We Need More Small Workshops
28 June, 2012

I have spent some time in nordic cities recently, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki. One thing you notice there is the number of women wearing hand made clothes produced by young domestic designers. In the main shopping areas, you see a number of shops with young women, making and selling clothes of their own design. At the same time you tend to see few shops featuring international designer brands.

I stopped to talk to some people in these places and found out

some interesting things. In some of the shops with local designers, they said that the government had set up workshops, where young designers can rent very cheap work space with other designers, subsidised by the part of the government that promotes entrepreneurship. They can stay for two years, they sell together, help each other out, and learn from each other. Those who are successful can then go off and get their own shops set up their own business, with a loan guaranteed by the government.

I also heard from those at the designer shops that few locals shop there and that they are mainly for tourists from less affluent countries. That most Scandinavians, particularly women, prefer to bye the best of local designers rather than international brands. I don't have much of an eye for woman's fashion but the domestic designers work was very impressive, and was clearly better made than the international brands.
This really shows an important social trend in the most developed countries and I am curious to see if it will make it to Georgia and how. People want to know who makes the things they buy. They are more interested in products (including food) that is produced by individuals near where they live rather than in international brands manufactured far away. And there is a revival in local culture everywhere.

There are many talented Georgian designers and craftspeople. Sadly the Pirimze, which used to be filled with crafts people, is now gone. Nearby is a mall selling international brands that no customers seem to visit. The main streets seem to have plenty of shops with international brands, always empty, but few work shops of designers and craftspeople from Georgia, at least that can be easily seen.

So governments around the world are promoting investment and business but in Georgia the focus seems to be more on big business. And yet despite many many meetings, few large international business have invested in Georgia. This has little to do with Georgia itself, which
is largely viewed as having an attractive business climate, it is just that in the world now there is not very much capital. The different is how little help is given to small young entrepreneurs.
Unlike twenty years ago, when the focus was on big business around the world, those who try to improve the economies in individual countries, at least in more developed countries, now focus on entrepreneurs, particularly the young. Every year the OECD does a survey in which they ask people would they prefer to have a steady job or to be their own boss. Consistently most people in the US, Canada, and northern Europe say they would prefer to be their own boss. Most people in southern Europe say they would prefer to have a steady job. That always makes me think of the battalions of young Georgian university graduates who graduate with degrees in law, economics, or political science, who try to find jobs. Are there enough desk jobs for them? What Georgia’s economy really needs most of all is people starting new businesses.

But as with so much of the rest of southern Europe, not so many people want to take all that risk, or do all that work. In northern Europe and America, nobody in society has more status than somebody who starts their own business, no matter how small. And that cultural view is supported by a great deal of help from governments. It may be time for Georgians to look at how they view entrepreneurs, and for the state to think about how it can help them. A good place to start would be small collective work shops. Certainly tourists would love them and
eventually Georgians may shop there too.

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