Venezuelan-Italian product designer Giulio Vinaccia just arrived back from Madagascar, where after a year of intense work with communities of artisan women of Madagascar, he presented together with them and supported by the United Nations the TSARA collection in the Queen’s Palace in capital Antananarivo. “A small miracle!”

Today, Giulio Vinaccia uses design as a development tool all over the world, but he was “born as a product designer”, working with big brands in electronics, sports equipment and lighting. One day everything changed. “On the 10th of September 2001 I found myself completely immersed in a discussion about which color red the new helmet of Vespa should have – burgundy or rather vermilion? The next day this whole discussion appeared to me as so very futile... 9\11 changed my life. I decided to start to create development with my work as a designer. When I explained my new insights and engagements at an international conference, two ladies from Brazil invited me to work with them on the craftsmanship of local people. And that’s how started my second life as a designer who uses his work to create tools for other people.” Even though Vinaccia still has his design studio, most part of his work is ‘social design’, and he’s active in about 20 countries, even more so since the UN picked it up 5 years ago.

The freshly launched TSARA collection (“beautiful” in Malagasy) is the result of 3 artisan communities joining their talents: the Farafangana women who live in the south-east of Madagascar and who are specialized in interweaving natural fibres with which they create bags, hats and mats; disabled people from the Dieudonné community who live in the outskirts of the capital and who sheet metal from used barrels with which they create chairs and table tops; and the Ha who are living in the poorest neighbourhood of Antananarivo whose men produce frames from tubular metal for chairs and tables while the women weave recycled plastic for table tops, seats and backrests. Giulio Vinaccia worked with each of these communities. The result is a very diverse collection where natural fibres (such as raffia and straw) intersect with strips of recycled plastic combined with perforated metal sheets or iron tubes, and that are woven to create the Hybrid bag, the Out & Indoor collection of furniture and accessories, and the collection of clutch bags made of natural fibre for the business class of Air Madagascar, which is a partner in the Tsara project.

“The collection got launched beginning of December, which was quite a challenge, since the government initially refused to allow us to set up an accompanying exhibition with big pictures of the Farafangana women in the Queens’ palace. In Madagascar, black people are lowest ranked in society and the government didn’t want them to use their elitist palace. They finally surrendered and the presentation was a success, but more than a de- sign event, this was a kind of social and gender re- volt, with outcasts as the protagonists in the elitist palace of the ruling ethnic groups.” Splendid... But what exactly makes this project different from other ‘social design’ projects? “It’s important to notice the difference with projects developed in London or Milan which got then top down implemented in local communities – that kind of projects are excellent to show of and to win prices with, but they’re nothing else than charity which in the end keeps everything like it was. Projects like TSARA happen together with the people whom should benefit from it. You have to be there, feel the situation and work with the people. This TSARA project enables people of these communities to enroll their own economy, based on their own skills. Thus it’s a tool for them to improve their living conditions, and even for empowerment, as the incident in the Queen’s Palace shows.”

Mr. Rudenko with his 3D-printed backyard castle
Giulio Vinaccia, who uses the same methodology when working with companies in Italy which are trouble because of the crisis, says this approach also gives him as a designer more personal satisfaction. “In the past I could see what I did had been a success because the owner of the company got a new car, but the workers were stuck in the same situation. Of course what I do is just a drop in the sea of problems, but I believe in small revolutions. Designers have a social responsibility! For too long, design was something like fashion: only for the happy few and very superficial. Designers were a kind of stylists. This all changed – now to an increasing extent designers are engaged as consultants specialized in finding solutions for every day life. We are catalysts and problem-solvers, and well placed to do so since we have a foot in production, in marketing and in developing things of beauty. Today, designers increasingly design for the real world."

images by Gabriele Balcewicz Lemanski

This article appeared in DAM48. Order your personal copy.
The first 3D-printed house type in China Photo courtesy of WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co