Money makers: making “Made in England” a boast

Tom Davies
Tom Davies: promoting Britain through his glasses

Tom Davies, a designer of glasses for the likes of celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal and singer Ed Sheeran, harbours a guilty secret, says Joanna Bourke in the Evening Standard. The “excitable” 42-year-old from Derby doesn’t actually need glasses – his eyesight is perfect. Rather, he is a “living model” for his products, which typically cost between £500 and £1,100.

After a stint with an eyewear company in Hong Kong in the late 1990s, Davies launched his eponymous brand in 2002 with a start-up loan from HSBC and money that his father gave him from remortgaging the house. The gamble paid off. Sales are on course to hit £8m this year, rising to £12m by 2020. Since 2007, the lenses and frames have been made in China, but Davies is in the process of moving most of the manufacturing back home to a new £800,000 factory in Brentford, west London. Luxury products with “Made in England” labels are hugely appealing to discerning shoppers in Asia, America and Britain, he says.

The young king of digital publishing

Steve Bartlett is “a frighteningly self-assured 24-year-old”, says Sam Dean in The Daily Telegraph. He’s the co-founder of Social Chain, “a start-up marketing agency that prides itself on embracing everything fresh in the world of social media”. Bartlett and his colleagues have been described as “the kids who decide what all the other kids talk about” and the “social media illuminati”.

Launched in 2014, Social Chain made its name through the ownership of enormously popular social-media accounts that boast millions of young followers. These become digital communities and marketing platforms. “Love Food”, for instance, has seven million followers on photo-sharing app Instagram. For brands such as McDonald’s and Puma, such reach and power “is clearly alluring”. Spotify has used Social Chain to promote a student subscription offer.

At the beginning people “did not really appreciate social media”, Bartlett explains. They saw… a silly Instagram account. We saw… the future of digital publishing.” Outside investment has now led to the creation of Media Chain, “a bigger beast”. “You have companies like Condé Nast that own print… and Global Radio that owns the big radio stations,” says Bartlett. “We endeavour to own the big social-media properties in the same way.”

Mind-bending moment leads to profits

In the mid-80s, Lani Dolifka was shocked to discover a warning on her water bill, says Chris Myers in Forbes. She lived near a chemical-weapons outfit in Colorado, where 600 chemicals had been discovered in the groundwater. The bill advised pregnant women and children against drinking from the tap. “It was a mind-bending moment.”

Reluctant to fork out for bottled water, Dolifka, through sheer determintaion, built a water-purification unit with her husband that could provide drinking water at an affordable price. Since then, more than 1,300 of their Watermill Express units have been sold across the US, with Dolifka adopting a franchise model to expand the business. Last year, Watermill teamed up with World Vision to donate 100 million gallons to developing countries.

The fierce battle for China’s rented bikes

“My commute to work in Beijing used to be a 50-minute ordeal of urban combat,” says Christina Larson in Bloomberg Businessweek. After being wedged onto a packed train each morning, she had “to navigate past sprawling regiments of rentable bicycles, numbering in the dozens or even hundreds, clogging walkways and tripping up pedestrians”.
It seemed sensible to start using them.

Bike-sharing has exploded across China in recent months. By the end of June, 106 million cyclists had used the services, while 14% of the country’s 751 million internet users had used their smartphones at least once to unlock the bikes, which, unlike with similar schemes in London, Paris and New York, can be left at any public bike stand for others. “The government is actively encouraging bike-sharing,” says Hu Weiwei, the co-founder of Mobike, one of China’s leading operators, while Chinese tech giants, such as Tencent and Alibaba, have invested heavily in the growing sector.

Start-ups typically “bombarded users” with introductory charges – some as little as one yuan (11p) an hour – says Meng Jing in the South China Morning Post. All in all, there are around 30 players fighting it out in one of China’s “fiercest online battlefronts”. But in a sign that the bike boom may be turning into a bike bubble, China has issued guidelines in the last couple of weeks to local authorities to better manage bike traffic and rein in vandalism, notes Sara Hsu on Forbes.com.

With lifespans of just two to three years, many question whether the low-margin business models of the operators are sustainable over the long run. Still, Larson, whose commute time has been halved, is a fan: “In a hard city, the sudden ubiquity of cycle sharing has created a welcome bit of grace… courtesy of China’s brand of startup culture.”