Apparently Italian towns used to be famous for small family-owned shops that specialised in creating and selling individual types of goods – shoes, bags, wallets, shirts etc. But on each of my trips to Italy, I’ve had a hard time finding a single one of them. No matter where you go in Italy, whether it’s a big city like Rome or Milan, or a small town like Padua or Siena, you’ll see the same shops. You’ll see Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Mont Blanc, Hermes… – you know the rest. No matter whether you’re looking for shoes or a wallet, you’ll be able to find it – but you’re going to find it at a shop you can find in almost every other city in the world.
Think about that. These big brands have killed off the individual sellers that used to make Italian towns so special and unique. The main streets of each town or city you visit are lined with exactly the same shops. Before you even get to a town, you know what you’re going to see there. And it’s the same all over the world. Literally almost every single city and town I’ve been in in the past few months, in Europe and Asia, have had all of the same shops.
But that fact makes you wonder how the big brands survive. No, not just survive, they flourish – they’re each doing hundreds of millions, if not billions, in sales. If you can buy exactly the same product in your home town, why bother buying it somewhere else? Or at the very least, why bother buying it in one town in Europe over the next?
By no means am I suggesting that the power of these big brands be curbed. I’d be the last person to suggest that. They’re all over the world because they’re playing the game right and their products are desired. It’s sad for the small sellers and the people who used to buy their goods, but you can’t be sorry for them.
I just find it an interesting phenomenon, that we can travel half the way across the world to remote towns in foreign countries, and find exactly the same shops as we can in our home country. It’s removed a lot of what made traveling fun, by discovering shops and products that you could never purchase at home. And it’s all gone now.
This demonstrates the shift that the world has undertaken in perhaps the last fifteen years. We’ve moved to become the Branded World. Brands rule almost every industry. We’ve lost the subtleties that used to make purchasing fun, in favor of brands as a symbol of status and affluence.
In New Zealand, each suburb used to have a local butcher, fruit and vege shop, and a bread shop. But the big-brand supermarkets killed that. We chose convenience and price-cutting in favor of relationships with our locals and perhaps higher quality. There’s nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that many people say they wish they still had local shops. In the Branded World, you can’t have both – there isn’t enough room in the markets.
The Branded World is one in which millions of people worldwide walk around with bags that look exactly the same. Apparently it’s meant to symbolize people’s wealth, only there’s no way of telling whose bag is a $2 knock-off. The Branded World is one in which you’ll find a Disney flagship store on a beautiful Venetian street. It’s a world where you’ll find two or more shops which are exactly the same within 50 metres of each other.
The Branded World is one in which we all willingly buy things that make us look the same.
It’s a world we’ve chosen and love. Only sometimes you have to wonder why.