Maison du Design

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Description The Maison du Design is a centrally located building where designers can go to receive specific guidance and support in setting up their own business.

It offers support in business planning and accessing finance and provides a protected environment to minimise the risks during the consolidation of the new business.

It also provides a space for designers to exhibit their work to a larger public.



Setting up a business in the design sector requires more specific support than in other forms of business creation. Most designers do not have experience or expertise in business creation or management.

The design and fashion sectors are expanding rapidly and offer significant opportunities in the changing work environment.

Main target groups



Main theme of intervention

Start-up support Access to Finance

Web link to product

EQUAL DP database record:

EQUAL DP case study:

Project name

Maison du Design

Member state/region

French Speaking Belgium

Contact information

Eco Mons (Mme Delvinquiere)
Maison du Design: Florence Leclercq

Tel: +32 65 235100

E-mail: mailto://


Case study of Maison du Design EQUAL projet

Combining Creativity and Entrepreneurism: Made In Mons

People who want to work in creative fields can find it particularly difficult to turn their ideas into business opportunities. A lack of business knowledge on the part of the individual and a lack of trust on the part of investors can mean potentially successful enterprises never get off the ground. The Maison du Design EQUAL partnership in Mons aims to provide specific support to designers in establishing their own businesses and help tackle the town's 25 percent unemployment rate.

Ecomons is an agency with ten years' experience in supporting social economy entrepreneurs in the Walloon Region. It identified the specific problems facing design entrepreneurs and decided to develop a partnership to create a specialised centre supporting young designers. The Mons Town Council (Ville de Mons) provided an old "maison de maître" in the heart of the town and the Maison du Design was born. The partnership provides individualised support to people wishing to create their own business in the design sector. Fabien Lambert, Director of the partner organisation 'Centre Dansaert' in Brussels explains that in Belgium, "there are Design Schools with very good reputations. However, they do not teach business management at all... Some young artists are launched by the 'mum-and-dad economy' or by a prize awarded in an international competition. However, they fail very quickly, because they have never learnt what an invoice or an order is."

Mons is the Capital of Culture in the Walloon Region and is a candidate to become European Capital of Culture in 2015; however, the creation of enterprises is weak and the rate of business failure is high. The town therefore sees the value of the Maison du Design project in combining the twin objectives of developing business creation and promoting culture perfectly. By promoting design enterprises it builds on the work of prestigious Belgian design schools and meets the objectives of Integrated Guideline 10 of the EU's 'Growth and Jobs' strategy by encouraging a more entrepreneurial culture and the creation of a supportive environment for SMEs. Jean Paul Deplus, Deputy Mayor for Culture, Tourism and the Economy considers Maison du Design to be "an ambitious project aiming to both make culture more accessible to all and encourage design as a tool for economic development".

A specialised centre for design entrepreneurs

When the young artist first enters the Maison du Design a long and personalised process starts with the aim of turning creative ideas into sustainable and efficient enterprises. Young designers will arrive with their ideas, but it takes around one year to help one person create a design enterprise. Barbara Sylvester from the Maison du Design says that "around 70 to 80 artists have come to us since we opened in July 2005. Many of them were given a personal appointment and we are currently following the dossiers of around 15 design companies."

The designer will be helped to make a market study and to develop a business and financial plan. Individuals may well need support to find suppliers ready to provide with them small amounts of materials, or outlets willing to sell their products. The project partnership helps the individual acquire a loan and will even help them to find an office and consolidate the project. Indeed, Remko´s creative agency "IMAGINIA" is one of two companies that have been given an office to rent in the Maison du Design building. Like many other artists, Remko, a graphic designer, was already working from home with his children and an old computer, but went to the Maison du Design trying to consolidate his business. "In the Maison du Design they helped me make a proper business plan and financial plan; I got credit and a real workplace. Working from home makes it difficult to separate your professional and personal life. I have increased my business since I am here, and I may employ somebody else in the future."

The other business based in the Maison du Design is "CHAINE ET TRAME", a special sewing workshop for social insertion, where the dressmaker Jasmine and her team work. It was an initiative of the city of Mons, which Jasmine has turned from an idea into a real company. IMAGINIA and CHAINE ET TRAME have taken advantage of being together to develop business opportunities: "We were asked to make the cushions for the Grand Place in Mons for the summer," says Jasmine. "Remko does the design and I do the technical part." It is not the only thing they have made together; the elves of the Christmas market in Mons were the result of Remko and Jasmine´s common work!

The Maison du Design also provides an exhibition space for the promising designers. This serves the dual purpose of allowing the public to get to know the work of the designers and allowing the designers to test their ideas on the public in a great location in the heart of Mons. Nicolas Destino, a young furniture designer, exposed his "fur.table" in the "Showcase for a designer" exhibition, held in July 2006 at the building. 120 people visited the exhibition, which was a great learning experience for public and designers alike. It was only after seeing the public's reaction to his work that Nicolas took the decision to start up his company with the support of Maison du Design.

