Week 9

Core Characteristics, Ethics and Theory

Lecture material

Case study 1: Robin Howie (FF)

“It’s not rocket science, it’s just being good to people and doing good work and it all falls into place. I think rather than having an MBA, it is just having good emotional intelligence, how to work with people, how to treat people and making sure everything’s fair from the outset.”

Robin has stated that people skills are invaluable when working in a business, particularly knowing how to work with people. This is a valid point because although someone might be sociable, doesn’t mean they can understand how to communicate professionally or manage their social skills in order to get things done – being proactive in professionally is so important. I also like how Howie has mentioned ‘making sure everything’s fair’ – treating everyone and everything with validation and importance, and not hiding anything. This is the secret to being fundamentally ethical within a working environment.

Fieldwork Facility: Plants not pollution

“Hammersmith & Fulham Borough Council asked us to paint the Hammersmith Flyover in support of a project that has improved the space and the air quality under the flyover. Planters have been introduced along with an Ivy barricade that reduces the impact of harmful emissions entering the pedestrian space. We asked; how might we celebrate plants and their positive impact on place and pollution? Our approach takes inspiration from Hammersmith’s notable past residents William Morris and typographer Edward Johnston.”

Fieldwork Facility: Forensic Botanist

“Mark Spencer is a Forensic Botanist; he literally consults with police departments and forensic services on cases where plant based evidence can unlock crimes. We were asked to create a identity for Mark that was intelligent, simple and memorably executed. With a limited field of competitors in the UK (two at last count), having a considered identity would make Mark disruptive by default. The challenge though was to make sure this disruption doesn’t come across as a distraction and to avoid any territories that were insensitive to the gravity of Mark’s work. In Forensic Botany the main tools at Mark’s disposal are his observational skills and his vast botanical knowledge. Appropriately the logo is a skeletonised leaf that resembles an observing eye.”

Case study 2: John Sinclair (UsTwo)

“Me and Mills have always been really good atbeing open to other people and inputting ideas and making that work. I think one of the ways that we’ve always stayed, not ahead of the curve but certainly at the crest of the curve, is by making sure you’re open and listening and fishing for new ideas and new thoughts and new people. Then be open to that change” – it pays off to be adaptable and listen to your staff.”

Again, people skills are important in the role of owning a business. There will always be difficult scenarios or issues that will need a solution and being able to work with your clients can change a scenario from bad to good in an efficient process.

“Whereas me and Mills we were never such amazing designers to be really good at one thing, if you see what I mean. So, we 10 became quite broad but that, I’ll say it was our strategy, it was our accidental strategy, became perfect for digital because it moved so fast. The way that we approached business and design works so well for software and how that works”

Being a multi-skilled designer is a bonus particularly in todays age, where designers seem to be merging their talents into one overall collective skill. I’m interested to know – is there a benefit to having a set of ‘mediocre’ level skills compared to being a specialist in one thing? This article by Creative Bloq was an interesting read as it mentions about companies using ‘buzzwords’ on CV’s to hire creatives. This would obviously be a bonus if you were multi-skilled as you would be considered right away. However, if you are a specialist in the right company, you’d be the go-to person for that work. There was an interesting point about specialists – even though they are brilliant at a range of things, there’s often particular elements they prefer or are interested in. It also benefits specialists to have some knowledge of second-string specialisms (closely related) as it may benefit their work. Overall, it seems that what skills you have ultimately depend on the type of business you want to own/work for as everyone works differently. I personally wouldn’t know which is best until I worked in an environment that was supporting either option.

I also discovered that there are generalists, specialists and unicorns thanks to this article on Medium. This was insightful to read as now I know:

Generalists: have a broad knowledge which allows them to anticipate dependencies, to translate between specialists of different disciplines and to form an overall picture of what success looks like, and to step in and contribute when and where needed, even if they currently only have a moderate knowledge of a discipline. The best generalists learn and adapt extremely quickly, and are often the glue that binds a team together.
• Specialists: should only be hired if there is enough meaningful work at a company in their discipline for a specialist to be fully engaged for either a number of years (full-time employees), or a sufficient duration (contractors). A specialist will not turn into a generalist overnight, and usually won’t be happy if they’re asked to pinch-hit on things outside their discipline with no warning that this will be required. Also, because the specialist’s level of knowledge outside their discipline is likely to be lower than the generalist’s or unicorn’s, you simply won’t gain much benefit from misapplying a specialist.
Unicorns: lead the effort to design and build a single product in a sequential, time-limited way. This minimises the fragmentation of their time that comes from context switching, and thus maximises the value the company will receive from the unicorn’s multi-disciplinary expertise.

