A view from the front row
Fashion, and fashion shows – are they all the same everywhere – or do we do fashion and fashion week just a little bit more 'our way'… recently I got a taste of one local event that helped me see that its a bit of both – but that is a good thing.
I went to one of the Wellington Fashion week events – the catwalk show for the new season release of Kathryn Wilson and Miss Wilson shoes – and was firmly in the 'corporate' crowd in attendance (as opposed to the 'fashion crowd'). That said I was keenly interested as to how we meet the world class standard, and yet deliver a uniquely New Zealand experience or bit of X factor in to the mix.
We arrived, got the swing tag, grabbed a glass of Champagne and started to mingle (as you do). We met Kathryn who was doing the rounds – but managing to lock on to everyone she spoke to in a genuine and engaging way (points for integrity and a genuine charm – but then Kathryn is special).
The chatting, the champagne, the canapés and the anticipation in Wellington's BMW showroom which was the venue for the show were all great. We could see upstairs to what are offices by day but were where the models, the minders and the hair and makeup were all getting the finishing touches. We we're chatting next to the latest mini models and awaiting the catwalk to unleash the collection on models of another kind – in fact I was talking to the Mole (the Mrs that is) and we thought we could have been anywhere – the leggy models, toney crowd, techno music and snappa gallery all waiting for the show to begin.
Wondering if in fact we may be a little old when the show kicked in – the lights were bright, front row is hard to sit in if you want to be incognito, that techno again and my god the lights are bright – and hot. But then all that died back and the star of the show turned up on stage for the intro – and then we were treated to a great local story, a fantastic example of kiwi design and ambition, a stunningly successful and yet humble backstory, all delivered with wit, a disarming charm and great aplomb (again Kathryn is special).
All in all – albeit with this brief taster – it seems kiwi design is alive and looking, sounding and seeming to be doing well. World class yes – a world apart too. This was a kiwi design event at a 'local' fashion week – and yet you had to think that we do have talent, we can foster creativity, we can grow brands and we will be able to all be a little better off the more success the likes of Kathryn and her peers enjoy. Now I don't want to get all gushy but you could sense the genuine interest and definite pride in the room (oh, and should say I was a guest of no, not Veuve Cliquot, no not BMW both of whom Kathryn is brand ambassador for – but AMP, who helped kathryn when she won an AMP Scholarship about 5 or 6 years ago).
Design is a broad subject, design comes on many shapes and sizes, and fashion design is notoriously tough to grow and sustain a business in. Its great to see a local success story – but its clear that talent is only part of the success, its needed business savviness, rigor, process, dedication, guidance. A measure of tenacity and personality have all been vital in getting Kathryn to where she is – to was also a humbling reminder that its not just happened, and has certainly not just happened over night – its taken work - a lot of it.
If design is going to play a part in our future then the support of the likes of AMP is great – but the effectiveness of government, the R +D sector, NZTE, their Better by Design program and all the players from regional council agencies, creative HQ's, startup labs, venture capital funders will be vital – from there we just need to keep nurturing Kiwis with an ability and a dream.
Can Kiwi designers foot it out there on Kiwi streets or further afield on a global stage – yep, but in saying that you need to try to do that in a way that celebrates and leverages your NZ-ness before you get out there in to the world and rock it.
With that in mind, here are 6 of DNA’s tips for building a business and then looking toward exporting:
1. Stand for something. Breaking into local or international markets requires something compelling, relevant and differentiated. Identify your value proposition and find ways to then amplify it.
2. Aim high and make your opportunities. Maybe we can’t compete on mass manufacturing, but having an innovation and design focus in itself provides exportable and profitable opportunities.
3. Collaborate to innovate. Find a way to connect with the right people, resources and access in specialist fields to give you the greatest chance of success.
4. One size doesn’t fit all. Before leaping into new products or markets, think about the customer - understand what they need, review how your offer measures up and carefully plan your impact for that audience.
5. Create unique experiences. Focus not only on what you you make, what you design or what offer, but how you offer it.
6. Less is more. You don't have to do everything - just make sure what you do you are going to be the best in.
The last word – never forget where you came from, yes Kathryn Wilson has been successful and yes she is special, but maybe so are you.
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