Come autumn and London comes alive with a spectrum of events celebrating craft and design. While the London Design Festival brings together a wide spectrum of events like design trade fairs, seminars, exhibitions and sales across a range of sectors, Origin, the London Craft Fair, showcases over 300 of the most innovative and influential international craft-makers under one roof1. The city celebrates the unique, the handmade and the well designed. I visited 100% Design, an Interior Design trade fair and Origin, the London Crafts Fair this autumn. 100% Design was held from 21-24 September 2006 at Earl’s Court this year. This yearly event was founded by Ian Rudge and Rachel Robin in 1994. Over the years it has gained the reputation of showcasing the best in interior design, presenting the latest and most innovative in furniture, lighting, accessories, wall & floor coverings, textiles and kitchens & bathrooms.
Co-located exhibitions like 100% Detail and 100 % Light focus on specific sectors presenting innovations in building/materials and lighting products respectively. Participation at the event is not restricted to British design companies, but is in fact quite international. For me browsing through various countries’ pavilions was an exciting window into cutting edge design imbued with cultural references of the region. 100% East, an associated exhibition now into its second year showcases emerging talent. I visited this event and was amazed at the sheer variety of work exhibited. From giant balloons digitally printed with panoramic views of the city to eclectic chairs that had sledge-like legs, the exhibition covered innovations in a wide range of disciplines, namely ceramics, furniture, graphics, jewellery, lighting and photography. Held at the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, London’s edgiest creative quarter during the annual London Design Festival, 100% East is a multi-disciplinary international showcase for young, up-and-coming designers and companies2. Designers from Britain, India, Japan, Scandinavia and several other countries exhibited their work. The event generated immense interest from the industry, the press and public. Talent scouts from big design houses and members of the media on the lookout for the next big thing in design browsed through the stands.
Factors like these make 100% East a great platform for young design companies to launch themselves from. Several seminars, debates and discussions on issues concerning design and architecture were organized as part of 100% Design. Discussions ranged from ‘Sustainability’ to ‘How To Do Business in China’, addressing topical issues and providing added value to the participants. Besides 100% Design, a plethora of events were organized under the umbrella of the London Design Festival. These included discussions on Creative Wealth, Creative Economy, Technology, IPR issues; exhibitions like the Conran exhibit, Designers Guild Autumn Collection, Design UK at Liberty, Greenwich Village Showroom; fashion events like the Camden Fashion Show, Fashion Stories, DePLOY demi-couture women’s wear, and even events featuring children’s creative activity, one of which was ‘Flying into the Future’. Promoting Creative Economy was quite central to the festival. Events such as Designing a Business, Creative Wealth, Creative Futures, Design Talks at Somerset House, Exploring Innovation: best Practice Forum for Designers, were organized as part of this endeavour. (Details of these events can be viewed at (http:/www.londondesignfestival.com).
The fortnight beginning October 3rd saw the best of international contemporary crafts showcased at Origin, the London Craft Fair. Craft Council’s new event Origin, has replaced the Chelsea Crafts Fair this year, showcasing over 30% more exhibitors than the Chelsea Crafts Fair. The Chelsea Crafts Fair was held at Chelsea Old Town in London for 26 years. The new crafts fair has been given a new identity as well as a brand new address, Somerset House in London. The event showcased over 300 exhibitors, divided into two groups. The first half exhibited in week one, while the other half of the exhibitors showcased its work in week two. I visited the exhibition in the first week. The event showcased exhibitors from various disciplines including textiles, ceramics, jewellery, furniture, basketry, metal and glass. It was exciting to see such diverse products and expressions innovatively answering contemporary needs as well as creating new ones and suggesting new uses. Springboard, a new exhibition for emerging craft talent was curated this year at Origin where 24 of the most exciting emerging makers showed and sold their work to the public for the first time. Springboard is an opportunity for those makers, who are within one year of trading to explore the market and gain experience of showing at a major event.3
The importance of such festivals and events for promoting creative businesses doesn’t need validation. Such events are engines of growth, diversity and innovation, the central pivots of a Creative Economy. Inevitably, my thoughts turned to comparisons between the situation here in the UK and at home in India. Compared to their counterparts in the UK, platforms available to Indian designers and craftspeople to exhibit their work are few and far between. The state’s initiative to promote creative businesses, which is so evident in the UK, is completely lacking in India. Why has our government not even begun investing in building a Creative Economy, when we have millions employed by the creative sector? Is the importance of an economy fuelled by ideas even recognized? In the days of growing global competition, can we really sustain an economic advantage simply based on cost? More importantly, are we even questioning ourselves in our euphoria over the Sensex4 reaching the 13,000 mark, whether we want to see ourselves as a country of back office menials, or as visionaries spearheading an economy based on ideas and innovation? If affirmation in the latter is what we all want, we must resolve to build ourselves as a nation of thinkers, of innovators, of visionaries and not simply of executors of someone else’s ideas. Nurturing creative entrepreneurship through education, policies, investment and state initiatives would certainly pave the way for realizing this affirmation into reality.