joining SUR, she says, as "we found it difficult to decide how to add the Argentine DNA to our products. But interacting with the group opened our head."

We understand each other, there is a positive energy flow and empathy among ourselves.

The firms had to find a coordinator to set deadlines and handle marketing, promotions and meetings with design outlets, like the giant Tok&Stok, the Brazilian version of Ikea. "We have planned four trading excursions to Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Peru. In October we are presenting our products at the High Point Market, a design and furniture fair held in North Carolina," says Gonzalo Sallaberry, the coordinator. The collaborative format is new in Argentina, though already tried and working well in Brazil with the Raíz Collective, which has brought together 35 firms. With support from the government and from the private sector, Raíz Collective has been touring the world since 2012 and is now a reference in the international design market.

The working format is based on association without competition. "We take care of everything: the design process, following up with suppliers, promotion material, sales and positioning," says Magdalena Boggiano of Objetos Luminosos. The partners work as a network, aim to project the Argentine identity abroad and forge common strategies. All very much in tune with the new practices inspiring innovative businesses today.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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