With this year’s London Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, support for all things British has never been stronger but how do we sustain this moving forward, asks Lakshmi Bhaskaran, designer and co-owner with fellow designer Jonathan Walter, of Cornwall-based Bark Furniture
At Bark Furniture we design and make bespoke furniture, and launch our Kustom chair [pictured below] at the Clerkenwell Design Week this month. There is a certain Britishness to our designs and the way they are realised - the confidence in proportion and modesty in detail - that makes them unique.
Revolutions require revolutionaries to get the ball rolling, but revolutions also need society's backing to make the big changes. We have seen a small revolution in the food industry where activists campaigned for free-range eggs, organic produce and locally sourced goods. Once considered to be radical hippies, the campaigners have been successful in changing the mindset of the public at large to the point where the large retailers have bought into the need to supply these goods.
This activism was a force for good, improving everything from the quality of the food to animal welfare, not to mention reducing the distances our food travels. The real revolution, though, has been the change in attitude as consumers now recognise myriad improvements in the quality of their own lives - and, critically, the price reduction as more food producers gear their operations to meet the demand, and scale up.
There is no reason why the same approach to interiors, homewares and furniture wouldn't succeed. Activists can already be spotted at the design and craft shows; the opinion formers ask all the right questions when they visit our stand at shows. And now retailers are, albeit tentatively, beginning to take a more proactive approach.
John Lewis is championing British manufacturing with the launch of its Made in UK identifier, which will appear on ticketing and online product information to highlight British-made products. A small step but one that is making it easier for consumers to buy goods that are created by some of the best design minds in the world and made using a local, highly skilled labour force.
It is this forward-thinking approach that can change things. But it has to be more than a flash in the pan. It is up to the rest of us to search out the incredible body of work that is coming out of design studios, workshops and factories in this country and bring their high- quality products into our client's homes.
I'd like to think that the Government should do more than it does to promote British craftsmanship, but there is always a risk of appearing xenophobic, and if every country adopted this attitude there would be no export market for our products. But by being clever, and digging a little deeper, more of the things we look for and the skills we value can be found here in Britain than people realise. Nissan has noticed the quality of UK manufacturing and labour, Boeing comes to the UK for its jet engines, Sony has factories here, Renault builds its F1 cars here, and a full two-thirds of our own production goes abroad.
If our international clients are willing to pay the extra cost of buying British-made goods and having them shipped abroad, then surely it makes sense for us to buy locally and avoid importing products that, while cheaper, are invariably of a lower quality. Factor in their marketing and transportation costs and you begin to realise just how little of that lower price is spent on the actual product. This year's major events may be the catalyst but supporting British design and manufacture is about so much more that pomp and pride. It allows us to ensure ethical production, fair wages and working conditions; to create opportunities now and for the future, and to support our economy. It may mean that, in the short term, as designers and makers, we do not get the profit margins we were hoping for initially, but if we are all prepared to give just a little there is a very good chance we could all gain a lot. barkfurniture.com
This article was first published in idfx Magazine.