Don’t forget your roots, take the Kiwi-ness to the world

Taking your design story global? Make sure you’ve packed your Kiwi-ness.

I recently went to one of the Wellington Fashion Weekend events – the new season releases by footwear designer Kathryn Wilson. It made me realise fashion shows can be the same everywhere, but we can also do things our own way.

I was firmly in the corporate crowd at Kathryn’s show, as opposed to the fashion crowd.

I was interested to see how we measure up against world class standards, but also deliver a uniquely Kiwi experience and a bit of x factor.

After I grabbed a glass of champagne I met Kathryn as she was doing the rounds, locking on to everyone she spoke to in a genuine and engaging way.

When the bright lights went down, the star of the show turned up on stage for the intro. We were treated to a great local story – a fantastic example of Kiwi design and ambition, a successful but humble back story, delivered with wit, charm and great aplomb.
It seems Kiwi design is looking, sounding and seeming well. World class, yes – a world apart, too – the evening had glamour, but was at the same time very grounded, that for me was part of the kiwi-ness. The range as well has ‘high street’ glamour, but its all wearable – that again is a distinctly kiwi aspect.

This was a Kiwi design event at a ‘local’ fashion week, but it showed we do have talent, we can foster creativity, we can grow brands and we will be better off the more success the likes of Kathryn and her peers enjoy. 

I don’t want to get all gushy, but you could sense the genuine interest and definite pride in the room (oh, and I should say I was a guest of no, not Veuve Cliquot, nor BMW, both of whom Kathryn is brand ambassador for – but AMP, which helped Kathryn when she won an AMP Scholarship a few years ago).
Design is a broad subject, it comes in many shapes and sizes, and fashion design is notoriously tough to grow and sustain a business in. 

It’s great to see a local success story – but it’s clear that talent is only part of the success.

Business savvy, rigour, process, dedication and guidance are also needed. A measure of tenacity and personality have all been vital in getting Wilson to where she is. The show was also a humbling reminder that Kathryn Wilson Shoes has not just happened, and has certainly not just happened overnight.
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, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, their  Better by Design program and all the players from regional council agencies, incubators, and 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? Sure, but 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 six 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 own 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 and resources 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. Kathryn Wilson has been successful and yes she is special, but maybe so are you.

Grenville Main is managing director of customer experience design consultancy DNA, a rabid collector and proud owner of the most obscenely messy desk in each of DNA’s offices.

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