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Innovation in Creative Industry

Kaul, Ekta Khokhar a graduate of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, is currently engaged pursuing her Masters in Textile Design at the School of Textile and Design, Heriot-Watt University, Scotland. She was awarded the Scottish International Scholarship, 2005/06 as well as Charles Wallace Wallace Trust India Scholarship, 2005/06. For her Masters project she is engaged in developing synergies between technology with textile traditions. Prior to embarking upon the Masters programme, Ekta had a successful stint at the industry, working with some of India’s most revered designers.

Innovation emerged as the leitmotif in two diverse events that I had the opportunity of attending recently. These were the Scottish Textile Conference held at Glasgow and an exhibition showcasing the work of the acclaimed textile designer Bernat Klein.


“Not to innovate is to perish”, is how Giovanni Benedetti, a serial entrepreneur and Chairman of Benedetti International plc, described the importance of innovation at the Scottish Textile Conference. He urged the textile industry community to pursue innovation to keep ahead of the competition. His call was particularly relevant to the present day context, wherein the Scottish Textile industry faces the challenge of high production costs in Britain and an increasingly price sensitive market. In such a scenario, differentiation must be made in terms of innovation and quality. A business based merely on a “me-too” approach, runs at its own peril. The only edge that it may have is a cost advantage. But that too may be short-lived, till the next “me-too” arrives with an even lower price. So, unless a business consistently creates something novel, it cannot hope to survive in the long run.


However, the ‘creation of something new’ can sometimes appear to refer to only products. It is therefore, important to understand the nature and scope of innovation. The economist Joseph Schumpeter, described innovation as encompassing more than the creation of a new product or process. He identified five principal sources of ‘creative destruction’. While explaining ‘creative destruction’, Schumpeter said that innovative entry by entrepreneurs was the force that sustained long-term economic growth, even as it destroyed the value of established companies that enjoyed some degree of monopoly power.1 The five sources were the introduction of a new good (or a significant improvement in the quality of an existing good), the introduction of a new method of production (i.e. an innovation in process), the opening of a new market, the conquest of a new source of supply of raw materials or half manufactured goods and the creation of new type of industrial organization (i.e. an administrative innovation2). Businesses need to consistently pursue one or more of these in order to ensure long term growth. This premise was validated by examples at the conference, as well as at the Bernat Klein exhibition that I visited subsequently.


Bernat Klein, a visionary textile designer whose design business i.e. studio and production was based in the Scottish Borders, rose to international prominence in the 60s because of his unprecedented textile designs. The Bernat Klein exhibition illustrates the importance of product innovation in propelling Klein to the forefront of the industry. “When I started, Scottish Tweed was brown, indistinct, dull in every sense”, he recalls. “I dreamt of cloth vibrant with colour”, he said, “I wanted reds that were redder and blues that were bluer than I have ever seen before. I lived through and for colours, so my designs immediately stood out.”3 His vibrant textural tweeds in mohair, velvet and wool became highly sought after by Parisian couture houses like Chanel, Nina Ricci, and Yves Saint Laurent. Klein recognized the significance of offering something different to the consumer. His approach was different than that of his contemporaries who were offering ‘safe, time tested products’ at the time. In essence, Klein created a demand of products that were bold, new and completely unseen before. His sound business sense was expressed in this simple statement, ‘one of the first lessons taught by economics is that it is more profitable to create a demand and supply it than to supply an existing demand.’4


Yet another example that bears testimony to the fruits of successful pursuance of innovation is Joyce Young’s business. Joyce Young is the owner of the Glasgow based wedding dress label ‘By Storm’ which is recognised for its designs, quality and service within the British Bridal Industry. Joyce spoke about the growth of her company from its inception to the present day at the Scottish Textile Conference. She emphasized the importance of innovation not only in products but also in finding new markets. The company diversified their initial focus on the traditional wedding dress market to include designing wedding dresses particularly suitable for weddings abroad. This focus came in response to the growing number of Scots choosing to get married abroad, thus requiring light weight wedding gown for the bride, and less formal but stylish clothing for other family members and guests. Joyce also emphasized the importance of seeking new resource bases for retaining economic viability of the business. The company sources fabrics from India, and uses a combination of Scottish and Chinese skills to add value to their collections, resulting in unique designs and a business model that is economically sustainable.


As these instances reiterate, innovation is indispensable to a creative business particularly in the context of the emerging Knowledge Economy. It is equally important to recognize the multi dimensionality of innovation and to apply it in its wide Schumpeterian scope. Turning to the craft sector, how important is innovation to craft based businesses/ livelihoods? Do crafts have to constantly innovate to be able to survive and flourish? At the risk of stating the obvious, the answer is an emphatic yes. New markets, new raw materials, new technology, new expressions have to be continuously sought. However, this almost hints at a dichotomy. How can crafts, inherently a continuance of tradition, be at the same time a celebration of the novel? What level of the ‘novel’ should be adopted so that the craft retains its essence and yet offers something new? I believe, crafts are inherently flexible and this ability allows them to be expressed in myriad ways. Craftspeople have traditionally absorbed cultural influences and their crafts have emerged imbued with the resonance of these influences. Changing needs, tastes, lifestyles necessitate need for products that answer emerging or even unfelt needs. At the same time, the human quest for familiarity, the comfort we draw from the embracing the traditional, raises demands for designs that seamlessly bind these two needs together and offer an experience that is traditional yet contemporary. The answer lies perhaps in creating innovative solutions that build on the wisdom of traditional crafts assimilating the offerings of technology, of emerging knowledge and changing needs.

References

  • http://www.craftscotland.org/bernatkleinretrospective.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_destruction
  • http://www.bystorm.co.uk
  • Deakins, D. & Freel, M., Entrepreneurship and Small Firms, 4th Edition, McGraw-Hill Companies, 2006
  • Klein, B., Bernat Klein Eye for Colour, Bernat Klein Scotland with Collins, London, 1965
  • All photographs have been taken by the author at the Bernat Klein exhibition and are being reproduced here with permission.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_destruction
  2. Discussions with Helen Taylor, Archivist, Heriot-Watt University
  3. Bernat Klein Exhibition
  4. Bernat Klein, Eye for Colour, The Designer Tomorrow, Pg 91



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