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Masera - Sordi

Italians in Shenzhen: stories and experiences from a growing community

We begin today a new column about Italians living and working in Shenzhen. We’re going to interview fellow Italians who stand out for their professional achievements and lifestyle. The Italian community has consistently grown in the last few years and Shenzhen has become an international destination for those wanting to leave their mark. New graduates and young professionals come to Shenzhen to kick-start their careers and to enjoy all the possibilities the city can offer.

Our first column is a double interview of Guglielmo Sordi and Tommaso Masera. Drawn together by similar ideas and passions, yet they couldn’t be any more different from each other.

Guglielmo and Tommaso met in Shenzhen a few years ago and together began a rich partnership which resulted in the creation of their own brand, attoVerticale. Their mechanical watch just debuted in Italy and Taiwan, where it encountered a promising success.

On the first half, we’re going to interview Guglielmo Sordi.

Would you please introduce yourself to Vivishenzhen? What’s your story and what’s your occupation?

I’m Guglielmo Sordi from Voghera (PV), 60 years old and with an academic background in Philosophy. I make watches and co-own a design company with my fellow Italian partner.

How did your move to Shenzhen represent a continuity, if not an evolution, of your career path?

It was impossible to go on in Italy; all the production has just disappeared. There only known production district of many sectors, including mine, was in Shenzhen and Dongguan. The pragmatical Chinese mindset certainly helped in building up our business. When I say production, I mean design, engineering, quality control and assembly. We now use subcontractors for the various components.

So do you deal with the entire process, from design to retail?

No, we mainly deal with OEM and ODM. We are only now beginning to distribute our brands. The first is attoVerticale. We can provide concept to mass production, but we are just now experimenting with retail.

How long how you been in Guangdong?

7 years. Without access to HK, it would have been extremely hard. We are the first Italian small company to open in HK. We have even been the topic of a case study at the Bocconi.

Which year did you start?

1987. My brother is 10 years younger and has lived in HK since 1987. We have come a long way. Some of our HK partners have been with us for 20 years now.

Before moving here, how were the duties delegated between you and your brother?

I was the boss since my brother was only 22. I came here after closing up our company in Italy: a long and sad story. We had 60 employees and 4 million investment in technology.

How do you see your future in China?

Limited if only directed to exports, yet infinite if we can branch out to the local market.

Why limited for the former?

It’s my personal taste of course, but the western distribution system is old: just consider the online sales here in Asia and how fast they’re growing.

Second half is dedicated to Tommaso Masera, a young designer with a long experience in Shenzhen.

Would you please introduce yourself to Vivishenzhen? What’s your story and what’s your occupation?

Tommaso Masera, 35 years old from Vigevano (PV): I moved to SZ after a brief stint in Brazil. I’ve spent 4 years with the Shenzhen Furniture Association (SZFA). I’ve opened my own design studio with Gugliemo Sordi (who I’ve met here in SZ) in 2011. We mostly deal with watch design (but also furniture and stands for fairs) for international brands: we stretch from concept to QC. We’ve created our own brand, attoVerticale, after years of working on designing watches. It will be sold in Italy and Taiwan starting from May and will be show cased at the next Design Week in Florence in June.

How did your move to Shenzhen represent a continuity, if not an evolution, of your career path?

Clearly an evolution. I’ve learnt a lot working in one of the most interesting and challenging cities for my industry.

Why did you decided to move to SZ?

Eight years ago it was not as famous as it is now.

I arrived here in November 2007. At the time, I didn’t know much about the city and had no expectations. I arrived here to oversee a project for a Milano company in partnership with the SFZA. After the job was over, I stayed with the SZFA.

How difficult was it to find your place in the local scene?

More than difficult, it didn’t happen as quickly as it could have now. I was the only foreigner in my office at the beginning, we didn’t have wechat and collecting information wasn’t as easy. My job helped me meet several professionals, who I still work with today, and also helped me discover the excellence of the traditional Chinese design.

What made you stay in SZ?

For the fascination of a strange city which I learnt to know. After many years, I’ve decided to stay for the professional opportunities, without ever thinking everything was easy.

How do you see your professional path for the future?

We’re launching our own brand and other products for different brands. We’re also working on the creation on a furniture collection which aims at integrating ancient techniques with a modern and fresh design.

To which market is attoVertocale aimed?

International market. We’ve just begun in Italy and Taiwan (Two extremely important markets for fashion and design, Italy for the West and Taiwan for the East). As for China, we’re beginning to advertise our brand on a local online shop.

How do you see your career in the future?

I hope to keep on growing. My dream is to have time to travel around China and then to come back to Italy: a real and serious way back to my hometown. My career will be always between Italy and China of course.

What have you learnt about yourself as a designer in China?

I’ve worked a lot, had the chance to learn the ropes and had first-hand experience of the entire production process. I’ve learnt to be patient and consistent.

As an entrepreneur, how do you see the opportunity to breach into the local market?

I will answer you as a designer, more than as an entrepreneur: different products or business areas follow different logic. The market here is changing fast from a habit point of view (buying power is increasing among young consumers too). It was a more traditional market just a few years ago. Today, it’s more open to new products and brands both with an original appeal and recognized as international brands (although the latter smooths over the market).

What will you take with you from China, when you will move back to Italy?

A bit of pragmatism and the will to try and change.

A big thank you to Guglielmo Sordi and Tommaso Masera for their time.

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