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Ning Li: How the creative industries can be better supported

by LLB Editor
16th Apr 14 5:28 pm

The MADE.COM CEO and co-founder on what the creative industries need to stay ahead

My key idea: Design leads to export, and we need to capitalise on exporting intellectual property. IP laws must be improved to protect our designers globally. Cultural diversity gives the UK a competitive edge in design, so immigration must not be tightened further.

Britain is rightly proud of its manufacturing heritage. While manufacturing is still incredibly valuable, we must understand that our future lies in exporting a fiercely important commodity: our intellectual property.

It’s no secret that British brands are loved overseas. We’ve seen this across the luxury goods sector, but more and more we’re feeling this demand in industries like furniture too. Our MADE.COM brand, for instance, is doing very well in Europe. We operate in Italy and France and our overseas operation now accounts for over 20% of the whole business, giving us the confidence to expand in two new European countries this year.

When one of our French customers purchases our Jonah sofa, they pay us and then British designer James Harrison receives his royalties, so exporting is also greatly beneficial to our designer collaborators.

Emerging markets have already got to grips with furniture manufacturing, having developed excellent upholstery and woodwork production techniques. We know this at MADE.COM as we collaborate with several overseas manufacturing partners. But these countries don’t have the background and technical skills yet to create – hence why we see the likes of China investing heavily in design via its new international design fairs in Shanghai, and Chinese factories linking with European designers to enhance their offer.

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So how can Westminster provide more support to ensure our creative industries stay ahead? The government could create tax subsidies for British brands exporting their intellectual property. We know that the boom in Chinese manufacturing was down to huge government subsidies and we should learn from this. In Britain we’ve seen tax subsidies for exports related to patents in industries like pharmaceuticals, and we would like to see similar help for creative industries too.

Diverse and dynamic

But why is our creative sector so dynamic in the UK? For me it’s down to diversity. We attract the best talent on the planet and it’s important we maintain a talent-friendly immigration law.

My first business in France had a 200-strong workforce and 99% were French. At MADE.COM there are 150 of us from the UK, France, China, Italy, Poland, Hungary and many more countries.

We have leveraged the global appeal of London to choose and secure the best talent from the world, a significant advantage over our French or Italian competitors. We put a lot of MADE.COM’s success down to this level of diversity. We must continue to encourage talent from overseas and welcome them to Britain. Tightening immigration would go directly against that and stifle an industry that Britain needs to grow.

Read Securing Britain’s Growth online now:
London business leaders tackle boosting enterprise, nurturing talent, growing exports, driving digital and securing growth in key industry sectors

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