Johnny Pawlik is the founder of Sheffield ethical marketing firm Mantra Media. He has worked closely with Japanese governments and more than 700 businesses around the world, and last year unveiled Atelier Japan, a new luxury retailer which celebrates traditional craftsmanship in Sheffield city centre. Johnny, who was born on a council estate in the Midlands and went into business with a university friend, outlines the importance of having strong, mutually beneficial international relationships…

The importance of international trade for the UK economy moving forward cannot be understated. As a country, we no longer manufacture many goods domestically. That means we rely on international partners for many of our manufacturing needs.

Atelier Japan
A selection of some of the internationally recognisable products Atelier Japan offers

The steel sector, for which Sheffield is recognised worldwide, is just one example. Today we import steel and iron to the UK from many countries overseas. This reliance on other countries means we in business, and as a nation, need to have stronger international relations and commercial partnerships abroad.

Without this we are unable to compete in a global market that is quickly changing. Because make no mistake, that market is evolving at an accelerated rate.

We are even seeing second world countries expanding in commercial facilities much quicker than ever before. That means an already competitive market is becoming more competitive. But how do we foster stronger international relationships?

We need to have a better standing with international parties and increase the brand for Britain.This means Great Britain and all its constituent countries and cities – like Sheffield – need to adopt an international mindset.Having an international mindset means being aware of international politics and cultures. It means being able to engage with the people there in an authentic way, with a willing to learn attitude.That has, for some time, been missing from the business mindset in Great Britain.

“We need to be thinking broader, we need to be thinking bigger and more collaboratively. Only then will we be able to truly reap the benefits of working internationally for our businesses, the Sheffield economy and the world.”

We need to be more open to learning from and working with international partners and supporting them in a way that also works for them, not just us.

Take Atelier Japan. Our store sells products you can’t find anywhere else in the UK, from bags made by a former samurai sword manufacturer to jewellery created using 800-year-old indigo dyeing techniques.Why would these businesses want to trade in Sheffield, rather than London or Manchester?

The reason is the relationship we have with them. From our work in Japan, myself and Masa saw these small family businesses – that had been around for 300, 500, even 1,000 years – struggling. The domestic market there was shrinking because of the low birth rate. We wanted to do something about it.

Japan can be very introverted, with a homogenous culture, so they have not marketed internationally much.

First we launched an e-commerce platform in 2017, which supplied art galleries and cafes. Then a small store opened in Kyoto and finally the sister store in Sheffield came last year, which was so exciting. All of this took many years of very hard work. I personally visited every factory, and it helped the Japanese makers as much as us.

Atelier Japan
Atelier also sells a selection of ornate ceramic goods

Last month, the Tokushima Government asked us to showcase craftsmanship from their region at our store with a special event. We hope to do much more of that and attract people from across the country to Sheffield.

As a nation, we are slow in many industries, but particularly tech and AI. There are many open funds in Europe, North America and Japan to accelerate the advancement of these kinds of companies.

Yes, last year the Government announced a £100m fund for AI but it is very specific in med tech, not communications or other technologies. We need to be thinking broader, we need to be thinking bigger and more collaboratively.

Only then will we be able to truly reap the benefits of working internationally for our businesses, the Sheffield economy and the world.”

www.mantrahq.com