The Fatality Of The Creative's Life


I started University when I was 17 years old. As soon as I finished my first year, one of my professors referred me to a contact of hers who gave me my first job. I had just turned 18, and I already had a full-time job. I had no experience, and I had only finished 1 year of classes which only covered the basic stuff. Nevertheless, she took the risk of referring me and, without her foreseeing it, the opportunity that she gave me unleashed a 20-year long career. I am fully aware that I was fortunate and that an opportunity like that happened just because I had the means to go to that University in particular and also because the professor who spotted me had those sorts of connections. Is it possible to make these opportunities available to anyone from any background?

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with a young cinematographer about how difficult it is for starting creatives in the UK. If you don’t have contacts in the industry, or if you haven’t attended the “right” schools, finding people to give you the first opportunities can be a discouraging task. Disregarding whether you are good or not at what you do, if you don’t have experience or the right connections is almost impossible to find work. Starting creatives resort to unpaid jobs to gain experience and also to meet as many people as possible in the hopes that one of those connections will be able to open a door into the industry.

However, reality kicks in, and when living expenses demand to be covered, you have to get yourself a day-job to be able to make ends meet. Up until here, it all sounds very logical, but any creative will be able to tell you that not every type of day-job counts. Creative gigs come and go easily, they usually appear without notice, and they tend to have an unforeseeable duration. This means that, whichever day-job you get, it must give you enough flexibility for you to be able to take time off with short notice for those sudden gigs for which you might also not know the duration. Let me know when you find an employer who is willing to hire you under those conditions.

This young cinematographer told me that they rely on temporary jobs and creative gigs in other fields different from their own to be able to make it to the end of the month. But, at this pace, their chances of one day achieving the dream of working in the film industry seem to be running low.

The Creative Industries in the UK are one of the strongest in the country. According to the Department of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Britain’s Creative Industries play an essential role shaping how we are seen around the world and are also a vital part of the economy. Yet, for starting creatives whose parents can’t support them throughout the first years or who don’t attend the right schools, building a sustainable career in the industry is very difficult.

Why is it so different for other industries? In the Creatives Industries, if you are a starting creative with no experience but you can afford to get unpaid internships/apprenticeships, there are options plentiful. But, if you are like the majority of starting creatives and have bills to pay, your chances of getting entry-level paid jobs are very slim. What if you are starting your creative career at a certain age when you have even more obligations? I don’t see anyone addressing that demographic.

I know that it is easy to write and campaign for No Free Work from the comfort of my office when starting creatives out there would take any opportunity that comes their way to get a foot in the industry. I also know that when setting up teams for client work, it is challenging to fit inexperienced people in the crew and with limited budgets, it is even more difficult to fit in additional assistants.

But, something’s got to give. As an industry, we are a referent for the rest of the world. I just watched the Emmy Awards 2019, and British creatives took most of the statues home. That is only possible when you support and invest in the industry. And, as an industry, we are only as strong as our weakest creative. Without the proper support, the newest generation of creatives will not be able to hold the weight of the legacy that they are inheriting.

Photo credit: behind the scenes taken by Andrzej Gruszka.

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The Creative Industries Need Our Support


A few months ago, a person who was explaining their business venture to me told me that their target client was not the creative entrepreneur. Their reason for avoiding this segment of the market was that, according to them, creatives are known for not making much money and we wouldn’t be able to afford the services that they offered. That is why, they continued saying, they couldn’t come up with a business strategy that relied on us. This idea that creatives can’t live from their art is not new. BBC radio Veteran John Humphrys famously said that “Art Does Not Get You A Job”, and a phrase like this said by someone who works within the industry shows that we have a lack of support from outsiders as well as from peers.

Last year, I wrote a post titled Art Puts Food On The Table about the contribution of the Creative Industries to the UK economy as a reaction to the thought that, while we are contributing massively to the economy, it doesn’t feel like we are given the importance that we deserve. This is something that also troubled Dr Mari Hughes-Edwards, the creator of an artists’ network with the aim of encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration across the arts sector, who said that “now more than ever, the arts are minimalised and trivialised”. The network that she created is called Art Does Not Get You A Job, and its name is inspired by Humphrys’s phrase.

In July this year, the Creative Industries Federation (CIF) sent the new British Prime Minister an open letter stating that “The Creative Industries are the UK’s fastest growing sector, growing in every region and at twice the rate of the wider economy. In 2017, the sector generated £101.5bn GVA (that’s more than aerospace, automotive, life sciences and oil and gas sectors combined). There are 2 million jobs in the Creative Industries (and jobs in the sector are growing at three times the UK average), while the Creative Industries account for more than 5% of the UK’s economy, and almost 12% of all UK businesses. Moreover, 87% of creative jobs are resistant to automation, which means that a creative workforce is one that is both resilient and future-proof.”

Later this year, the CIF also published an open letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson MP, on the value of creative education.

It is true that early-stage freelance creative businesses struggle to take-off, but the same can be said of so many other industries. So, what’s the difference between our industry and others?

Well, for starters, in other industries like Technology, investors throw millions of pounds at thousands of startups in the hopes that at least one of them becomes the next big thing. In the Creative Industries, you have funders and patrons, but there aren’t enough, or there isn’t enough money to be able to develop early-stage creative businesses as there are in Technology.

Second of all, as Sonya Dyer says in her essay “Pivotal Moments”, mid-career creatives, considering mid-career to be the longest and most productive phase of a creative’s life, do not receive the same level of support that early-stage creatives receive. So, if early-stage creatives receive very little support, mid-career creatives don’t receive any at all.

This is the state that our industry is in right now. Like we have seen from the figures, we are a vital component of our economy, but one that seems to be as invisible as air. So, the same way that we need air to breathe think of all the consequences to our economy if we stopped creating financial and business support that targeted creatives.