Case study 3: Sophie Hawkins

“I used a lot of natural dyes at uni and they are beautiful, but they do require a mordant bath, which is basically an after bath, or a type of metal, soluble metal, with them. Then I realised really early on that in mass production they become un-eco. They only work for one-off things. What always rang true for me was, there was this a guy called Charles Ross* that comes in and speaks to us at uni, and he’s just master of eco science in fabrics. He always says the most eco thing you can do is upcycle, to use something that’s already been made, which makes a lot of sense.”

*I have found an amalgamation of slides (from one of his lectures?) online and it has some fantastic book resources mentioned such as “how bad are bananas? The carbon footprint of everything by Mike Berners-Lee”

Sophie mentioning an fabric eco scientist got me thinking about eco-fabrics and I decided to do some research on other businesses that do this in various ways:


A community of people who are part of a membership-based network of farmers, ranchers, designers, sewers, weavers, knitters, felters, spinners, mill owners and natural dyers. They are all living and working within 19 counties in California.

The dogwood dyer:

I find the dogwood dyer’s blog to be really insightful – Liz is really knowledgeable with her followers and visitors, so much so she even has a ‘dye plants‘ page presenting various flowers for various dyes. She has images along with swatches which is a great example of how effective each plants dye really is on fabric. There’s also a really beautiful snapshot of the plants growing in their natural habitat and then being up-cycled into these colourful dyed garments, highlighting the successful sustainable process.

As the two companies I have researched above are not from the UK, I wanted to find a company that was.

Botanical inks:

Bristol based artisan natural dye studio offer a multitude of services through natural based inks and foraging walks to educate their customers. This is a fantastic way to showcase their business and raise awareness on naturally produced inks and dyes. If more people or companies used these methods, then the fashion industry would be far more economic. They are also very active on their social media (Instagram) account which is keeping up with current trends, and promoting their business.

Going back to the lecture – Sophie has had to source her fabric from Japan and not locally which is obviously a downfall compared with her sustainably locally sourced competitors. From looking at her instagram I can see Sophie does the dying of the fabric herself so there is an element of manual labour already – why not take that extra step further into seeing how to resource materials locally or make them herself?

Image of the cotton plant by ISAAA KC from Pixabay

Just from quickly researching – the go self sufficient website states that cotton can be grown in the UK in polytunnels or greenhouses. Also, Sophie could be thinking about sheep or alpacas for example; would a farm and sheering the wools benefit the business in some way i.e. cotton/wool combination fabric?

Locally grown material research

“Ah, so believe it or not a lot of my sales come from people that I’ve met because in London, as a freelancer, I’m also a tailor, a freelance tailor, so I get a lot of people that are interested, a lot of practical people on set for instance, and a lot celebrities that are into clothes. I appropriate the story to that person. I’m usually wearing my own clothes, and people normally ask me where I got them, which is a nice compliment. Then I appropriate the story to that person. It’s that social skill where if you’re talking to a builder, you can say it one way, and also you have to explain why it’s that much money. You can tell from the person you’re talking to whether it’s going to be like, ‘Argh, I’ll have to save up for that one’ to people who you can tell are already wearing that kind of price range.”

This is interesting how Sophie customises her approach to clientele, ensuring each customer has a personal introduction to the product and why it’s suitable for them. This can be very effective as having a limited collection like she does, presents that the garments are almost bespoke and tailored for each individual, rather than being mass-produced and available for X amount. This is also suitable for her pricing too, as there are so many different target markets/clients for her garments that people will have different budgets. It’s clear that Sophie also relies on word of mouth for her business too, which I find interesting because how would she expand her clients this way?