Platformed creativity. Creative commerce. The maker movement. These words could very well become mainstream vernacular in the near future, not just in the West, but also in Asia.
Several digital trends are converging to make that happen. E-commerce and smartphone adoption are on the rise, and tastes in Asia are becoming more sophisticated. More consumers are demanding not just for cheap but also well-designed goods. Businesses are starting to recognize the need for effective branding, and are willing to hire designers to spruce up their image.
Just as important is the fact that creative professionals are warming up to the idea of using the Internet as an avenue to grow their businesses. E-commerce platforms, created by startups that sense a growing need for better tools, have become more sophisticated, social, and user-friendly.
Call it the rise of platformed creativity. Think of a flea market where upstart fashion designers go to sell their creations. Or an indie art gallery in a colonial shophouse. Now migrate all of these online. That’s platformed creativity at its core — aggregating creative products online, and then selling it to an audience.
But there’s more to it. E-commerce has always been about the buyers and sellers. Shoppers visit Amazon to purchase a book, but they don’t get a chance to talk to the author about how much they love or hate the plot. Similarly, consumers can visit Zalora to purchase a dress, but they can never meet the designer who created the item.
Platformed creativity can involve bringing creators and buyers together virtually to engage in a dialogue that could shape the product. Sure, not every consumer wants to talk to a creator and vice-versa. Those that do belong to the long tail — not the Justin Biebers of the world, but the burgeoning singers and aspiring film-makers.
Let’s come back to the flea market and art gallery where upstart fashion designers and artists ply their trade. At this stage of their careers, they’re focused on creating a following. If you’re not Andy Warhol, you’d damn well get out there and make sure people know your name and what you’re about. So, platformed creativity is not just about the products. It’s about giving creators a more prominent face.
The idea itself is nothing new. MySpace has long catered to indie singers and musicians, while Amazon has opened its platform to self-publishers. Startups like Fab and Etsy give designer-manufacturers a platform to reach a wider audience, while Kickstarter links entrepreneurs to passionate people who are willing to fund their ideas.
Sure, Asia doesn’t have its own Fabs, Etsys and Kickstarters. But we may not be far away. Startup ecosystems are maturing in Asia, and the result of that is the birth of native platforms catering to creative professionals.
There’s ArtKred for indie artists, Tinytrunk for fashion designers, and CuriousCatch for tech accessories, bags, and more (read about these 3 companies). DesignCrowd, which launched recently in Singapore, Philippines and India, enables companies to start design contests or hire designers.
Crowdfunding has emerged as a nascent movement in Asia. In Indonesia, Wujudkan.com has successfully raised money for movie projects, books, and games. Sites like Togather.Asia from Singapore and ArtisteConnect from Philippines have become venues for indie musicians to raise funds to produce albums.
There are a few more worth mentioning. The Global Creative Network, founded by Singapore entrepreneur Alex Goh, is one to watch.
The Creative Finder is an online community and marketplace for designers and photographers to engage with fellow professionals, as well as upload, share, and sell their works. It also has a rather unique feature: Visitors can embed some of these works on other websites. The Creative Finder becomes a platform to connect online publishers with creatives.
The Bazaar, meanwhile, is a platform to buy and sell all things creative, including paintings, glassware, books, stationery, and woodwork. It contains about 200,000 items from over 8,400 stores, shipping to 226 countries.
Another Singapore company, OuterEdit.com, is taking platformed creativity to the bleeding edge. Like Threadless, OuterEdit is a website that sells unique, limited-edition T-shirt designs. Both are also avenues for designers to submit their creations and build a fanbase.
But where OuterEdit is different is that it is also an online workroom, if you will, where several designers gather regularly in ‘O/E Collab’ sessions to create graphics, edit, and critique each other’s designs.
The whole process is transparent — visitors can track how the session is progressing and even contribute by giving feedback and voting for their favorites. The winning design gets made into T-shirts and is sold through OuterEdit.com.
Essentially, OuterEdit is democratizing design and e-commerce. Consumers become co-creators and co-curators. They influence how the final designs turn out and pick which ones get sold on the web store (read our feature on the startup). Then they buy.
Asia’s own creative renaissance is still in its infancy. Most of these startups are really young — a bunch of them only launched in 2012. Promising as they are, a big question remains over whether they can become viable businesses. These companies still need to validate their products, scale up, and hopefully find that the hipster crowd in Asia is large enough to sustain their businesses.
Unfortunately, Asian e-commerce startups — and those catering to the indie crowd especially — are disadvantaged at the moment when compared to their Western counterparts, due to the highly diverse region containing a mixture of developed and developing economies, each with their own infrastructural, logistical, and communication challenges.
Until these challenges can be overcome, it is best to resist the temptation of calling any of these startups the next Fab or Etsy.
Nevertheless, startups like OuterEdit and The Creative Finder, with their originality and ingenuity, give the region hope. Perhaps they can take heart from the impact of Hatsune Miku, a Japanese creation and perhaps one of the most unique examples of platformed creativity.
Hatsune is a pop star. Created in 2007 by Crypton Future Media as a way to promote a singer synthesizer app, Hatsune soon exploded in popularity and took on a life of its own.
Its loyal fans have created her backstory, or stories, and even wrote songs that were sold on iTunes and sung in Hatsune concerts. One was held in Singapore in 2011 and had 3,000 fans wave light sticks while a hologram — Hatsune herself — pranced around on stage singing fan-made songs.
There’s even Hatsune-porn for those who are so inclined, but let’s not go there.
In a Wired story documenting the phenomenon (and which was roundly criticized by rabid Hatsune fans), she’s been called a ‘wiki-celebrity’ and the result of a ‘database model of creation’. She’s a unique product of her country too. The Japanese often don’t see a difference between the original and spin-off products. Fan fiction and works even have a special Japanese term — niji sousaku, which means “secondary creativity”.
Hatsune Miku is the fulfillment of platformed creativity’s promise: Where there’s less or even no distinction between consumer and creator, and where the product becomes a meme that attains virality and replicates itself.
Kickstarter and Etsy have done that for many of their users, turning indie creators into success stories through social media.
Their equivalents in Asia, however, need to nurture their own Hatsune: a product that they can co-create, replicate, and recreate. And watch as it comes alive.