Fifty ways to leave your lover; how to re-style your living room into a Californian beach front paradise; a hundred recipes to excite your party guests with a fish finger; the way to a more sustained orgasm while reducing house work and re-shaping a buttock. Women’s magazines will argue about various methods to improve your life and steer you away from that malodorous lump in the armchair….. the one in the gravy stained vest drooling into his special brew. But the one thing they will all agree on, is that men don’t talk. Well maybe they never met Colin Gillman, perhaps they haven’t heard of Ray Seagrave, and they understandably have never shown an interest in me (apart from a 1982 Cosmo article on men and make-up in New Romanticism).
The idea for the BGDF, the British Garment Decorators Federation, emerged almost a year ago, and there’s been enough hot air between us since then to power a trans Atlantic balloon expedition – a thousand hours of how best to protect and empower the garment decoration industry through the medium of a forum.
The detailed aims of the federation, it’s framework and charter, are explained fully at www.bgdf.co.uk but what I would like to attempt here is to answer the question why? Why bother building a forum for printers, embroiderers, garment distributors, machinery and consumables sales people at all?
Amongst others one of our primary motivators was fear. Forums are very easy to build, but extremely difficult to manage in a positive and constructive manner. We felt that sooner or later individuals who may not have been sensitive to the existing architecture of the industry, would knock up an un-monitored forum in their back bedroom, and let it loose on an unsuspecting sector – but what is so bad about that?
If you are in machinery sales, would you be pleased to hear that printers and embroiderers were selling their un-wanted (un-tested) second hand kit to each other – Victorian autos and 24 head threshing machines wandering about on the back of low loaders – how would that affect business?
As an ink supplier, would it be good news if you discovered printers flogging each other inks and chemicals online, without safety spec sheets on uninsured carriers – half used tins of thinners and exploding spray tack tins in the back of a mate’s van – would that be detrimental to business?
If you are a garment distributor, would you be pleased to hear of the brand devaluing exchange of left over samples and guarantee free dodgy imports at increasingly ridiculous prices – bin loads of white T-s without optical brighteners for 20p a throw – good for business?
And as a printer or embroiderer, would you welcome a digital vehicle for the auctioning of work to the lowest bidder, on a grand scale, ‘But I can get it for 5p less down the road,’ and ‘all printed T-shirts $1.00’ – nobody would be stupid enough to offer that would they ……check out the American forums.
In addition, all four of the above groups have different prices for different customers, and for good reasons. Some get discounts because they pay well, some because of the volumes they buy, and some because we like them and they make a nice change from all the other chisellers. Forums that discuss percentage discounts mean you would be justifying your prices all the time….’But so and so is getting 10% and I only get 5 and that’s not fair and I want more and I know it’s true because he just told me on a forum and’………oh dear, oh dear.
And so for the above reasons we thought we’d better build something sharpish, that while encouraging debate and positive comment, had certain rules about who could sell what to whom, while avoiding the un-regulated discussion of pricing – in short a forum that values freedom above all things, except when at another’s expense.
Scary stuff out of the way, the positives are fairly obvious. All three of us are from the industry – we know the loneliness of starting out as sole traders, no one to talk to at two in the morning when the thread snaps and the screen rips. We know what it feels like when a customer asks for moon dust on their T-shirts and we say no problem, because we’re desperate for work, and then wonder where we’re going to find a space suit. We’ve all needed a left handed rubber bung wrench and had no idea where to find one. We’ve all had our main customer tuck us up for a load of cash, then watched them go bust and set-up the next day with a smile on their face – we’ve all taken that news home to tell the family. It would have been good in those moments to have a place to share the experience and get some relevant advice and contacts. How to get started, where to find the kit, how to make it pay, how to get out of jail, how to have a laugh, how to feel a part of something, and how to make it pay – that’s why a forum.
All sounds like we’re in line for the Nobel Print and Embroidery Prize then? The more cynical among you will say ‘Business is only about money, and unless you’re prepared to flog your Granny for a tenner you’ve no hope’. They may also point out that there is advertising space on the forum, and conclude that this is nothing more than a thinly veiled cash making machine.
Well that all depends on, and hang on I’m going to use a buzz phrase, your belief in the Social Entrepreneur. Can you imagine a cross between Alan Sugar and Gandhi, a man in a suit with flip flops? The social entrepreneur combines sound business practice with charitable instincts. He or she does not seek to maximise profits, but rather the good of their industry (and even society). They do this by responding to market failures and providing goods and services to fill these gaps, particularly where regular businesses are not interested because the profits are not high enough, and the risks are too great. Social entrepreneurship doesn’t have to mean setting up a hospital or a centre for homeless bats – it just has to see what doesn’t exist, and make it happen with an emphasis on industry improvement.
That’s why we did it, and if like us you can believe in such an idea, then you can believe in the BGDF.
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