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A straw hat for good corporate culture

A recently published piece of research tells of a craft-based product used as a paradigm for Italian know-how

The culture of a region and of the companies based there can also be seen in the objects it produces. It is the materialisation of this know-how that becomes a personal memory and a collective story. And it is through objects that the most part of corporate culture travels. Also through products that apparently look insignificant. Reading about them and learning their stories is useful for everyone. As in the case of the Florentine straw hat.

The particular story of the straw hat in Tuscany – which also illustrates a particular manufacturing culture -, was told by Pietro Meloni (from the University of Siena) in his “L’immaginario del made in Italy: la biografia culturale del cappello di paglia fiorentino” (The collective imagination of made in Italy: the cultural biography of the Florentine straw hat) which was recently published and is part scientific research about local corporate culture and part ethnographic and historic tale of past events, yet where many roots of modern plants are deeply entrenched.

Meloni explains that the concept behind this work is “a reflection on the topics of heritage, of made in Italy and mass consumption”; yet in actual fact the topic is broader and in fact touches on all the fields of entrepreneurship deeply rooted in the region, of know-how combined with knowing how to be enterprising, of the taste and growth of companies which went on to make Italian style history.

Again Meloni explains all this stating that the purpose of his work is in fact to “highlight how today, in the world of manufacturing and mass consumption, resorting to aspects such as material culture, the craftsmanship skills of artisans, the rarity of the products used in the production of objects which can still be defined as goods, are fundamental as distinguishing elements that appeal to the mass market. In a society where manufacturing competition forces companies to close down, to move their production plants to other countries, the reconstruction of a cultural biography that testifies to the ‘excellence’ of craft-based manufacturing has become to all extents and purposes a marketing strategy, no less so than the advertising by major global multinationals”.

Hence the story of the Florentine straw hat made between Signa, Lastra a Signa and Campi Bisenzio on the outskirts of Florence. The story of the companies that used to produce it in the past and that continue to produce it to this day, of the markets conquered and the customers who, by using it, have made this product famous all over the world. And also the story of the technological evolution of the product and of the cultural elements that it has created and that it still fosters today.

Reading Meloni’s work is quick and easy, spanning manufacturing organisation, timing and history.

L’immaginario del made in Italy: la biografia culturale del cappello di paglia fiorentino (The collective imagination of made in Italy: the cultural biography of the Florentine straw hat)

Pietro Meloni (University of Siena)

Palaver 6 n.s. (2017), n.1, 30-74