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  • Writer's pictureNick Keppel-Palmer

"Where are you from?" Identity and place

But where are you really from?

This now infamous question caused a kerfuffle late in 2022 in the UK. An elderly lady-in-waiting and Godmother to Prince William asked it insistently of a visitor to Buckingham Palace.

The woman was British born and of some kind of mixed Caribbean and African heritage.

She lived in Hackney. Whilst the row was all about implicit racism being institutionalised in the Royal family/Britain the question is actually one that a lot of people find hard to answer. Me included.

I get asked it a lot - I live in Somerset UK, was born in Windsor, but grew up in Sydney before going to various schools. I'm have NO IDEA where I am from. We lived in all sorts of different places.

When we get asked this question it is some kind of inquiry into "who you are" - with the idea that "who you are" is somehow inextricably linked to both the place you grew up and the DNA of your ancestors. But more than that it helps us categorise - we love putting people in boxes and a super quick way to do that is to link someone to a place.

At Anthropy I saw David Goodhart talking about "somewheres" and "anywheres" which is an interesting tribal split. People who have depth of roots attached to places vs people who don't, the latter seeing themselves as more cosmopolitan. David argues that a lot of what lies behind cultural schisms such as Brexit can be correlated to 'somewheres' vs 'anywheres'. On his read I think I'm an "anywhere".

Place really matters

Despite my inability to answer the question with any conviction - I do see roots as being important. Part of the logic of moving down here to the countryside was for our kids to have a sense of "being from somewhere".

A lot of the value we see as central to Good Growth - value creation for nature - is anchored in place. Reinforcing and articulating place value all through the chain is a way to avoid the commodity chains that are so destructive for nature.

Conversely place is a means to reconnect us humans back to nature. Most products don't pay much attention to origin, and in some sectors product brands are very disconnected from place of origin (only 14% of clothing companies know which country their raw materials come from). Check out "radically low priced" clothing company Quince for example - their explanation of the supply chain *starts* in the factory.....

Introducing place of origin into chains is a way to square the circle of disconnection, reconnect consumers to nature.

Telling stories of place

In 2022 we worked with Wissol Group in Georgia to create a new residential business. At the heart of the proposition is the creation of new communities within the city.

Most Georgians have an incredibly strong sense of identity that is drawn on where they originate from. Origin affects how they talk, their names, the food they like, the way they behave, the stories they tell.

The famous Mingrelian potato "cheese" dish

As people move from the regions into the city this sense of identity gets lost, and can get extinguished within the anonymous 'could be anywhere' apartment buildings. Wissol will build community spaces and more importantly bring stories together in each place so that everyone can bring their identity with them whilst building a new community together. (This place making proposition is ground breaking and a game changer for a people that thrive on connection).

Stories matter in Georgia. Through centuries of occupation and incursions the Georgian identity has survived and thrived through story telling. Every statue in Tbilisi is a poet. And every poet is a rebel.

To develop the brand we did incredibly deep diving into the way stories are told. In Georgia most stories are not written - there is an oral tradition, songs and also visual story telling through colours, motifs and patterns.

I've talked before about the amazing power of collaboration in developing brands for Georgia - this would not have been possible without a ton of detective work from Rusa Shamugia of Wissol working closely with Charlotte from the Modern Studio.

Books, city archivists, PHD students

Fabrics - each one telling a story

The colours in Pirosmani's work are Georgia's colour palette. The red especially is *the* colour of Georgia.

These symbols are everywhere - in the pavements, on staircases, everywhere

Working together we unearthed the stories of each of the places, the long history and cultural significance, as well as the symbolism and visual cues that underpin Georgian identity and the specific regions within Georgia.

One of the places had a spooky leitmotif connection to Abkhazia, the northern breakaway region that is under Russian occupation and a source of immense emotion to many Georgians. It is an incredibly complex and multilayered story that has resonance to a lot of what's going on today. In many ways the Abkhazia story is a story of regional identity subjugated to but never defeated. There are specific colours and legends that belong to that part of the northern Caucasus that do belong nowhere else.

Visual storytelling

I am very excited for this brand, which will launch during 2023. Layering stories into places and building places through stories is exactly what we need to be doing across all the brands we build. Too often origin is ignored or treated as an afterthought, whereas it really matters for identity and value creation.

Stories matter.

Maybe the question should never be "where are you from" but "tell me your story"


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