The Entrepreneurial Design Firm as an Italian Family Business


AN EXPLORATORY MULTI-CASE STUDY

New ventures most often struggle to survive the first demanding years after start-up. Many entrepreneurs do not survive due to a number of reasons where sustainable access to financial, human and social resources in interaction with market conditions, may play very influential roles. In this paper, we investigate how different qualities of relations, e.g. family-like or more functional, affect the entrepreneur’s opportunities for value creation and growth.
The paper uses as case an entrepreneurial micro-firm in the creative fashion industry called La Maison Justian Kunz. Kunz was established in 2011 in Kolding, Denmark, and designs and retails Haute Couture and tailor made clothes for women and men. We have followed the entrepreneur Justian Kunz over a period from early spring 2013 up till present. Our data comprises interviews, observations, workshops, written materials and online platforms that Kunz uses as part of his branding and marketing strategy.
In a creative industry like fashion it is of extreme importance for success to be able to build a strong brand; something that takes time, effort and the right connections and where trust becomes a crucial aspect to overcome the emotional unstructuredness often characterizing the most successful designers. In our case the network aspects are reflected by Justian Kunz’s DNA. To identify the external and internal stakeholders of Kunz, we investigated the freely available online platforms in which the company Kunz is represented together with a mapping of his social network asking Kunz to identify persons in his network and describe their roles. The result shows that an important, but hidden to the public, part of Kunz’ network is the Italian connections established under his 10 year long residency in Italy, combined with Danish connections with whom he is establishing relations akin to the “Italian family business”. Kunz’ network reminds of family relations with a strong sense of community based on shared narratives, goals, goodwill, trust and interdependence. The way Kunz brands himself through e.g. business plans, press releases, social media and in his behavior reflects this very distinct DNA and the collective orientation Kunz pursues.
The KUNZ-case sheds new light on the challenges and practice of entrepreneurial micro-firms in the creative industry searching for funding. In a highly creative business, the entrepreneur may stand stronger in terms of growth and survival by operating in a ‘family-like’ network that give access to both social and financial resources that the traditional entrepreneurial system cannot provide, but also help build a strong visible brand for the fashion designer. Furthermore, it seems that for creative businesses, the system that dominate entrepreneurship support are neither able to grasp the innovation potential nor to create resonance between the creative entrepreneurs and the institutional representatives.