Time has passed really fast since I started this course in September 2011. And now looking back I realise how much I learned and changed since then, and I can assure the Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship module was the one I learned the most. The reason I chose this course is firstly because I wanted to gain more knowledge in the fashion area, and secondly because I plan to have my own business in the future. As my background is in Graphic Design, I have really good knowledge in the artistic field, but lack of entrepreneurial skills. At first I wasn’t sure if Fashion & the Creative Economy was the right course for me, but when I found out that by their definition, creative industries are “…those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent which have a potential for job and wealth creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property” (DCMS, 2001), and that “at the heart of the creative economy are the cultural and creative industries that lie at the crossroads of arts, culture, business and technology. (Creative Cities, British Council, 2011), I was sure it was what I was looking for.
Learn by Failing!
I tried running my own brand before, but my lack of confidence, knowledge in the business area and this irrational fear of failing, actually were the reasons I failed. And I can say this was one of my first lessons: There’s nothing wrong in failing! Failing is good! “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” (Sir Ken Robinson, 2009). If you don’t fail you don’t know how to succeed. As Salvador Dalí once said: “Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them.” In the end, my “sublimation” came to be this MACE course.
I must say I was expecting something way different from the course. I have that image of business students dressing suits and seating with good posture in the chair, looking only to the board and the professor, learning boring stuff. Quite a square environment. But what I found out is that the course was dynamic, very practical and fun. The way we learned was exactly the opposite of the way I was thinking it was going to be. Plus, I was expecting to learn how to do business in the traditional way (more or less like “The Apprentice”…), but actually it turned out to be more about collaborative work, sharing experiences, and use a more humanistic approach. In other words, I was taught to think out of the box. Maybe the fact that our class is a mix of different cultures and backgrounds has been a strong influence in this dynamic learning environment. And since “interdisciplinary working is becoming more mainstream” (Martin Kemp, NESTA), why not make use of it for our business benefit? Do things differently than the conventional. Share knowledge and come up with new solutions. Be innovative and creative in business!
The beginning of the course was really fruitful to me. Analysing Prêt-A-Manger gave me the opportunity to have the user experience by putting myself in the place of the customer, and by doing so, I could identify the three user needs – cognitive, emotional and physical, and then I could understand why small details, like an adhesive saying “freshly made”, some nice pictures hanged in the walls, or even the smell of freshly baked goods, are such important elements in a business.
Through the “Prototyping a Shoe” class I learned the importance to have the public’s opinion and how they can give you a new perspective of a product that you actually never thought about, and how their opinion can be enough to come up with a new product that fills their need in a few minutes time.
But, besides all the classes, I think the most important for me was the Storytelling class. By telling a story you share empathy, and suddenly people have an emotional connection with you or with your brand. As it is stated in the Business Model Generation (2010) book, “storytelling will help you effectively communicate what it is all about”. It was important because I realised it was one of the things missing in my brand, and in fact it could have been the most powerful tool to increase my sales. By that time I just couldn’t see why it was important. Fail.
Make the world hear you!
Networking was also an important part of my learning. Usually I am not the type of person that just goes and starts talking to a stranger. The same way I don’t like pitching, and introduce yourself to another person is somehow the same as pitching yourself. But during Launch 48, Business Start-Up Show, Bright Ideas Competition and other events, I forced myself to step out of my comfort zone. In the end I think it is just a question of confidence and will, because what I found out is that people are interested in listen to what you have to say, so it is not a big issue at all. Eventually I was able to make good contacts, and for instance one of them turned into a small project. Still, I need to work more on my pitching skills, to the point I start feeling comfortable to do so.
“People do better because they are better connected with other people; they are obligated to support others and are dependent on trusting and exchange with others.” (Ron Burt, NESTA)
The same way, I had to expand my use of social media as part of my network “task”, which demonstrated to be quite relevant, either to my business team or for myself. Construct a wide net of contacts showed being extremely important when it comes to spread the word about your business, when you seek for help or information, or when you need someone with specific skills. In resume, it is a powerful working tool, and we must make the most of it. It was proven by my own blog. I wasn’t expecting much from it at the beginning, especially because I am not a blog follower but when I got some followers, including people outside MACE and who really appreciated some of my point of views, I got really excited. It is really encouraging, and shows how important it is to expose yourself to the world.
