Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Newspaper story. Policy matters

The Independent – ‘Chancellor should invest in Britain’s thriving creative industries, says think tank’

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/chancellor-should-invest-in-britains-thriving-creative-industries-says-think-tank-9053756.html

Creative industries have received renewed attention from policy makers and the public as the UK looks to improve its sluggish economic performance. Focus from many of the broadsheets such as the article selected above point to the potential for job creation and economic growth. That is excellent, however the newspapers and policy makers are failing to see the bigger picture. There are very good non-economic reasons to invest in Britain’s creative industries. I will set out those reasons below.

The creative economy provides inspiration for many young people. Without educational games, TV programs and access to the Arts younger people would have a much less holistic education. A great example of this is the admission by Norman Foster that he played with Lego (e.g. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/11/give-girls-lego-to-build-careers). Lego inspires children and adults to build and be creative. The creative industry that devised Lego has itself produced a whole new creative class. As a nation we should place greater importance on encouraging creative industries to engage with young people so as to inspire a future generation of creative minds.

Furthermore Huber et al (1992) found that arts and cultural industries created self-confidence in communities, which improves prospects for growth. The very presence of creative industries has a positive effect on the surrounding economy.

Craft can also play an important social role within communities. Charities such as Kinder ART (http://www.kinderart.com/contests/) help disabled children; teenagers and adults find satisfaction through arts and craft. Former US president Jimmy Carter said that a democracy must be judged by how it treats the weakest and most helpless citizens. If you agree with Carter’s vision for society then you must agree that social enterprise within the arts and craft sphere offers the opportunity to achieve this vision.

It is disappointing that in recent years there have been cuts to the Arts Council England (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20664137). Research by DiNoto and Merk (1993) showed that non-profit art organisations in the US contributed significantly to the economy. The study showed that the influx of tourists and ability to sell complimentary products meant that art projects led to a significant multiplier effect of 1.7.

This post aims to demonstrate there is more to the creative economy than simply economics. There is the potential to bring communities together, to educate, to share and to express emotions through arts, craft and other creative industries. The article in the Independent places so much emphasis on the exciting technological digital segments of the creative economy and less on the traditional arts and craft. To that extent the journalism has mirrored government policy that has been narrow and orientated around economic goals rather than wider holistic goals of improving our society. Policy makers must look to reshape the current policy set out by the CBI so as to include more varied stakeholders and recognise the significant holistic benefits the creative industries bring to the UK as a whole.

References:

DiNoto, M. J., & Merk, L. H. (1993). Small economy estimates of the impact of the arts. Journal of Cultural Economics, 17(2), 41-53.

Huber, M., Williams, A., Shaw, G. (1992). Culture and economic policy: a survey of the role of local authorities. WP5. Tourism Research Group, Depeartment of Geogrpahy, University of Exeter, Exeter.

The Event. Louis Vuitton train pulls in at Paris fashion show.

Fashion shows have become less about fashion and more about theatrical performance. That is the statement this post will look to discuss.

In March 2012 Louis Vuitton opened their Paris show with models arriving on a spectacular industrial steam train. (http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2012/mar/07/louis-vuitton-train-paris-fashion-week).

Of course the stunt was designed to be eye catching and media worthy but is a spectacle like this symptomatic of an industry that is intrinsically self-centred.

Fashion shows bring together three basic groups the vendors; the buyers; and the media. The interactions between these groups are fascinating as each relies equally on one another (Munuera and Ruiz, 1999). But is that really the case? The acclaimed sociologist Harrison White (1981) claimed that fashion is unlike any other industry because producers respond to one another rather than the demands of the consumer. It is true none of the high-end garments on display at Paris fashion week are a reflection of what the consumer wants or needs. Fashion is prescribed to the consumer through a delicate balance of media projections and branding.

If you agree with the premise thus far then you can begin to understand why fashion shows such as the Louis Vuitton one exist in the form they do. Fashion shows are less about the clothes and more about the spectacle. In that sense we must understand that fashion shows aim to frame certain brands in a specific light (see Goffman, 1974). The fashion show is about creating a certain ambiance which both differentiates one brand from the next while always raising the bar in terms of sceptical and excitement. It’s the oldest trick in the marketing handbook; frame the product in a light that makes the product irresistible. Car adverts are a good example; they show a car driving through mountains on wide-open roads with the sun in the sky. Of course this type of performance tells you little to nothing about the car but it appeals to the aspirations and dreams of the consumer.

