How to diversify

Kangan Arora |

January 20, 2017

Kangan Arora is a designer-maker specialising in screen-printed homewares – or at least, she was. The past year as seen her take on projects as diverse and out of her comfort zone as exhibition design and way finding – and prompted her to rethink her future. We asked her to share her advice on diversifying your brand…

You don’t have to look far to notice there’s a serious appetite for collaborations across different disciplines at the moment; in fact at times it feels like we’re at saturation point – I lose track of the amount of Designer X Brand taglines I’ve seen! (Guilty as charged!)

But look beyond the cliché and it’s clear that many brands and designers have found that by bringing two entities together, each with specific strengths, they can multiply the potential and create something truly special and unexpected.

In truth, branching out is something that happened by accident for me. It wasn’t a conscious decision but the opportunities presented themselves and I took them on.

So, I’ll try to give you the advice that I wish I’d received last year when I first started to diversify. Having successfully completed these projects, I can honestly say they’ve broadened the scope of my business and opened my mind, irrespective of how daunting they seemed at first.

Since starting my business five years ago, I’d mainly concentrated on printed textiles, only collaborating on occasions where it felt like the product was a natural extension to my range – and still within the sphere of textiles, partnering with retailers like Floor_Story (for rugs) Urban Outfitters (for bedlinen) and Heal’s (for embroidered textiles).

In the last 12 months however, I was approached to design, amongst other things: the Christmas gift packaging for REN Skincare, the India Pavilion at London Design Fair as well as a 20m long installation to welcome visitors at the entrance of Truman Brewery during the London Design Festival.

Strange though it may sound now (even to me!), my initial reaction to all these opportunities was reticence. Why? Simple, they were all way outside my comfort zone.

Overcoming your fears on a new project and having the confidence to take a leap into the unknown is the first step – again it’s a cliché, but take a deep breath and just say ‘Yes’! (More on this in a second)

I approached all these projects from the point of view of wanting to bring something to the table that reflected my aesthetic, which I figured was the reason I was approached in the first place.

What’s important here is to know your strengths and build on them. The concept is key – the canvas may vary.

1. Make a wishlist
Have some goals. Why not draw up a couple of wishlists? One of the companies you’d ideally like to work with and a second one the products or environments you’d like to be involved with. You may find it helps frame your thinking and ideas, giving a tangible end goal. Or things may head in a completely different direction, with the list evolving over time – either way; I find committing these things to paper is an invaluable starting point.

2. Spread the word

Broadcast a little, tell people in your creative network that you’re looking to diversify and try new things, you never know who they might be able to connect you with. If you’ve built your reputation in a specific field through your own brand, it’s possible you may not be on someone’s radar when they are looking for potential collaborators. Announce on LinkedIn and Instagram that you welcome new projects, add an extra paragraph on your website telling people to get in touch to discuss new ventures.

3. Meet other creatives and network
Immerse yourself in the creative landscape. Co-working offices like Second Home and SohoWorks and institutions like the Design Museum have extensive programmes of talks, lectures and events that are attended by people from different industries – business, publishing, architecture, graphics, technology etc. They’re often free to attend if you book in advance. While you’re there, keep your ears open, get talking, introduce yourself – don’t be a wallflower.

4. Self initiate
Don’t wait for people to approach you. Initiate projects you want to do and start to build your portfolio.

5. Invest in yourself
Equip yourself with a variety of skills; you want to be able to hold your own when you have a meeting about a project beyond the scope of what you’ve undertaken in the past. It helps if you can offer more. Find a short course to learn a new skill or build upon on your existing skills. Respected art colleges like Central Saint Martins offer short courses throughout the year in every subject – ceramics, marketing, curation and more. There are evening, weekend or week-long courses to choose from. Independent studios like Print Club London (for screen-printing) and Turning Earth (for ceramics) also offer more affordable taster sessions if you’re just exploring various options and don’t want to break the bank. Alternatively, learn by doing. You can often download trial versions of various softwares like Sketchup and Queensbury, or Squarespace if you want to build mock websites for clients. All of these softwares are accompanied by short videos to assist in your learning or are easily found on YouTube.

5. Say yes
If a good opportunity comes knocking – say yes. If it’s not within your capabilities, be honest and seek a mentor for a bit of guidance. People are more generous with their time and advice than you might expect and are often flattered to be asked. Don’t suffer in silence; look back and you’ll realise that you have plenty of friends who may have different levels of experience in different fields. All creatives have moments of doubt or creative block. Even more so when they’re doing something out of their comfort zone, speak to people; don’t do this as a solo person.

6. Break it down
The task may seem very daunting so break it down into bite size chunks and take it from there. Research is key.
When I was approached by London Design Fair to collaborate on the Shapescape installation, there was a short deadline of just three weeks so there was no time to waste, so rather than be overwhelmed by the scale of the project, the only way to tackle it was by identifying the various component parts – research, ideation, finding suppliers, costing up and putting together a team. The team was the most important component so I enlisted the help of some friends who are successful set designers to supervise set-up days and drew on their contacts for professional and reliable set builders and carpenters. I also put a call out for help via the Design Geek Jobs Board and got a small team of interns to help me. The project made me realise that you can’t always work as a one-man band; the scale and complexity of a project can demand a small line-up bringing together varied strengths and experiences.

7. Be realistic
It will take twice as long as you think: when quoting for a new job, factor in your unfamiliarity with the subject-matter and allow more time than you think you’ll need. You’ll encounter many unknowns and even if you’re willing to take a hit on it financially because it’s too good an opportunity to pass up, be aware of that when managing your time.

8. Enjoy the process
And lastly, embrace the process. If you’ve done your research and have a solid plan, things rarely go wrong.

With thanks to Sophie Mutevelian for the photograph.

Kangan Arora

Kangan Arora is a London-based contemporary design studio, specialising in vivid print and interior-fashion textiles. Growing up in India, where fine textiles have run in the family for more than 100 years, she studied at Central Saint Martins and the National Institute of Fashion, before establishing her eponymous brand in 2011. Her approach is typified by a celebratory use of colour, pattern and abstraction, while rooted in an appreciation of contrasting cultures and a rich tradition of visual storytelling. With a signature style that takes assimilated shapes and unexpected juxtapositions, bringing them to life through bold screen-printing, hand weaving, embroidery and quilting. Chosen as one of ’20 names to know’ by Elle magazine and with recent exclusive collections for Heal’s and Urban Outfitters, her designs have been showcased at the V&A Museum, Southbank Centre and Milan Trienniale Design Museum.

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