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From the Newsdesk

Member Focus – Finer Equine

Sarah Clarke of Finer Equine discusses the ideas behind the creation of their successful equine luggage and how important design and innovation features in their development process. Design excellence is the cornerstone which protects their customers equestrian wear, ensuring quality is upheld at every step. As their website states, “Beauty lies in the finer details.”

Finer Equine designs equestrian luggage which protects horse gear from the elements, wear and tear. It is unique and revolutionises the equine landscape. Their products seamlessly combine functional design with the very best craftsmanship and quality materials. Sarah’s design expertise comes from personal experience and knowledge of elements missing from the equine world, and like all great innovators, she develops her ideas by focusing on areas which were previously lacking good design within the marketplace.

Sarah puts the protection of her intellectual property (IP) as a priority. Her designs are registered with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), and she also lodges designs on the ACID IP Databank to further evidence the ownership and originality of her design process. The ‘Member of ACID’ logo is placed large on her website homepage to identify her deterrence against would be copyists. Sarah vehemently believes of the importance in education on IP for the design industry and the need for more support for independent designers in instances of infringements. She thinks there should be recognition that designers need the comfort that if they challenge a case of infringement, there will be economic support available which will not break a small business. Key to Sarah’s ethos is to create original designs, and this defines her integrity in the industry and assurance for her customers.

1. Can you tell us a little about how the company developed and the driving force behind its success as innovators in the equine wear design industry?

Finer Equine’s inception began when I lined an existing saddle cover I had with a thick faux sheepskin lining to better protect the saddle, ensuring it was breathable to help prevent mould build up. I also designed a sleeve on either side to hold my girth to prevent it from sliding off the saddle while tacking up my horse. The design had so many compliments, when I was left unable to work for several months due to a bad riding fall, I decided to make more to sell, and things escalated quickly from there! Some of our designs are the first product of their kind in the world, such as our bestselling ‘Ride On Exercise Sheet’, which is the first rug in the world to protect saddle and horse from the elements in one secure rug that contours around the saddle.

2. How do you stay ahead of the curve and thrive in such a competitive market?

So many things in the equestrian market were designed hundreds of years ago and have worked brilliantly for hundreds of years. Many of us accept these products ‘because this is how it’s always been done’. I made a point of consciously recognising when a product or process irritated me, such as my tack getting mouldy too quickly or my saddle become ruined when being ridden in extremely bad weather. I then create a solution to these issues if one does not already exist.

3. Good design is often copied. When you have come across infringements, how have you dealt with them?

We have had a few smaller businesses and sole traders try to copy our designs. Before we took our products to market, we ensured they were all design registered with the Intellectual Property Office. We then had these protection rights to fall back on when requesting cease and desist. There is often push back from these traders. However, we know we have our IPO design registrations to fall back on and the support of ACID.

4. Copying culture is an unfortunate but undeniable aspect of design in the UK, what is your message about this culture, to those who perpetuate it?

Why compete? Innovate, problem solve and come up with your own unique product. Not only will it save legal hassle, wasted time, and disfavour within your industry, but you are often more likely to find success if you can improve what is already around. It leads to more interesting and competitive marketplaces too.

5. Designing well-built products and using quality materials is at the heart of Finer Equine’s design principles; how do you inspire your people to persistently attain high standards and how important do you think this is for the future of such a trusted and respected company?

Design led by innovation and defined by their quality is at the heart of everything we do. We seek those who hold a natural attention to detail and aren’t afraid to challenge norms to problem solve. If it’s different, we love it – then we find a way to make the idea come to life in a beautiful way.

6. It’s clear you take your intellectual property seriously, ensuring that there is evidence from concept to marketplace; lodging designs with ACID and registering them with the IPO. How does intellectual property factor in the way you create your business model and talk to clients?

It is a huge selling point for us. Some areas of the equestrian market are quickly becoming saturated, with many businesses having huge budgets to enter these filled marketplaces. We began on a very low budget (£3000!). So, bringing something to the market that no one could compete against was key to our success. One of the most frequently heard phrases when we are at horse shows when people see our products is “I love that idea”, customers love to meet the designer of innovative products as well.

7. Do you think that IP ethics, compliance, and respect for intellectual property should be the cornerstone of the industry, in terms of declared Corporate Social Responsibility? And if so, how could this sector achieve this?

I think this is a brilliant way to look at IP and a great way to increase its awareness through the industry. Many businesses in this sector are unlikely to be of a scale where CSR is even on the radar, let alone a major concern. Training is key and I think approaching industry bodies such as the British Equestrian Trade Association and funnelling training down through these channels would be a great way to target the equine industry.

8. The IP Act of 2014 brought in not only criminal provisions for intentional Registered Design infringement but also for individual directors. Do you believe that if this is extended to Unregistered Design infringement, it will become more of a deterrent? The government thinks it would be chilling for innovation and lead to business uncertainty. We don’t agree, do you?

I think this could be harder to prove and police. We have seen a select few brands in our industry copy other much smaller family run businesses in our industry. Ultimately, these smaller businesses don’t have the knowledge, support, or cash to challenge infringements and the bigger brands have gained market share. I believe if awareness of ACID and the IPO were greater for brands in their incubation stages of development and they knew how to protect designs before coming to market – there could be less design infringement in the industry.

9. Can you give us a steer on what you feel ACID’s achievements have been and what we could do in the future to raise further awareness about IP theft?

I feel offering members the legal advice and support is huge. Especially as a small business, it gives us the reassurance that we have leverage and support should someone attempt to copy our designs.

10. As you know, ACID is the main Policy and Government campaigning body for Design & IP reform. What are your 2 recommendations to the Government to stem the tide of blatant design theft to support this sector?

While I fortunately cannot speak from personal experience, I feel that should one of my designs be copied by one of the major brands in our industry renowned for such acts, I would need a huge amount of support. I would need reassurance that legal expertise would be available to aid the small brands who simply don’t have the resources to defend their designs. I would also need assurance that financial support would be there, as even challenging a case could make or break us, not just for a brand but a small business owners’ livelihood.

Finer Equine

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