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Support economic building blocks for our prosperity: Richard Blandy

Business

Most thinking about economic development is driven by the historic objective of all societies to overcome poverty.

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While there are pockets of relative poverty in Australian society, Australian society is no longer poor. By historical standards, Australians are rich beyond the dreams of avarice

Further, as a result of international trade, we can gain, inexpensively, many of the products and services that we need from countries that are less far advanced along the road to riches than Australians are.

On what are we going to base our rich economy, therefore?

In my article published in In Daily on October 22, I said:

“…The driving forces of our future economy will consist of high-quality, innovative, businesses…

“In particular, we are likely to be a standout centre for the creative arts industries: movies, TV programs, computer programming, advertising, photography, apps and artworks of all kinds.

“We will have very high average wages and incomes (made affordable by our high productivity, driven by high- quality, innovative, globally-competitive products and services)…”

Creativeness is the hallmark of this economy. We are used to the ideas of startups, co-working spaces, incubators, accelerators, and so on, in terms of electronic creativeness (the development of apps, for example). Former senior Commonwealth and State public servant, Elizabeth Donaldson, has extended this approach to encompass creative people who want to make things for a living.

As noted in the introduction to this article, far from being some sort of quaint set of craft pastimes, in the wealthy, post-modern world which rich countries like Australia are entering, these creative entrepreneurs are likely to have the economic world at their feet.

Elizabeth is the owner/manager of her own startup, Brick + Mortar Creative, an innovative retail hub for creative entrepreneurs in Adelaide. It is designed to reduce the risks for a startup of setting up their own store, while providing a collaborative and creative environment for makers.

Brick + Mortar’s heritage location used to be a senior citizens centre which had fallen into disrepair and a lack of use. Owned by the Norwood, Payneham and St Peters Council, the former senior citizens centre has been rented to Brick + Mortar at an affordable rate. The Council did this because it wanted to have a creative arts industry space in Norwood.

Brick + Mortar’s space has undergone a bright fit-out and is now taken up with designer-maker capsule stores made out of plywood shipping boxes, a café, workshops, a gallery and free Wi-Fi. In many ways, it is the next step after weekend markets for locally-produced creative artefacts. It has deliberately aimed for a curated selection of products and services, with high turnover, so as to spread its support around and provide short-term exposure to as many creative startups as possible.

It has had many startups located there in its eight months of existence, on leases as short as two weeks, although most take between one and six months. There are eight creative producers in residence at any one time.

Brick + Mortar provides a design-oriented retail space for makers to test products and gain retail experience, promotion, design and marketing advice, access to mentoring and business development services, and (soon) an on-line sales presence. If Adelaide can build a sufficient number of established businesses in this sector, it will be able to promote itself as a global design and craft centre (just as the South Australian wine industry is globally recognised).

Brick + Mortar has only been in operation for eight months. To give a flavour of what it does, a selection of four areas has been chosen:

Homewares based design: Phoebe Lamps and Where North Meet South produce a range of homewares-based products with a design focus, including contemporary lamps with customisable designs. They were recently listed in the Australian design world’s “top ten to watch” by Design Quarterly magazine. They have collaborated with emerging illustrator (and Brick + Mortar resident) Doris Chang of Little Sister Co to create a new design for their lamp range, demonstrating the benefits of co-locating creative businesses..

Fashion: In a traditionally bespoke industry, Sylvy Earl Millinery has had her first retail presence at Brick + Mortar, using the space to create her custom hand-made hats and headpieces. The convenience of having a studio to make her products in, and meet clients, as well as exposure from being located at Brick + Mortar, has played an important part in cultivating a loyal and high profile following, that has seen her business expand rapidly. A new Adelaide-based label, O’Speak, a solely online, but locally-produced, fashion range, used Brick + Mortar as a venue to launch their new brand. This was followed by a pop-up presence to introduce their offering to customers in a studio setting, before taking orders and enquiries online.

Local produce: Brick + Mortar has supported new local food and beverage products, including a custom, organic tea brand, which has been a featured product in the Brick + Mortar providore and café. Its market will be expanded by a program of blending workshops for potential customers. This business has been approached by an international importer and is extending its product range into cold beverages and custom blending. Local paddock-to-plate business, Forage & Feast, has also received exposure and a chance for founder, Kelly Magor, to interact with customers face-to-face through being stocked in the providore, and through tastings and events.

Creative, design-based businesses: The newest residency at Brick + Mortar is Snohetta, a high-profile, international, architectural firm that has a short term tenancy. Snohetta wanted to be located with other creative businesses and networks while it established its long term offices in Adelaide. The expertise provided by Snohetta is more developed than other design service businesses that have started at Brick + Mortar – for example, local startup, Salted, run by one of the launch creatives at Brick + Mortar, Clark Spendelow. From January 2016, Brick + Mortar plans to house more service-based creative businesses needing office and studio space, to complement its creative makers with a retail focus.

There is a distinctly Japanese feel about Brick + Mortar, like a live Japanese woodcut. This is not surprising, as Elizabeth Donaldson worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a decade, including Tokyo for four years, and used to be fluent in Japanese. She then moved to Adelaide and worked for six years in the Department of Premier and Cabinet, before starting Brick + Mortar in May this year.

Elizabeth’s case shows that career track public servants are well and truly capable of translating their high-pressure management skills into something else, if they are sufficiently talented and motivated. Like many of the resident designers at Brick + Mortar, Elizabeth’s decision reflected a desire to work for herself and to have more control over her career and her enterprise.

Richard Blandy is an Adjunct Professor in the Business School at the University of South Australia

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