By understanding the consumer psychology and role of the fashion show in promoting brands we can learn more about fashion as an industry. The fashion industry will never be occupied by one main brand as the market for baked beans can be. Baked beans are seen as a functional good, we just eat them nothing more. Fashion is much more than that, as mentioned in the Paul Smith blog fashion involves consumers buying into a story, into a way of living. Fashion is also different from other markets because it is always evolving, fashion can never be complete rather it is always becoming.

This post poses an interesting paradox to the neo-liberal understanding of markets. The geography of the fashion show demonstrates that unlike many other markets the fashion industry relies on large-scale performances and the framing of brands in particular settings in order to succeed.

References:

Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Harvard University Press

Munuera, J. L., & Ruiz, S. (1999). Trade fairs as services: a look at visitors’ objectives in Spain. Journal of Business Research, 44(1), 17-24.

White, H. C. (1981). Where do markets come from?. American journal of sociology, 517-547.

The Product. Stealing, imitating and copying. What are the wider implications?

In 1948 Charles and Ray Eames designed the classic Eames moulded plastic chair with Eiffel legs (http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/can-you-steal-design/). The design is iconic and recognised around the world but not because Eames was able to sell thousands of chairs. It is because the design was imitated by other firms who sold the chairs more cheaply.

This problem is commonplace in the creative industries. The most important part of a product is the idea or the intellectual property behind the physical product. Once this is obtained it is often easy to create replicas at low prices. This has a detrimental effect on the furniture industry because large businesses such as Ikea often replicate popular products such as the Eames chair.

While the problem is very obvious the solution is less so. Some craft makers believe that the key is to protect ideas with copyrights, trademarks, patents and so on. Firstly this is costly and it is not a straightforward legal process proving a product is new a unique. In addition certain sectors such as fashion cannot be copyrighted (Hendrick 2008).

Secondly there is another reason not to use legal measures to protect intellectual property. Arts and craft in particular have benefitted from working in collaborative environments. Take the Devon Guild of Craftsmen as an example. Workspace is often shared and it is only natural that ideas will be ‘bounced around’ for want of a better word. If you create an environment that is cold, legal and isolated it would have a detrimental effect on the synergies that exist between different makers.

As much as it is a terrible shame that valuable ideas can be taken and replicated the alternative seems no better. Despite the gloominess there is reason to be optimistic. The growth of sites such as Etsy may help to level the playing field and deter copying. In the past creative makers lost a large portion of their margin because they had to sell through some retail operator such as a department store. Etsy allows makers to interact directly with customers. In theory this direct interaction should allow makers to be more flexible on price, which in turn means it is less attractive for other firms to imitate their designs. Although this will by no means end the problems associated with imitation it is a promising move in the right direction for makers such as the Eames’s.

References:

Hendrick, L. (2008). Tearring Fashion Design Protetion Apart at the Seams. Washington and Lee Law Review (65: 217-222)

The Maker. Has the rural cluster come of age?

Agglomeration economies are becoming increasingly important feature of the knowledge economy  (Rosenthal & Strange, 2004). The Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge has become an important rural creative cluster supporting dozens of graphic design and brand design specialists such as Kreative Bomb (see http://www.kreativebomb.com/about.html).

This post looks to challenge the assumed dominance of urban clustering and instead suggest that creative makers such as Kreative Bomb can benefit from clustering in a rural setting.

Financially:

Cost is a key issue facing all creative makers. Recent criticism of the costs associated with businesses moving to urban clusters such as Media City in Manchester further support the view that makers are better off clustering in areas with lower business rates and rent rates such as Hebden Bridge. Studies such as (Banks et al, 2000) demonstrate the importance of risk sharing amongst micro-scale enterprises. Support networks such as (http://www.hebdenbridge.co.uk/news/2013/225.htmlCommunity) allow makers to attract investment locally without being at the mercy of large banks or other lenders.

Community, living and inspiration:

Creative makers thrive when they exist within a community of other makers. This allows creative synergy between the different makers. Having looked at Kreative Bomb’s blog (see web link above) it is easy to see how many of the creations are made in collaboration with other makers. In addition the rural and tranquil setting offers an inspirational environment for creative makers to engage with nature and the rural environment rather than the less tranquil and distracting city environment. Furthermore the creative cluster in Hebdon Bridge is a thriving community which interacts through it’s own online network (http://www.hebdenbridge.co.uk/news/2013/225.html).

Advances in technology mean that proximity to the client has become less of an issue, because having a broadband internet connection means that media type businesses can effectively operate from anywhere in the modern economy. Harvey et al (2012) shows the importance of having internal connections between different makers in the cluster called ‘Krowji’ in the town of Redruth, Cornwall. In addition there needs to be strong relations between rural creative clusters and government. Government must help facilitate the growth of such clusters through taxation and use development council revenue to both further the appeal of rural creative clusters to outsiders and also improve the skills of local people so they can benefit from makers operating close to one another.

