"There's a lot of conservatism in the [Italian] industry, not much innovation in terms of product and in terms of marketing approach," said Renato Preti, who launched Discipline in 2012. "That is the big difference between the Nordic countries and traditional Italian companies."
Preti said Nordic producers like Hay and Muuto and Dutch company Moooi have more sophisticated branding strategies than Italian companies.
"Moooi is Moooi. You cannot confuse it with anything else," Preti told Dezeen at Clerkenwell Design Week in London last week. "[But] if you take many of the [Italian] companies now, they all look the same. They don't have an identity."
He added: "We found that 80 per cent approximately of the Italian pieces that have been sold today have been designed more than 25 years ago. There's not much innovation."
Preti believes Italy still has the best manufacturing capability in the world, however, and all Discipline's products are manufactured in the country.
"The quality, the tradition and the attention to detail that we have in Italy; you cannot find anywhere else," he said.
Discipline uses only natural materials like wood and leather, working with emerging designers along with established studios such as Nendo. The brand's latest collection was launched in Milan in April and was exhibited at Clerkenwell Design Week in London last week.
Read an edited version of the transcript from our interview with Preti below:
Dan Howarth: Can you introduce yourself and explain some of Discipline's philosophies?
Renato Preti: My story is very simple. I've been raised and my family has been in the business of high quality furniture but they closed down the company when I was 19 so I started a career in finance but I always kept a passion for design. Then I had the opportunity to manage design investments, for B&B Italia, Marcel Wanders, Moooi. So I thought all of this investment is very profitable and very positive so I decided it was the time to go back to my family business. So I tried to put together my passion for design and a business model.
The idea behind Discipline is simple, but quite new I think. We only work with natural material, no plastic, no synthetic. We choose the most beautiful natural materials and the most durable ones. Again, not only for the sustainable issue but we think that natural materials make you feel better. They last longer, they don't go out of fashion because of the material history. A wooden chair or the leather chair, the older it gets, the more beautiful while a plastic chair changes colour and scratches.
We chose the style I think, simple touch, now they call this style neo-Nordic but I think actually it's a typical Italian style. It's always about good natural materials, good ingredients, simplicity, health, excitement. So I think our values are the typical Italian values and to use simple but not boring designs, with the touch in order to bring excitement in a very functional, simple and value for money kind of way.
Dan Howarth: Do you manufacture solely in Italy?
Renato Preti: With the exception of glasses, which are done in the Czech Republic. Everything else is made in Italy, in a region called Friuli which is close to Venice where they have a fantastic tradition for wooden pieces, very efficient and fantastic quality.
Dan Howarth: How important is that home manufacturing ethos to the brand?
Renato Preti: Very important for many reasons. First of all, the quality, the tradition and the attention to detail that we have in Italy; you cannot find anywhere else. Local production gives you more sustainability because the furniture doesn't have to travel. It's easy to check the local quality of furniture whereas it's difficult to go to China. If an architect or client wants a chair in a certain colour or finish, it's very easy for us. If you produced it further away, there would be much more rigidity.
Dan Howarth: Do you think brands will want to move the manufacturing process back to Italy now that the economy is improving?
Renato Preti: Yes, I already know some who handle the top hand of the production, even if the product development is clever, sometimes even the cost could be competitive in Italy and, as I was saying, transport, flexibility are very important in the production of furniture.
Dan Howarth: Did the experience that you had working for other furniture brands like B&B Italia and Moooi help you when starting the company?
Renato Preti: I feel that the times of crisis are the best times to start a business because prices of things change, it becomes more evident what people are missing, what could go and what we could adjust. At the same time, it's very challenging. You have to do everything from scratch and you compete in the premier league, but there is a more local team but the client wants the same service, quality and pricing that the larger brands offer. If you succeed, it makes the company very strong.
Dan Howarth: You mentioned the neo-Nordic style. Are brands like Hay, Muuto and Normann Copenhagen your Scandinavian equivalents?
Renato Preti: Yes that is what everybody is comparing us to, I'd like to say that we are really authentic Italian. It's not just the style of the furniture but of course there are some comparisons. It's also the approach to the market. We are trying to innovate whilst trying to bring fresh air to the market to understand what people like and want now.
The difference isn't between Scandinavia and Italy but between innovators and the conservative companies. In terms of Italian production, there's a lot of conservatism in the industry, not much innovation in terms of product and in terms of marketing approach. We found that 80 per cent approximately of the Italian pieces that have been sold today have been designed more than 25 years ago. There's not much innovation. But also especially marketing approach – that is the big difference between the Nordic countries and tradition Italian companies.
Dan Howarth: What lessons did you learn from working for Moooi?
Renato Preti: What I love about Moooi is this strong identity. I love the fantasy and the creative approach but the capacity to choose a strong identity. Moooi is Moooi. You cannot mix it or confuse it with anything else. It sounds obvious but it's not so obvious. If you take many of the companies now, they all look the same. If you take out the brand, you cannot say who is who. In any other industry, every designer has a distinct identity: fashion, cars, jewellery. In this industry, for the last 20 years, there has been a homogenisation. Everybody is trying to look at the other and not be identifiable as themselves. Of course there are exceptions but there are dozens of companies that look the same to me. They don't have an identity. If you ask the consumer, what is the identity of the brand. We're trying to choose a strong identity. It's very different from Moooi of course but still, we have a strong identity and we try to communicate that in a very original and our own way.