In The Craftsman, Richard Sennett describes “honest” brick used in the eighteenth century as brickwork in which all the bricks laid come from the same kiln, are naturally colored and are exposed on the final building surface. This concept of honesty or authenticity of materials refers to purity of substance, minimal manipulation in production and a sense of naturalness. In our often artificial environment, it is interesting to see a growing trend toward authenticity and its flavors across domains.
For automobiles, it may be using natural materials and designs consistent with vehicle heritage. In photography, it may be using analog equipment or avoiding Photoshop in order to produce a more natural or organic look. For restaurants, it may be using fresh, locally-sourced produce, documenting key ingredient sources on a changing menu (e.g., farm-to-table restaurants – which does not mean restaurant patrons will eat in a barn, as one of my friends suspected) or avoiding products that are more at home in a chemistry lab than a kitchen.
“The attribution of ethical human qualities – honesty, modesty, virtue – into materials does not aim at explanation; its purpose is to heighten our consciousness of the materials themselves and in this way to think about their value.” -Richard Sennett
Case Study: Apparel
Consistent with their stated ethical and sustainable operating approach, Icebreaker provides a unique “baacode” to trace specific garment material to the originating sheep station. Supply chain authenticity is clearly demonstrated, and customers can participate in the validation process – a contrast to many companies focused more on cost savings than supply chain traceability.
Case Study: Beverages
Drawing a line where authenticity begins (or ends) can be difficult. A clear, consistent continuum between improvements and fraud is typically not in place for everyone involved (see use of auto-tune, performance enhancing drugs, etc.). Inconsistencies in materials that historically signified authenticity can be simulated via computer programming. Celebrity endorsers (and psuedo-celebrities) shill for businesses. Advertisement swings demand. Within this environment, the challenge is to draw lines – defining for yourself and your organization what is authentic, what must be maintained and the characteristics that should always be present (or never present) in your environment.