Last week I worked as a trainer for the Moreland Fashion Industry Mentoring Program. This project was conceptualised, developed and project managed by designer and fashion industry expert Chitra Mangma. Her goal was to provide mentoring and training in business skills to young designers to help them establish their own new professional practice. Chitra was fortunate enough to obtain funding from Moreland City Council’s Community Grants program and venue support from Brunswick Business Incubator.
During the project participants (selected during an application process) had one on one mentoring with Chitra which focussed on developing their skills as designers in the context of finding a market or future career in the fashion industry. My contribution was to deliver three workshops that focussed on how to build a brand and a marketing strategy. The program concluded with participants presenting their marketing strategy to a panel that included Chitra, myself and Anthony (Manager of Brunswick Business Incubator). As a panel our job was to provide feedback and suggestions.
Although tiny symptoms of stage nerves were apparent (and, hey, this happens to the best of us) the participants presented really, really well. I was so proud of them. All of them are obviously hugely talented designers; during the program they revealed themselves to be delightful people – good natured and generous in their input – with a determined and grounded attitude to developing their future professional practices. Their presentations were lucid and clear, showing a good grasp of the marketing and branding concepts we had talked about in the workshops and mentoring sessions. They were able to lay out specific and practical tactics they could follow in the future, and showed a good sense of strategy. Chitra and I were thrilled with the development these guys had shown in just two weeks, and the amount of deep thought they had put into their participation in the program was very much in evidence. The feedback from the participants was great – it showed they valued the program, found it interesting, enjoyable and useful.
When I present any kind of business or project planning workshops to artists or creatives I try to take the angle that the creative and the business sides of their professional practice needn’t be at odds. Indeed, much about the planning process requires the sort of fluid, conceptualising, contextualising, envisioning mental skills that come so easily to creative brains. Marketing, a huge part of any business, is also a very creative process. Having worked for so long in the arts industry I also have a healthy respect for the self-discipline developed by artists in response to the demands of their vocation, and I absolutely believe that this gives them the discipline to cope with any aspects of business or project management that at first feel new or odd to them.
And yet there is a persistent myth in our society that creative people are wild and flakey, lacking in sense and pragmatism. I have seen this manifest in otherwise very sensible and organised artists as a lack of confidence in their ability to develop business acumen, despite the fact that their actual behaviours and self-management actions point to the fact that they do have the savviness and practicality to manage their affairs very well indeed. My own abilities in project and business management came out of what I call my ‘choreographer’s brain’ and my own initial experience in putting on my own shows. I hate this lack of confidence and think it is quite a toxic influence on the minds of creatives. What makes it even worse is that the arts and creative sectors can be difficult ones to make a career in – lack of funding, (depending on the art form) a lack of a clear career path, competitiveness, scarcity in markets (we live in a society that doesn’t like to pay people for their creative labour) are all factors. The stark reality is that creative people can’t afford to labour under the misconception that they are a bunch of nuff nuffs and that the world of business is Not. For. Them. If they are not going to spend their lives on the dole queue or stacking shelves they need to box mighty clever, and be confident that they can do so.
So it felt really, really good when our participants spoke of feeling “empowered” by the program; one said she could see how the brand building and marketing strategies could function as an extension of her creative practice. This was sweet. This is what I wanted.
Chitra Mangma has many years’ experience as a designer, stylist, retailer and project manager in the fashion industry; prior to this she worked in advertising in her native country Thailand. Chitra is passionate about passing on her considerable knowledge of the fashion industry to up and coming designers and put together this program to help young designers to enjoy a smoother transition from fashion student to small business person. Chitra was able to obtain funding from Moreland City Council’s Community Grants Funding Program; the Brunswick Business Incubator provided in kind support by making a venue for the workshops available. Chitra was especially pleased to be able to present this program in the Brunswick area as she feels that fashion is a big part of the Brunswick community due to the presence of fashion retailers on Sydney Road, the fashion and textile courses at RMIT University’s Brunswick Campus, a number of fashion businesses in the Brunswick Business Incubator, and a healthy arts and creative scene in Brunswick. Chitra, herself, is a long time Brunswick resident and her own shop (only just recently closed) was itself on Sydney Road.