If you don’t believe me, think of all the movies and the TV shows you like, think of the clothes you wear, the spaces where you live, the places you like to visit because of the way they are designed. Think of your favourite music playlist. Think of that witty ad that made you smile, or of the books you read, the poems that inspire you, the photos or artwork that hang on your walls. Think of museums and galleries, theatres and concert arenas, think of the videogames you play or the foods that melt your senses. A creative made that happen for you. Do you still think we are not worth targetting?

Photo credit: behind the scenes taken by Andrzej Gruszka.

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When The Mercury Rises


I’m writing this post in the middle of a heatwave. Tomorrow, the mercury will rise to an unprecedented 38º C in London, which means that it will be hottest here than in my tropical native country of Panama. Funny enough, summer-loving people in London are celebrating this weather without thinking for a second that this heat is a sign that our planet is not doing well. Admittedly, I am a winter person, and I don’t like the heat, but if I go to a Caribbean beach in Panama and all of a sudden it starts snowing I would be far from happy. We are warming up the planet to extinction, but we are going down with a celebration.

Around this time last year, I wrote a post on sustainability and the myths of Recycling and how we need to reduce our waste as much as possible. Today, I write about why we should be cautious when the brands that we buy from tell us that they are sustainable and green. Over the last year, many brands have jumped on the wagon of sustainability, especially fast fashion brands, but I wonder if we are starting to use this term as a selling point rather than as a real concern for the planet.

I’m not underestimating the efforts and the investments that brands are making to become more sustainable. But, some of the things that these brands are advertising as their efforts to becoming green are just a fraction of what they need to be doing. To be truly sustainable, a brand must acknowledge that the life-cycle of a garment is longer than they had anticipated and should also include the life after the item has been worn and replaced.

This new way of thinking about the life-cycle of clothes involves both brands and consumers. We are all in this together and if we don’t want to kill our planet, we must act now.

What actions can we take right now to become more sustainable?

As Brands:

  • Use sustainable materials/suppliers/processes: this is what the majority of brands calling themselves sustainable are doing right now, and in principle, it is something good. But it is just the first step on the roadmap to sustainability. The work doesn’t end there; there is more to be done.

  • Source locally: it is kind of counterproductive to source sustainable materials in remote places, ship them all the way to the factories and then ship the finished garments to distribution centres where they will be shipped again to the points of sale. It really doesn’t matter how sustainable a brand’s materials are if the carbon footprint of their supply chain is destroying the Earth.

  • Generate less waste: this is the tricky bit. Fashion brands need to sell to stay in business and to sell more, you need to produce more, but there must be a limit to the amount and frequency of the items produced. A brand may be the greenest of them all in sourcing sustainable fabrics or having a sustainable supply chain, but if they are releasing hundreds of new designs each month to force their customers to keep on renewing their wardrobe, all their sustainability efforts will go to waste. Literally. The real challenge of turning a fashion brand into a sustainable brand is how to make customers buy new clothes while at the same time stopping them from sending the old ones to landfills or incinerators. This is where the concept of circular economy comes in, but is it really possible to make fashion circular?

  • Keep it affordable: Price is the icing on the cake. Sustainable materials and research are still not cheap and to be able to lower their cost we would need to produce and sell so much that we would be contributing to the problem of waste while trying to amend it. At the same time, the sad reality is that if sustainable clothing is more expensive than non-sustainable one, people will keep on buying the latter.

As consumers:

  • Buy less: it all comes down to generating less waste, and to generate less waste, we must renew our wardrobes less often. This is the last thing that brands want to hear, but in all honesty, we don’t need to buy new clothes every season. Today we have five times more clothes on average than our previous generations, maybe because they didn’t have the money or the offer, or perhaps because they made their clothes themselves and these lasted longer. My mom once told me that she only had two dresses that my grandmother had made her, and as a child, she would have to go out on Sundays looking the same every week. And so did everyone else! Obviously, I’m not pretending that we go back to making our own clothes (which wouldn’t be too bad) or to owning just two pieces of clothes. The ideal would be to buy less but buy smarter, buying from brands that are truly sustainable and circular and that produce quality clothes that last longer and promote less waste.

  • Buy Second-hand/Vintage: Buying smarter also involves giving a new life to someone else’s old clothes. Pre-loved clothes are not only a sustainable way to renew our wardrobe, but it also gives you the advantage of not looking exactly the same as everyone else who buys from current seasons.

  • Don’t Become a serial returner: sizing is a serious issue when buying online, and sometimes we have to purchase and return at least once to get the right sizing. Some consumers buy/wear/return consistently, or buy many different sizes of the same item in the hopes that at least one would fit instead of properly researching the measurements of their body according to the tables that online retailers provide. Serial returners have a massive impact on the environment.

  • Buy from brands that are circular: again, buy less but buy smarter. Buy from brands that allow you to take your old clothes back to the shop in exchange for store credit. But, before doing that, ask them what they will do with your old clothes.

  • Repurpose your old clothes: don’t throw away your old clothes. Hand them down, take them to charity shops, return them to the shops where you bought them from if they offer store credit, donate them to the homeless but don’t throw them in the bin.

  • Don’t judge people for what they wear: the pressure to look always stylish and trendy is one of the main reasons that force us to buy so many clothes that we don’t need. This is particularly true when you work in the fashion industry because peers and superiors are constantly judging you from what you wear. This forces workers in the industry to contribute to this cycle of massive spending.

The time for complaining about the heat is long gone. It is time that we do something about it. We must seriously keep this conversation alive and look for ways to becoming more sustainable and saving our planet. Do you have any other ideas of how to become greener as consumers and as brands?

Photo credit: behind the scenes by Andrzej Gruszka.

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