“Designed in Britain, made in China” became something of an economic mantra in the last decade. Commentators saw the UK’s established strengths in design, creativity and branding could be matched with China’s manufacturing base to lucratively sell high-value goods across the globe.
It was a globalisation story that people readily warmed to, playing as it did to cosy assumptions about Britain’s knowledge economy, and China’s role as the world’s mass producer.
But China’s industries have done far more than simply grow in the last decade. They have evolved and specialized, matured and innovated. In recent years, unprecedented numbers of Chinese have studied design, fine art, fashion and other creative disciplines in universities across the world. In London, for instance, the number of Chinese students taking such courses has increased by 150% in the last five years, with the creative arts now second only to business studies as the subject of choice.
Nanjing Week in London, taking place between the 23th and 25th of September, is a vivid demonstration of exactly this. Nanjing, the historic capital of the Ming dynasty, is one of China’s fastest growing cities, with a population in excess of 8m and a highly diversified economy. The representatives coming to London are not simply manufacturers looking for orders, but rather a wide range of businesses, entrepreneurs, designers and artists.
Whether it is lighting and furniture, interior design, fashion or architecture, the Nanjing businesses being showcased in London exemplify the highest standards of production and the latest thinking in design, innovation and energy efficiency. It is no longer about the Chinese seeking business from UK designers – it is about knowledge exchange, commercial partnerships and creative collaborations. If the UK is to thrive in the years ahead, it will need to be more open to these opportunities than ever.