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UC academic wins outstanding paper award in Dublin

UC academic wins outstanding paper award in Dublin

October 8, 2012

University of Canterbury researcher has received an international award in Ireland for a paper on her research on business start-ups in the New Zealand designer fashion industry.

UC Associate Professor Colleen Mills was presented with the Outstanding paper of the Year Award by the Editor of the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research at the international small business and entrepreneurship conference in Dublin today.

Her research reveals a designer fashion sector that runs on tenacity and passion and operates in a way which encapsulates the resourceful New Zealand way.

``New Zealand fashion designers, often still in their 20s and early 30s, seem undaunted by the challenges of this competitive and perilously undercapitalised sector. Often family and friends make up the shortfalls in labour and finance to keep designers going, particularly in these recessionary times.

``The more fashion designers I meet, the more inspired I become by the industry. We can be justly proud of the quality of imagination and innovation evident throughout the industry in the face of huge odds.

``It is not all about good design, however. To be successful, sound business skills need to be grafted onto design talent and this may not be easy as business acumen does not come naturally to many budding designers. Despite this, the sector abounds with those who have navigated this 'business-creativity' challenge.’’

Associate Professor Mills identified three inter-related enterprise orientations that define the sector: creative enterprise orientation, creative business orientation and fashion industry orientation.

It was only when a designer shifted their orientation from the first of these, where their motivation was primarily centred on the expression of their creative talent, to one where creating a business was seen as requiring as much creativity as a good garment or fashion accessory design that business growth was likely to take place, she said.

``It is at this point that there is a shift in social capital utilisation and development away from personal networks towards professional networks. Often accountants play a key role in facilitating this shift as accountancy tasks are likely to be the first business tasks outsourced.

``Very few accountants specialise in the creative industry sectors so this raises the question of how well prepared most accountants are for advising nascent fashion businesses on business development matters.

``When we examine the way fashion is supported around the country we see great initiatives being taken by tertiary design programmes to create opportunities for their design students to experience the commercial side of the fashion world first hand. Education is shifting away from education about and for the fashion sector to incorporate more education in the fashion sector.

``Graduates are more aware of the pressures they face starting businesses in the sector. While some choose not to start their own businesses, those that do are better prepared than ever and worthy of serious consideration from investors.’’

Associate Professor Mills said unfortunately newcomers were still seen as high risk investments, which meant many new fashion design businesses were funded by family, personal mortgages and part-time work for others in the sector.

``This somewhat backyard approach is at odds with the quality of the fashion products produced. A visit to NZ Fashion Week or similar events confirms the quality of what is being produced.’’


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