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Here's why you need to attend Business of Design

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South Africa is a country of pioneers. It's a country of savvy innovators, inventive ideasmen and statement-making distruptors. It's also a country where jobs are hard to come by, and not always what they promised to be anyway, and where if you're looking for a good fortune, you'd be better off making it yourself. So these savvy innovators, these inventive ideasmen and these statement-making disruptors go out alone and hit the world with their quick wit, whip-smart pitches and subversive creations, wow-ing with creativity and talent. But there's one thing that many of these creatives are lacking: business acumen. South Africa's Business of Design conference seeks to change that. The seminar, which takes place from 16 to 17 August 2016 in Joburg and from 23 to 24 August in Cape Town, brings together successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs in one room to share stories and learnings from their own experiences, imparting invaluable knowledge to equip the pioneers of the future. Founded by four incredible achievers in their own right – Trevyn and Julian McGowan of Source SA and Southern Guild, and Cathy O'Clery and Laurence Brick of Platform Creative – the conference is a wildly popular and anticipated event on every calendar. We asked Trevyn and Cathy to give us the lowdown on the talks.

So just what is Business of Design all about?

Trevyn McGowan: Business of Design is a forum to guide, inspire and offer practical tools to aid people in changing the way they work and do business. It’s also a platform from which to build networks, form collaborations and grow competencies in various fields. The annual conference sees top industry experts and design professionals sharing their know-how with delegates, and our aim is that this encourages business owners and motivated employees to reach new heights within their industries.

How do you think the two days of talks will equip entrepreneurs of tomorrow with the right skills?

Trevyn: By inviting speakers from a variety of industries to talk at the conference, we hope that Business of Design gives delegates great bits of advice across various realms of business – from financial and legal advice to marketing and social media strategy, and how to make decisions with the latest trends in mind. Not many business owners or employees have ever attended business school, so by learning from the best, we hope to give them the opportunity to gather this information in an informal, helpful and collaborative way. Also, through ABSOLUT Networking, our 5 to 7pm drinks sessions at the end of each day of talks, delegates and speakers have the opportunity to really expand their networks for future business.

For you as a woman in the design industry, which female speakers do you think have really made a dramatic impact in the design world?

Cathy O'Clery: There are such strong women in our industry and hearing the stories of some of them – the grit and determination, the knocks, the getting up again – and of those who keep going is so inspiring to all. I was really blown away by speakers like Lise Butler and Amanda Haupt from Design Team, who went from a student business to owning a factory with 60 employees in 15 years, or Beverley Missing, who has taken a beautiful South African body product concept, Rain, and rolled out her stores across the States and the UK.

How important has it been for you to gain insight from others in the industry?

Cathy: I don’t think one can ever stop learning and hearing other people’s experiences. It’s heartening – even the successful people have had setbacks and how they deal with them is what makes them special. My favourite and most moving talk was by Zoja Mihic, who through naivety and cheekiness marched into a large retail store without realising she didn't have the capacity to produce the order, but got it done. She later stopped her career at a strategic point to go study and slightly shift what she wanted to do, and she turned down a great job with the courage to follow her dreams and take the risk to open her own jewellery business. She is now based between New York and Paris and has found a niche in the luxury jewellery market – and she is still the same lovely spirited person. Trevyn: It’s been extremely important for me to learn from others. Through Business of Design we’ve really built our own business network and we’ve had past speakers do consulting work with us over the past while. My main mentor has been alumni speaker Jim Brett, president of US homeware company West Elm. Jim has guided me and offered invaluable advice over the years of knowing him, and he has become a go-to person whenever I am stuck or need a push.

Which leaders do you admire?

Cathy: I admire so many people in the industry, but actually if I had to signal out anyone it would be Trevyn – what I have learned from her both from afar and from working closely with her is invaluable. I love the way she passionately and enthusiastically shares her knowledge, pushes the boundaries, questions the ‘why nots’ and has created many creative and commercial paths to the international and local markets for many other companies. This is the ethos of Business of Design – our team share the commitment to impart knowledge, grow businesses and help make a successful industry where we can all benefit. Trevyn: I admire strong, visionary woman in the creative field that have carved their own identity and established unique aesthetic viewpoints – Ilse Crawford, Patricia Urquiola, Li Edelkoort, Polly Dickens, Kelly Wearstler, India Mahdavi and Karen Roos all inspire me to follow my own path.

Which speakers do you think will have unexpected insights to share?

Trevyn: I’m really looking forward to designer Brian Steinhobel’s Joburg talk about the true value of design. He’s going to show delegates how to unlock their return on investment. Coming from someone who’s been in the industry for so many years and achieved so much success internationally, I feel I’m really going to learn a thing or two from this talk. I’m also rather excited for the architects who are speaking: Stefan Antoni from SAOTA (CT), telling the tale of how his iconic firm manages work between local and international projects; and Pierre du Plessis (JHB) and Sean Mahoney (CT) from StudioMas, sharing how they design around an environment. Cathy: I am looking forward to Robbie Brozen and Tracy Lynch – and hearing about the decisions that lead to Nando's becoming one of the major supporters of our design industry to date. HL readers receive a R450 discount to attend Business of Design. Email tracy@businessofdesign.co.za with ‘House and Leisure’ as the subject to claim this offer.