We chat to the British Museum’s licensing agent about its ambitious plans.
The British Museum is one of those venues that is on the must-visit list of anyone coming to London. Indeed, it is the most popular visitor attraction in the UK, and in 2015 it received almost 6.9 million visitors from across the world.
Housed within the Museum’s collections are some eight million objects, telling the stories of cultures across the world, from the dawn of human history, to the present. Objects range from the earliest tools made by humans and stunning exhibits from the ancient world such as the Rosetta Stone, the Portland Vase and sculpture from the Parthenon, through to more modern objects such as Samurai armour and Victorian jewellery.
The collection is also home to the national collection of prints and drawings, (from Michelangelo to Da Vinci, Turner to Constable), as well world renowned collections of coins, medals, clocks and watches.
For TSBA Group – the licensing agent for the Museum – the challenge is now to get all the passion and knowledge which is housed in the building across in the licensing programme. And it’s off to a strong start, with numerous deals signed and the nod as one of the brands to watch for 2017 following its showing at last summer’s Licensing Expo.
The global nature of the Museum’s exhibits as well as its international reputation mean that the licensing programme has appeal all over the world. During 2016, it secured a landmark deal with Alibaba’s online licensing platform – Alifish – to be the British Museum’s e-retailing and merchandise license partner in China.
The partnership will see a range of British Museum licensed products made available to consumers in China in a British Museum-branded online store on Alibaba’s online marketplace Tmall.com.
In addition, bricks and mortar stores will also be rolled out in the territory by Alfilo Brands, a licensee of the British Museum in China.
Mike Jenkinson, group head of B2C licensing at TSBA, explains that these will either come in the form of concessions within larger department stores or pop-up outlets initially, with a view to opening more permanent spaces. Product will focus on housewares, homewares, jewellery and apparel in the first instance, with new bespoke product being sourced for the Chinese market.
Understandably, TSBA is hugely excited about the prospects for the brand through 2017 and beyond.
“On the asset side, we’ve split the programme into three broad offerings” explains Ian Mallahue, CEO of TSBA Group. “We have ‘inspired by the British Museum’, which is taking the textures, patterns, lighting, colours, etc and using that as inspiration to create product. The Museum has a global reputation for housing beautifully designed items and we are looking to bring that reputation to bear on a retail offering. Then we have ‘found at the British Museum’ which looks to replicate some of the Museum’s stunning objects, such as the magnificent jewellery collections and the unrivalled statuary offerings for use, so that consumers can bring a little history into their own homes.
“The final element is a collection focused on children, bringing to bear the exciting sense of discovery and adventure provoked by the Museum, as well as tying into the educational opportunities that the Museum represents.”
The idea for the move into China came about after TSBA identified various territories that had a high footfall of visitors to the museum.
“Asia is one of the biggest visiting markets,” says head of licensing, Stephanie Freeman. “The vast majority of Chinese visitors to the UK go to the Museum, so we knew that was a perfect place to start.”
Mike adds: “I certainly think it’s a landmark deal. I can’t imagine, certainly in the cultural sector, that there’s a bigger deal out there. A couple of exciting tie-ups with western brands in the Chinese market are also coming off the back of it, too.
“The ultimate aim for the next 12 months is obviously a successful launch for the online store, building out our product portfolio and making sure that it makes sense and is consistent. Towards the end of the year we’ll be looking to launch our first physical stores as well. We’re also eyeing expansion into other Asian territories, such as Japan.”
For Stephanie, the focus is closer to home, and finding a retail home for the British Museum in the UK. “2016 was a great year, but it was also a building block year as well,” she says. “I really want to show people in the UK what’s in the Museum and push them to go and visit.”
Ian concludes: “The British Museum is so unique in that you very rarely get beautiful design and an amazing story at the same time. Our view is that the best licensed products have a trusted and renowned brand, beautiful design and great stories as well. The British Museum licensing programme is uniquely placed to offer all of these elements.”
The programme so far
The announcement of the move into China capped something of a stellar year for the British Museum in the licensing space.
TSBA Group was confirmed as the licensing agent at the end of 2015, and since then it has steadily started to build up the programme, with a lot of the early focus on the homewares and gifting categories.
For example, Arley House, a designer and manufacturer of bespoke fabrics, has produced a range of British Museum fabrics that draws inspiration from its Ancient Egypt and Asia collections, while The Moorland Rug Company is to produce a range of British Museum rugs based on the world-famous works of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, whose print, The Great Wave, is one of the most iconic images in history.
Further partners in wall art (IXXI), greeting cards (Portfolio), wooden postcards (The Wooden Postcard Company), phone accessories (Ecell), men’s accessories (Rampley & Co), bedding (Night Shift) and stationery (Michael O’Mara Books) are among the many other categories on the way to retail in the coming months.