Besides everything, my biggest achievement in this course was for sure Curpy. Through it we could apply everything we had learned so far (problem solving, prototype, market analysis, storytelling, networking), in a really practical mode. The business team worked similarly to how a real business would work, especially through the Dragon’s Den events, the trade fairs and all the pitching practice, which made the whole experience a valuable lesson for the future.
I consider us quite lucky in a way. We didn’t have any issues to decide on our teammates, since we all live in the same halls of residence. Actually it was even an advantage, because we never had any issue to set up the group meetings. And I think compared to the other groups, our team got along really well during this journey. Of course we had our discussions, ego fights, misunderstandings, but to be sincere I think all these things are necessary, and you have to learn how to deal with. As in my previous experiences working in some companies, you like it or not, you have to pass through this anyway. Sometimes you must be flexible and let things go, and sometimes you must stand still with your opinion. Working in group was never easy, however, at the same time, I see how important it is. I would never be able to get where we got alone, especially because each one of us has some special skill that complements the whole work. And working with people from different backgrounds and different countries is challenging, but at the same time interesting, as you always end up learning something new, and having a new perspective of different cultures and life experiences, which just enrich the whole experience.
We also didn’t have any issues to decide on the products. It came out so naturally that when we realised, we were already producing a prototype (check the process here). I think one of the reasons it was quite easy for us is because we have two people with design backgrounds in the team. Indeed, the design aspect became the strongest characteristic in our brand (check Kanin’s blog). The only challenge we had was with the advert, as nobody had filmmaking background in the team. However, these are the times we have to take the risk and try. In the end it came out well, and for the editing we counted with the help of Abhishek’s friend in India. Again, network and collaboration!
In overall we did very well. We got along well, we have two products selling instead of only one (and there is more to come) and we won as Best Business Team of the day in the Kingston Market Fair. We did our best and we used all our skills acquired during the course. To close the module with a golden key, we were one of the two business teams chosen to represent London in the Young Enterprise Start-Up UK Finals. To step out of the student environment to a real entrepreneurial one was an incredible experience, and to Curpy be in the Top 5 Young Enterprise in UK was my biggest achievement throughout the course. We did the best we could by then and we used all our skills.
To the Sky and Beyond!
The Young Enterprise Finals doesn’t mean the end of the line for Curpy. On the contrary, we are planning to keep the business going and even expanding it, in terms of retail stores and number of products. Our future is too promising to be lost.
I also met so many interesting people, from all over the world, and with so much cultural diversity during the course, that I feel I have a solid network for any collaborative projects (or even for an ordinary barbecue!) that may appear in the future.
Now I also feel more prepared to carry my own business. I learned so much and I already had the experience to put them in practise. I also met so many interesting people, from all over the world, and with so much cultural diversity during the course, that I feel I have a solid network for any collaborative projects (or even for a simple barbecue!) that may appear in the future. As Nadiyah (2012) said, “If you really want to start a business, you have absolutely no excuse not to.” Moreover, I’m focusing both my Final Project and my last Fashion Module assignment to my future plans. For the Final Project, I am setting up a social enterprise to work with communities in Brazil in the production of stylish bags. For my Fashion assignment, I am developing a new concept for my brand based in sustainability. In the future, I plan to join both projects in one, and carry them as my own business. Let’s see how it goes!
But, for the first instance, I will try either to find a job in the fashion industry to gain more working experience, or make another course in Surface Design or in Textiles areas. I will go wherever the wind blows me to…
“Having a strong belief in yourself and feeling free to express your ideas are vital if you’re going to go on to be adventurous, and consider setting up a business or social enterprise.” (Elizabeth Chell, NESTA)