I was riding the subway on my way to school when a middle age man came into the car. He was trying to make a few bucks by selling a set of 10 nail files and other groming tools.
-"Fifty cents each. High quality. They are made in Puerto Rico... my bad, they are made in China." The seller, who looks like he is Puerto Rican or Newyorican, said.
Train riders seemed both confused and amused. We were not sure if it was an honest mistake or if it was his way to grab our attention.
-"If it was made in Puerto Rico, I would buy it." one Jewish rider said. Oddly, when I first noticed him a few stops earlier, I thought he looked just like my Newyorican brother in law with a kippah.
Made in China, made in Germany, made in India, made in Italy, made in USA: all these labels have meanings that are known across nations. They suggest the quality of the item is excellent, ok or may break after a few uses. They suggest the design is sleek, elegant, poor, unrefined. They even suggest if the item was hand crafted or mass produced.
What does Made in Puerto Rico suggest? Why did a Jewish guy on the train was so willing to buy a file set if it was indeed made on the island? I am an Industrial Designer and I do not know the answers to these questions.
Coffee, rum, sugar, flour, other foods, pharmaceutical and custom made products come to mind when thinking about Hecho en Puerto Rico items. Technology, textile, nor automotive items do. Being under the impression that little manufacturing takes place in Puerto Rico made me look for career opportunities elsewhere.
There has been a shift that trascended the United States. In a much smaller scale than Sephora and Victoria Secret, buying local has found a place in the island. Puerto Ricans are asking other Puerto Ricans to support the local economy by buying Made in Puerto Rico products. But currently, what makes these products more desirable than their imported counterparts? Is it quality, affordability, national pride or good design?
I will be interviewing Vladimir García this week. He is the director of the industrial design department at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas. This was the first ID program implemented on the island a little over a decade ago. It is also the school I graduated from in 2007.
This is a great start to learn about how design is shaping Puerto Rico and what he forsees will need to happen for the world to say "If it is made in Puerto Rico I would buy it". Stay tune.