For more than a decade now, proximity has figured within the academic literature as an element to consider when analysing sustainability transitions. The first interpretation of interest for our purposes relates to purchasing options, thus the occurrences in which consumers choose to rely on proximity commerce. This means small and medium-sized specialised and sectoral shops located close to the places the consumers regularly visit, typically their homes and workplaces. (>> Proximity shops - ‘bottega’).
The practice of shopping locally can be considered as a sustainable consumption choice from several points of view. From an environmental perspective, it reduces both the distance travelled by the consumer to shop and the distance travelled by the goods during purchase, delivery and (potential) return. In this particular case, technology in no way hinders the effectiveness of proximity shopping; on the contrary, recent studies (again encouraged by the pandemic experience) have shown how proximity e-commerce is implemented by the 'click and collect' strategy, i.e., the possibility of choosing available products online or via an app and then picking them up at the shop. Even home delivery and return collection procedures are much quicker and easier given that the distance covered by the products is typically that of the neighbourhood. It also makes it possible to make purchases in a more targeted and timely manner, often due also to the trust and loyalty relationship that is established between the consumer and the seller/shop-keeper (pleasure in going to the shop and chat with the people there, of being recognized, of ordering ‘the usual’, possibility of getting proper advice, etc.), reducing the risk of waste, especially in the case of food.
A further point can be added to the metaphorical road of proximity consumption by going backwards along the supply chain from the consumer to the retailer and to the producer. In fact, the term proximity can also be used to indicate precisely a short supply chain, in terms of steps if not necessarily always in terms of geographical distance. A short supply chain implies a direct relationship not only between the final consumer and the intermediary, but also between the intermediary and the original producer, thus becoming essential for those seeking a product that offers greater guarantees in terms of transparency and traceability.
Lastly, this meaning of proximity acquires particular relevance in contexts in which production districts characterised by high availability of highly specialised workforce emerge. These districts present a peculiar concentration, in a well-defined territory, of medium-small companies that are independent from each other but historically and traditionally linked to the same productive purpose. The level of specialisation of each one is such that it reduces or eliminates competition but, on the contrary, encourages networks of collaboration and exchange that favour both a high level of professional preparation of the workers and the quality of the product.
Italy, for example, has a rich number of districts throughout the national territory both in the textile-fashion and food sectors. Although they do not necessarily interact actively with each other, they are certainly based on the same principle and contribute to the construction of the imagery linked to Made in Italy.