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“Made in France” takes backseat to “Designer by France”

When it comes to buying a car, or anything else for that matter composed of spare parts, what exactly does “Made in France” mean? Does this notion not go against the flow of French industry? Is there not something else out there that strives to fuse innovation, research and design? How about “Designed by France”?

Let’s face it. If you were really motivated to take your “citizenly duty” seriously when it comes to helping the economy get back on its feet regardless of trade or sector in France, then it goes without saying that you’d march right on over to Renault for your next car. The sales folks there would tell you that the cars are assembled in Spain, Morocco and who knows where else, and at no time would they say they are “Made in France”. Then, you wander over to Peugeot. What about windshields, seats, carpeting and GPSs? Same thing? These cars are no more “Made in France” than they are “Made in the world”. Like any other industrial, Peugeot cannot take all the credit. It owes a portion of its competitiveness to its ability to buy abroad, and in turn, import parts from contractors the world over. Peugeot boasts a vast network of contractors around the world, pivotal in shaping the generation of added value. But among them, how many are French?

The World Trade Organization (WTO) reveals that 60% of sales deals revolve around “Made in the world” components and spare parts. For businesses to remain competitive, quality needs to abound at every level of the supply chain and with the world in mind. If an assembly business in France were forced to take into account the cost of labor on its soil and increasingly restrictive measures on its supply, it goes without saying that relations with its in-country contractors now exposed to a significantly more aggressive market and wherein competitors hail from all corners of the globe would take a serious turn for the worse.

This is where ”Made in France” becomes counterproductive. What about a beef patty whose transformation process occurs in France with cows raised in Brittany or Limousin? Does that qualify it as “Made in France”? The chances are likely as long as the cows are not fed Brazilian soybean meal and depending on the resulting added value. European Union (EU) livestock subsidies mustn’t be used as debt-stoppers should farmers find themselves in the red or pocket-fillers for South American grain growers. What does “Made in France” really mean? Is it really all that it is hyped up to be?

Some companies have quite the sales argument, and it just doesn’t seem, in my book, to gel. Are we to praise the boss who sells his French products because he feels morally obligated to do so? Businesses manufacture and sell their offering because it is in their best interest. It has always been that way. To say it is their duty or obligation is downright nonsense. It really is quite comical to think that a company would be willing to put itself out of business by consciously compromising its bottom line and margins in the name of “patriotic duty”.

It would, for that matter, be completely and utterly counterproductive when it comes to creating jobs or paying taxes. What about Big Box stores then that boast “Made in France”, appearing as paragons of virtue? It means ironically turning a blind eye to the “Made in China” textile aisle just a few steps away, seemingly out of place and touch with the long-standing French textile sector. This isn’t about bashing those who sell Chinese-made goods and make a profit off it. This is about those who fiercely claim to sell “Made in France” out of moral obligation, which, ultimately, is a practice devoid of morals.

Those who head up consumer goods sectors know business inside and out. They are entrepreneurs, managers and sales people with an incredible flair for affairs, and for that, kudos! The consumer bandwagon is no secret to them, and they know, right down to the last drop, how to keep this well-oiled machine in perfect working condition, maneuvering the financial levers to best cushion their figures, though at times, at the expense of a handful of smaller, less fortunate suppliers that do not reap quite the same generosity from their banker. Distributors are France’s pride and joy in entrepreneurial know-how, and are stand-alone examples.

Their business model is reputable, and showcases France’s breadth and diversification throughout the world. However, pawning off the model as a means to cranking out a “cheap” or “Made in France” offering because companies perceive it as their social or patriotic responsibility is nothing short of indecent, if not immoral. The “Made in France” concept gets heads turning and people talking, but it needs to be clarified. Among its many reasons for being lies a genuine concern – one which strives at keeping French trades and jobs on French soil. It is also understandable that companies use the concept for bettering their image, reputation, product notoriety and the quality of their offering through distribution channels involving few to no intermediaries. Let’s not forget either the importance of ever-increasing added value, comprising one of the cornerstones in sound management.

The time, though, has now come to turn the page. The “Made in France” model has long been shaped by two paradigms based on how production was done in the olden days. One of them is the bilateral business model – I design, I produce in one country, and I sell in another. Today’s world demands a different model. Ongoing efforts to lower energy consumption and a thriving eco-conscience will have the final say in whether direct distribution channels, a worldwide component-spare part supply chain and relentless competitiveness that has no other choice but to “incessantly push the limits” will prevail or not. The other paradigm revolves around performance-, yield- and quality-driven competitiveness. For 150 years, industry functioned on the following motto: “Doing what we do even better.”

