Issue 2: Going Up?

The days of festive cheer have come and gone. 1997 has become 1998 and we have rung out and in our old and new. So just what lies in store for the happy family of the kite industry as we approach the dawn of a new millenium? Will we be ready for the big day ? Like any other activity, I’m sure we’re not without our share of crystal ball gazers predicting the industry’s future but, in truth, you may as well ask Mystic Meg as expect a cohesive, informed and professional response from the kite industry. What looks on the surface to be a bright, colourful and about-to-happen activity all too often turns out to be, on close inspection, a lot of flapping around without really going anywhere.

As has been mentioned in these pages (and elsewhere) before, it is said that the kite was the second toy ever to be invented in the history of mankind. This proposition places the kite deeper into the human psyche and consciousness than almost any other leisure tool. Deeper, for instance, than the ball, the bat, the bicycle or the toy car. Far deeper than the Play-station, Nintendo or Gameboy. Far, far deeper than the skate board, roller skate or roller blade. All of which leaves us with a greater theoretical claim to the affection, imagination and (let’s be honest) money of the public at large than any of the aforementioned. So how come we find ourselves, thousands of years down the line, one of the poorer relations of the toy or sport industries (depending on your view of kiting), struggling to convince anyone that what we’re doing is anywhere near as clever as we’d all like to think it is ? What can we do to take a grip of our situation and place kiting on the kind of pedestal we’d all like to believe it belongs on ?

We have advantages that other games or sports could only dream of having. Kiting is already established as a leisure pursuit all over the world. There’s no costly market research or feasibility study needed to see whether people would be interested in the product. Almost from the cradle, children are encouraged to make and fly kites. One of the most influential children’s films in the western world (the brilliant Mary Poppins) has kites as an integral part of its story and of its moment of happy resolution defining the moral of the story. In many countries kiting’s virtually on the educational syllabus as part of children’s study of wind and weather. Those factors ought to offer kiting a basis for self-advancement that the fascists of fifty years ago clearly recognised : “capture their hearts when they’re young and you have them for life.” Are we too arrogant ? Or simply careless? How do we manage to capture and then lose those hearts and minds with such reckless abandon? Listen carefully and you will hear the wailing and the tearing of an industry’s hair that it cannot seem to grow consistently (if at all) whilst it watches all those others mentioned reeling in the cash and the popular imagination faster and harder than a 6 foot Flexifoil flies or a Predator pulls.

There are, no doubt, a number of ingredients missing from the mix. One of the things those industries do well, of which the kite industry hardly scratches the surface,   is promoting themselves outside their own industry. Not only promote but put forward an image of themselves as something fun, exciting and (almost above all) cool to do. Those things might be anathema to some of the purists and artists in kiting but they are essential to any industry that wants to grow, prosper, flourish and go forward. Profit and growth are not dirty words, they are the fundamental language of successful business and, though some people may not like to think of kiting like that, there must be acceptance that it is a real business and it must go somewhere. Or do people want the industry to behave professionally without any of the benefits? Kiting has yet to define an image that it wants to promote. Individual businesses may try but in the modern world it is a job far greater than individual businesses can manage. Call me a socialist if you like but with a number of small spoons trying to stir a big pot nothing much happens to the currents of the contents apart from a few small eddies. Melt down the small spoons into one big spoon, put many hands on it to stir and you actually stand a chance of achieving a kind of impetus that can influence the general current in a much greater way through the power of its movement.

As an industry we must learn to pull and work together. That is, with each other, with event and competition organisers, with schools, with the sports council, the arts council, the local council, with the media, and with the public. And do so in a professional manner. One thing you can say about all those other activities mentioned at the top of the article is that they all have a professional appearance even if the substance is something different. It’s time for the kite industry to sort out its image and its substance, get a grip of its intentions and to show the big wide world out there that it’s ready and that it means business.  This means supporting each other even if we appear to be competitors. Making kiting bigger and better obviously means you may find a few customers looking around at what the competition has to offer but it also means more and more potential punters on your phone and through your door. Support the festivals network. Encourage people to look at the whole thing and let’s dazzle them with how bright and shiny kiting is. Be ready to take kiting into the 21st century or be prepared for it to be permanently stuck on a 1970’s flying field from which, to date, it has not really looked likely to take off.

Copyright Jeremy Boyce January 1998