Mumbai calling: workspace offers the Dutch creatives a passage to India
This month the Dutch Design Workspace was opened in Mumbai. Architects, designers and other entrepreneurs from the creative sector with plans to set up shop in India can hire a workplace here including the use of meeting rooms.
They will also receive business support. The Workspace is an initiative of Dutch DFA, an international incentive programme aimed at the government’s creative sector.
The Workspace is strategically situated in Lowel Parel, a central district which is growing out to be the creative hotspot of Mumbai. The interior is a mix of Dutch and Indian styles and is designed by Studio Makkink & Bey. The daily management is in hands of the Indian Anuradha Gupta, who is well-informed about both Dutch and Indian culture. According to her, a structural presence in India is required for a successful business. “If Indians get the idea your in in for a fast buck, you won’t get a foot in the door. You have to show you really want to do business in India by being here.” Having a local contact is also invaluable, says the Workspace director. “To arrange transport or licenses you need someone beside you who knows the local customs.”
This was the reason for Tjeerd Veenhoven to rent a spot at the Workspace. “I could find my own office. But this workspace offers more than a desk with an internet connection.
Matchmakings are organized with potential customers and advise is given about legal affairs for instance. Especially in India, this is vital.” A visit also helps to bridge the large cultural differences. “When is it rude to call someone to remind them of an appointment? And when is it necessary? Only an Indian can tell you that.”
Veenhoven developed a process which turns palm leaves into a leather-like material. He wants to make flip-flops from this “palm leather”. Although the designer aims towards cheaper production in India, he is also looking at products for the Indian market together with his flip-flop producer, such as book covers, bags and even car seats. Veenhoven thinks he can make the difference opposed to any Indian competition thanks to his background as a designer. “There is hardly any product design or development done here. The only thing that counts are low production costs. But, a beautiful products doesn’t need to cost more if it has a smart design.” Moreover, he eliminates the risk of plagiarism. “The process which treats the leaves is too simple for a patent. Copying advanced products is much harder.”
Currently, Veenhoven is the only Dutch tenant at the Workspace which offers room to around ten entrepreneurs. “India is unknown territory for many designers and architects”, says Christine de Baan, programme manager at Dutch DFA. “That’s why creatives can hire a workplace for one or two weeks and gently orientate.”
In addition to a physical workplace, the Workspace should function as a hub for various activities across the sector such as lectures, symposiums and presentations. De Baan: “It should become a platform for dialogue and collaboration between the creative sector in both countries. Indians with questions about the Dutch creative sector have a place to go now.” The first Indian tenant has already taken the stage, design bureau INDI.
Workspace director Gupta is optimistic about the chances for the world of Dutch design and architecture. “Design and architecture in India are far behind on quality compared to the rest of the world. The Netherlands are world leaders in these sectors.” What brightens the chances is the uniqueness of Dutch design. “Dutch designers aren’t just about making beautiful things but consider problems. Also, there is a good eye for social context such as the environment or poverty.” Gupta sees big opportunities especially in collaboration with craft and audiovisual design.
Although it may take some getting used to, that critical and experimental design Gupta agrees. “But Indians aren’t interested in designers who make the same things, even if they are better. The important thing is whether you can bring something which people here don’t know or can’t do.”
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