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Best of British

by Selin Arkut on Dec 14, 2008

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With the effectiveness of the event measured not in footfall but in the quality of visitors, this year’s showcase was deemed a definite success by Steel. “The footfall at our events is never designed to be large; we are seeking to attract visitors of a high calibre and to give both the visitor and the delegate time at the event to begin developing their relationships. At this year’s event we achieved this significantly better than in the previous two years and most of our delegates have already begun to progress the valuable contacts they made during the day.” 
Showcasing his work outside of the UK for the first time was Jaz Asbury of Jaz Asbury Metal Design, who was promoting his ability to create one-of-a-kind, bespoke staircases, furniture, sculpture, lighting, and general and architectural fittings.

“I work 95% with steel because it is what I was trained with. The way that I use it is unique; I have techniques that are totally original to me. I use these 100-tonne presses and big power hammers, which require a lot of technical expertise,” Asbury explained.

With a client base that is split between private clients and professional interior designers, Asbury is equally happy creating one-off pieces for a living room or a hotel foyer, he explained. “It would be quite interesting to break into this market because there is a lot of creativity going on here. With all this development going on, people need these building to look good on the inside as well as the outside. To be honest, a lot of what I’ve seen is very opulent and very well done but not necessarily tasteful.”

After a successful introduction to the region, Asbury is now planning to attend Interiors UAE in Abu Dhabi in March. “Fortunately most, and I mean over 50%, of the people who came to the showcase were very interested in my work, which is most encouraging. There were several interior designers and architects among them who expressed an interest in doing business,” he said.

Also present promoting his range of bespoke furnishings was Martin Howard. “I use metal and glass and create one-off interior stuff. I hand-make each piece to order. This is new territory for me so I thought I would come and explore the market and see what was happening,” Howard commented.

Art attack

Intrigued by the potential of the UAE market, Kevin Blackham Contemporary Art was another newcomer to the region. “This was our first time in Dubai and I made some interesting contacts. I think certainly as far as the art industry goes, Dubai, and maybe the wider Middle East, is just at the point where it is beginning to wake up to wall art, particularly in corporate spaces,” said Phillipa Blackham. 

As one of the UK’s leading architectural artists, Kevin Blackham is known for taking iconic buildings and making them the subject of artwork. “We can do a one-off bespoke piece where you take a photo of a hotel or whatever and turn it into a line drawing and then into a finished picture. The process is very repeatable but it is all hand produced and painted,” Blackham explained.

“In some hotels here, I’m surprised to see that they include such detail in all the finishing touches and then they put a print on the wall. They think a lot about the fabrics and the rugs and the tabletop objects, which are all quite transportable – but a painting on the wall is quite a permanent thing. And you shouldn’t discount original art on price because it can be produced for a reasonable cost.”

With traditional markets proving increasingly unstable, British companies have more reason than ever to look further afield. “Wrongly maybe, we look at the US as a very easy place to do business. And while the US market hasn’t faltered for us, The UK and Europe have,” said Gary Barnes of Martin Furniture and Interior Fittings.
“We’ve been a little bit cushioned in the US, I suppose, with the dollar getting so much stronger against the pound. It’s got a lot cheaper to buy our products – it’s gone down by about 25 per cent in the last six months, which obviously makes a difference. And there is also the price differential in this market – we are finding it easy to export,”

Strong historical ties and tangible goodwill between the UK and the UAE are also encouraging British designers to head UAE-wards. “There seems to be a nice sympathetic feeling between the UK and Dubai. It’s a nice match and it would be nice to foster those trade relationships. I think what the UK does so well is it has a lot of innovation and creativity and quality, whereas over here people appreciate the quality but may not have the same creative experience,” said Blackham.

By all accounts, an steady stream of British designers and products onto the UAE market will continue unabated. As Barnes maintained, exploring new markets is the only way to survive in an increasingly global arena. “It is a global economy. You can’t insulate yourself from the world – it is just too small. You have to do business in Dubai and in the US and anywhere else where you get the opportunity.

“Gone are the days when we had this attitude of ‘we are English, the world will beat a path to our door’. We’re a nation of traders, after all.”