By doing increasingly better, it outdoes the competition both in quantity and quality, and moves ahead of the rest. Industry simply becomes more competitive. This model, nonetheless, no longer suits the majority of Western businesses. It could and would if customers kept coming back, but they aren’t. Emerging countries are turning every model and paradigm upside-down. They produce more for less, revealing a completely new dimension to what it means to be competitive. And is the case in several sectors, no matter how hard you work nor how well, never in a lifetime will you be able to do it for less than the Chinese or other populations for that matter.

Competition is self-centered. For 30 years, we thought that the Chinese, Indians and all others couldn’t dish out as good of quality as Western companies. We still hear the same thing today. Who do we think we are anyway? In China and elsewhere, there are ultra-modern plants, not to mention jack-of-all-trade employees with every ounce of know-how and knowledge in the palm of their hand. Wanting to compete with them when it comes to yield and quality is, across many sectors, a lost cause. So, what are we to do? Shift to “Designed by” and put innovation on a pedestal: “Doing what we already do… but differently.”

The “Made in France” notion is not only pointless for a number of companies, but also enough to spark a guilt trip. How can an automobile contractor not only stay afloat amid competition with emerging countries and non-existent order-givers, but also produce “Made in France”? Whether it wants to or not, it’s a beeline for bankruptcy. A new paradigm has to emerge. For the company, it isn’t about “doing what it does even better.” It is about doing something else or not doing anything at all.

In an ever-evolving, global market, a company’s distinguishing trait consists of its ability to adapt, move, change markets or trades, shift from products to services or from production to design. “Doing differently and/or something else with what we do already” is the “Designed by” paradigm. One look at Apple is sufficient to grasp the iconic and industrial scope of a paradigm breeding innovation spanning the sectors of IT, communication, internet, and music sales whose iTune downloads just reached the 25-billion mark, not to mention a plethora of phones, iPhone services, and now the iPad whose purpose is shaped by its users, revealing a trend from an economy of consumption to one of contribution.

We have learned that Apple is currently working on smart watches, and is potentially bound for the realms of T.V. and film. When you look under or behind your Apple product, you’ll see that it says “Designed by Apple – Assembled in China”. The WTO tells us that less than 5% of a $150-customs valuated iPad will go to China to cover assembly costs. The rest goes to product plans, design, research, innovation, marketing and to the United States. It’s about pumping the financial fruits of the creative labor back into American jobs, the company and society, as well as the ability to reinvest in research, innovation and design… It’s “productive economic recovery“ for the States.

French companies, too, boast similar competencies and skill sets, in addition to the ability to create, move and, if need be, change trades, enabling them keep pace with the competition, their means of production and their jobs. It will be up to France, its purse string-holders and its decision-makers to invest in research, innovation, marketing and design for those on the front lines and behind the scenes responsible for not only driving change, but following it through to implementation. Change management and new skill sets needed to accompany these imminent business sectors will be crucial. Innovation breathes not only economic sense into the picture, but also social sense on condition that there are people willing to channel it.

Changing means latching on to a glimmer of hope and direction when up to now, the path seemed riddled with doubt and unknowns. “Designed by France” boasts more relevance, more depth than “Made in France”. “Designed by France” does not oppose “Made in France”. It includes it. At a time when cultural difference never played a more prominent role on the manufacturing scene, France should use this as an opportunity to differentiate itself from its competitors near and far, and unveil the uniqueness underlying what it does and/or what anchors it. There are many companies that fervently defend “Made in France”. In doing so, they back French quality, and drive through the positive repercussions of added value even further. “Designed by France” doubles as a conduit to making them resonate even more. It takes absolutely nothing away from the quality already embedded in items “Made in France”. It simply adds to it a cultural dimension that illustrates innovation, creation, French style and the “French touch”.

This concept makes a lot more sense for French businesses. It praises their audacity, and reflects the implicit gumption that defines French creation today and that upon which industries can build tomorrow. France is sitting on a magnificent vector of added value: Its creative culture has made its mark worldwide. French-signed design is an invaluable asset across markets everywhere.

We need to make the most of this. We can no longer afford to defend industrially-made quality, especially when we can no longer even tell the difference. “Made in France” will not be French businesses’ ticket to conquering the markets of tomorrow in China, India and Brazil. It is “Designed by France” that will enable them to do so should they opt to put all of their chips in design, change-thinking and innovation. Move over, “Made in France”. Here comes “Designed by France”.

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