It was pouring rain as we made our way through the industrial area of Sesto San Giovanni, a periphery of Milan, through streets named for the Falck family, owners of this and other large steel mills in Italy. Vectorealism, perhaps the most important laser cutting service in this part of Italy, has its headquarters at MA.GE., the ex Magazzini Generali Falck, a massive warehouse that used to be used for the storage of nuts and bolts.

The 1700 square meters have been loaned by the city to 16 artisan ateliers, including Vectorealism, to promote crafts in the field of sustainable fashion and design. Although lasercutting doesn't seem to have much to do with the reuse projects carried out by the artisans here, Eleonora Ricca and Marco Bocola are right at home. First, they take us on a tour to meet all their friendly neighbours; then we sit down - with their dog for company - to talk to them about their business and the service philosophy that put them a 'cut' above the rest.

We sit down on a kind of home-made sofa made out of crates and cushions in the warehouse's common area, near the communal kitchen in which some artisans are crafting a late afternoon pot of pasta. Behind us is an old map of Berlin, and I can't help but think that this very bohemian creative space is similar to what we witnessed when we went to Berlin to meet makers in the city's most famous coworking, Betahaus. In fact, it hardly feels like Italy at all. As Marco and Eleonora start to tell us their story, this, too, proves atypical for an Italian business.

Vectorealism has something of a founding legend that Eleonora is, at this point, somewhat embarrassed to tell. In 2009, she participated as a contestant on a famous Italian quiz show, Eredità, and won a decent sum of money. At the time, she was working in marketing strategy, though she had studied industrial design in Genova and would have preferred to work in this field. Back in 2004, she had stumbled upon the Maker/DIY movement in the States through blogs, subscribed to Make Magazine, and attempted to make a CNC machine at home by modifying a plotter, following instructions she had found online. She found the soldering to be a limit she was unable to surpass, and remained frustrated by a lack of machinery to help her create the things she thought up at night. So when she won at that quiz show, she did what most girls in marketing would do... bought herself a professional laser cutter and quit her job. Hence the slogan: Make things, not slides.

Before the machine had even arrived, Eleonora and her business partners had set up in a garage, bought some materials, and added Vectorealism, laser cutting service, to google maps. A few days later, their first client walked in: a 70-something gentleman who makes models of all types and who remains, to this day, a loyal client.

Although in-person pickup is available at MA.GE. during certain hours, Vectorealism's business is generally conducted online, and their clients don't live in the neighbourhood but hail from many parts of the world. Vectorealism is associated with the online service Ponoko, which was founded in 2007 with bases in the USA and New Zealand, and uses their handy online calculator that allows users to upload a vectorial file, choose the desired material, get an accurate price for the job and press go. The finished product will be quickly cut and delivered. With about 50 materials in their catalogue, Vectorealism has clients from afar, such as a designer from USA who chooses them because they stock good quality Tuscan leather, though most hail from the EU, including Spain, France, Scandinavia, Greece, etc.

Marco Boccola joined Vectorealism full time in October 2012, when he finally decided to quit his job as director of personnel in a telecommunications agency. While Eleonora is a cool geek, Marco wears the happy expression of a kid who has escaped from school. As he tells us about the philosophy behind Vectorealism, he could almost be mistaken for being an idealist, if we didn't know that business is booming to the point that they are considering investing in further machinery. Laser cutting, he explains, is not really all that new. But in Italy, the laser services available are handled in person, for large orders only, and often without much professionalism. Their value added proposition is clear: professional, prompt, online, and with the same quality whether you're an architecture student ordering a single model or a designer cutting a whole collection.

Marco says that Vectorealism is a 'service designer.' 100% professional service, including consultation if necessary. As I watch Eleonora check the quality of a piece she's just printed - a prototype for a clock in laser-cut wood - I see this quality in action. Laser cutting is not as simple as it seems, it's a hands-on, artisan process, even if it derives first from a file, and a machine does most of the job. There's a lot of checking, re-cutting and finishing before the perfect object emerges.

 

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