Increased interest in the rural cluster from thinkers such as (Gibson, 1998, 2002; Bell and Jayne, 2010) has raised some important questions. Where do rural clusters fit in a wider geography of space. The rural cluster offers a modern challenge to the traditional core-periphery model which for so long restricted makers to one realm or the other. Now clusters such as those at Hebdon Bridge offer a core within the periphery, disrupting conventional space and power ontologies.

References:

Banks, M., Lovatt, A., O’Connor, J., & Raffo, C. (2000). Risk and trust in the cultural industries. Geoforum31(4), 453-464.

Bell, D., & Jayne, M. (2010). The creative countryside: Policy and practice in the UK rural cultural economy. Journal of Rural Studies26(3), 209-218.

Gibson, C. (1998). ” We sing our home, We dance our land”: indigenous self-determination and contemporary geopolitics in Australian popular music.Environment and Planning D16, 163-184.

Gibson, C. (2002). Rural transformation and cultural industries: popular music on the New South Wales Far North Coast. Australian Geographical Studies,40(3), 337-356.

Harvey, D. C., Hawkins, H., & Thomas, N. J. (2012). Thinking creative clusters beyond the city: People, places and networks. Geoforum43(3), 529-539.

Rosenthal, S. S., & Strange, W. C. (2004). Evidence on the nature and sources of agglomeration economies. Handbook of regional and urban economics4, 2119-2171.

The Company. HELLO MY NAME IS PAUL SMITH.

During a recent visit to the Design Museum, in London I saw the Paul Smith exhibition. The experience profoundly changed my understanding of the fashion industry, consumer culture and status seeking. This post argues that fashion has moved into a new postmodern era beyond traditional conceptualisations of pre-fordism and post-fordism (Scott, 2006) in the fashion industry.

Take a look at the pictures below, which I took when I visited the design museum. They show the influence of culture and place on the Paul Smith designs:

Chinese inspired jacket
Chinese inspired jacket
British inspired dress
British inspired design
Vietnamese shirt collar & pattern
Vietnamese shirt collar & pattern

Paul Smith has always been a keen traveller, claiming that he takes his camera everywhere with him. His curiosity and sense of adventure is at the heart of everything Paul Smith, the company does. Paul Smith designers are masters of taking colours and patterns from one part of the world (often the developing world) and bringing it to the other. This combined with Paul’s own grounding in the UK fashion industry has led to a brand which is a hybrid of designs inspired by different places. In that sense we can consider the work of Paul Smith to be the result of various networked connections between different places, cultures and identities, perhaps even ideologies.

Paul Smith has always favoured vibrant colours and risque designs often inspired by cultures of the Orient or Far East. So why do the mature markets where Paul Smith sells the majority of it’s clothes buy into the brand?

The answer is in the psychology of the consumer. The modern consumer is individualistic and wants to stand out from the crowd (Featherstone, 2007). What’s more they don’t just buy into what Paul Smith creates but rather they buy into the story behind each creation. Each garment presents the opportunity for the individual to become part of the Paul Smith story, one of excitement, international travel and creative mastery.

Ironically of course this process of buying individualistic or statement garments is becoming so common place that the aspiration of individuality is mainstream and self defeating.  The era often referred to as ‘post fordism’ (Scott, 2006) is over and in its place is a new era where counter culture is acceptable, standing out is the norm and traditions are there to be broken.

Paul Smith as a company has arguably encouraged and contributed to this paradigm shift in the mind of the consumer. As a brand Paul Smith is willing to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. The colours have got more garish and the design more mesmerising as the line which divides mainstream from individual has become increasingly blurred in the new era.

The picture below was taken at the exhibition. It features a piece from a collection which Paul called ‘out of the ordinary’

Pink suit
Pink suited man in Africa

The above picture adds further evidence that cultural capital as understood by Featherstone (2007); Bourdieu (1986) has changed fundamentally. Postmodernism has created a new class of people who seek to go beyond mere individuality into the more extreme and avant-garde expressions of individuality. Greater emphasis must be put on Veblenian accounts of status seeking such as (Schor, 2007) in order to further understand this trend in the fashion industry.

References:

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education241, 258.Featherstone, M. (2007). Consumer culture and postmodernism. Sage.

Featherstone, M. (2007). Consumer culture and postmodernism. Sage.

Schor, J. B. (2007). In defense of consumer critique: Revisiting the consumption debates of the twentieth century. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science611(1), 16-30.

Scott, A. J. (2006). Entrepreneurship, innovation and industrial development: geography and the creative field revisited. Small business economics26(1), 1-24.