Opinion: Australia-China Creative Industries - by 2013 Delegates

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Australia-China Creative Industries By 2013 delegates Timothy Coghlan, Isabelle Kingshott and Chloe Qiu

After an intensive week of seminars, speeches and sessions on issues ranging from security and the environment to global trade and politics, the final topic for discussion at the 2013 Australia-China Youth Dialogue (ACYD) was that of Australia-China creative industries. Speakers included Leslie Always, Director of Arts at Asialink, Greame Lewsey, CEO of the Melbourne Fashion Festival, Paul Lacy, Co-Founder and CEO of Kikki-K, and Michell Guo, Business Development Manager with Hassell (Architect) Studio in Beijing.

The creative industries inspire ideas of passion and pizzazz, and each speaker proved passionate about their discipline by bringing the atmosphere to life with videos and visuals from fashion, retail and architecture. But this is not to say that the business of creative industries should not be taken seriously. On the contrary, creative industries transact billions of dollars annually and are predicted to be a major growth sector in Australia-China economic growth.

As the Chinese economy matures, hundreds of millions of its citizens continue to urbanise and swell the ranks of its middle class. As its cities increase in size and become more international, China’s demand for creative lifestyle products such as fashion, furniture and stationary, in addition to services such as architecture and design, will increase dramatically. These are spaces in which Australia excels and that our innovative and easy-going culture excels, giving Australia a unique design perspective that is both highly regarded in and complimentary to China.

There are significant opportunities for Australia to form effective partnerships with China based on creative industries and exchanges well into the future\.

An obvious opportunity for Australian creative sector retailers in China is where existing domestic stores lack ‘personality’ and have not kept up with the pace of leading international brands’ store designs and customer-focused experiences.

As Hong Kong-based ACYD delegate Chloe Qiu points out, this means that the timing is ripe for independent creative brands to move into China, especially those who excel at creating unique in-store experiences. Kikki.K is one such Australian brand whose chic stationary products, with the increasingly sophisticated and artistic tastes of Chinese consumers, have a large potential in Chinese markets .

Beijing-based ACYD delegate and retail store expert Timothy Coghlan knows all too well that setting up physical store networks across first- and second-tier cities in China is a vital means to establishing a brand presence in China. Now another increasingly important element to retail in China is online sales. With China predicted to become the world’s largest e-commerce market by 2015, international and domestic retailers with current or future operations in China cannot afford to ignore this growing opportunity.

Whilst the lure and potential of China’s creative industry market is huge, tapping into this market does not come without its challenges. In her presentation to the ACYD, Asialink Arts Director Leslie Alway related her experience in setting up creative programs and exchanges between Australia and China. Often these programs were not-for-profit, or set up by independent artists, designers and organisations that depended upon sponsors and funding to establish and continue their projects. While these projects were of great merit and led to fantastic outcomes, it was not always clear from the get-go what the tangible outcomes would be and without knowing upfront the measurable KPIs, subsequent fundraising has proved difficult.

On the retail front, challenges persist with Australian brands entering the Chinese market. Australian companies must be cognisant of the need to select a fortuitous Chinese brand name and beware of the somewhat lax trademark laws and regulations operating in China. China runs on a ‘first-to-file’ system for trademark registration, and knowing how ‘creative’ the Chinese market can be at reinterpreting and copying things, any Australian company or brand looking to sell its products, designs, technology or ideas on or offline in China should first consult a lawyer with IP or trademark protection expertise. Armed with the correct trademark registration, brands can easily take down counterfeits sold across major online platforms such as Taobao, TMall or JD.com.

There are also challenges for creative industries in ensuring manufacturing standards and equitable labour practices are maintained throughout their China operations. Historically, many Australian companies have sourced products from China due to cheaper labour and manufacturing costs, but they must not just consider China as a country from which they can ‘save a few bucks’, as this will not lead to positive long-term trading relationship.

If Australia-China creative industries are to be genuinely collaborative, and if companies are to form meaningful partnerships into the future, it is necessary for Australian companies to enter into bilateral agreements that are ethical and abide by both Australian and Chinese laws. Overall, while challenges exist, the future looks bright for Australian creative related business looking to do business in China.