Empowering designers with business skills

Young artists are talented, but that does not mean that they are gifted at business. Therefore, the young graphic, fashion, furniture and other designers are supported in making their way in the design market. As Remko recognises: "Now I am getting better, but I was a disaster with red tape! I had no time for bureaucracy."

It is essential to start with a study of the market, so the facilitators ask the designers to consider key questions, such as what their product is, whether somebody else is doing the same and who the product is aimed at. As Barbara Sylvester explains: "We ask them to think carefully about all these key questions that they had not considered." The specificity of the market also creates problems for design entrepreneurs. "The design market has its own rules. Just as an example, you have to know that the fashion market has only two collections: one in winter and one in the summer. It does not follow the normal market rules and the designer needs to know that". Advice is needed around questions such as how much of a product should be produced and how much to sell it for.

The support provided is crucial in turning ideas into productive reality. Salvatore Raia, a 27-year-old furniture designer, found out about the 'pink-bubble' house when a friend heard on the radio that there was a house in Mons ready to help young designers. He arrived at the Maison du Design, obtained a personal appointment and explained his ideas for launching his own line of furniture. After listening to his creative ideas the work of the support staff began. The financial plan has been completed and once a loan has been granted, he will launch his business. Salvatore admits that "Without their support, I would have stayed inside my own world, the world of my creation. I would have probably given up "

FOREM, the regional office for training and employment and a partner of the project, is aware of this need for business education. FOREM provides design entrepreneurs with a 40-hour training course on the essentials that an entrepreneur needs to know. It provides young artists with crucial information that they were never told in Art School such as what it means to be self-employed, what paperwork is needed to run a business, how to understand accounting papers and how to read a contract. This course has been developed on the basis of a questionnaire undertaken in the Maison du Design to find out the weak points and areas of lack of knowledge of designers. Nine young artists started the new course in October 2006 already aware that their dream to live out of fields like fashion or photography will never come true if they do not learn the rules of business.

Partnership to support entrepreneurship at all levels

The Maison du Design partnership shows clearly the success that can be achieved by having partners coming together from different levels who can complement each other's efforts towards a common objective. Ecomons was the promoter of the idea, using its substantial knowledge and experience of supporting the creation of social enterprises to identify that the design sector needed specific attention. The town of Mons was keen to develop the local potential for design businesses and contributed the building itself which is so fundamental to the success of the project. The municipality further contributes to the project by organising events to get design closer to the town citizens and challenge the public's preconceptions that design is necessarily expensive. The "Fashion day" of September 2006 was very important in this context.

Without FOREM, the regional office for training and employment, the project could not go further than the support of individuals. Now, the course that they provide for young design entrepreneurs specifically targets their needs, as identified during the project, and gives them an overview of what they have to know to manage their own company. By identifying the potential of design and working on the common project, the social economy agency, the municipality and the employment office have been able to give the sector a big impulse.

However, the partnership also recognises that the barriers to the success of design entrepreneurs are also affected by the lack of financing. Many banks have a negative stereotype of designers and do not see them becoming viable busineses. A key element to the success of the project is that the partners were successful in involving 'Fonds de Participation' into the project. As Barbara Sylvester points out, "Banks do not tend to trust artists." Not only are they hard to convince that design will make money, but the precarious financial situation of many creators puts potential investors off. Three quarters of the artists coming to Maison du Design are unemployed. Thanks to their agreement, the 'Fonds de Participation' offers loans to unemployed people showing entrepreneurial capacities with beneficial conditions, such as an interest rate of 4%.

Furthermore, the partnership has created the possibility for some designers to start off their business transactions through the involvement of the activity cooperative (AVOMARC). Under very strict conditions this allows some to trade via the co-operative rather than in their own name, which has the benefit of preventing an individual from immediately losing their unemployment rights. This can allow people to retain some security, which can be particularly important in the initial stages of the business's development.

Mainstreaming design in economic growth

The idea of making Mons the capital of design in the Walloon Region has the Maison du Design as a key element. Little by little, the project will become a key actor for the development of the design sector in the region. "We will support the continuation of the Maison du Design," states the deputy major for Culture, Tourism and Economy, Jean Paul Deplus. "We want to create a fashion and design walkway in the centre of Mons. The starting point would be the Rue d´Havre with its Maison du Design".

Mons is allowing art to come in and give a creative impulse to its development. Other Belgian cities are also revitalising abandoned neighbourhoods by bringing in artistic enterprises, such as Brussels and its Rue Dansaert, which is also in partnership with the project. This project shows that culture can support economic growth and employment and that there is no contradiction between creativity and entrepreneurship.


DP name: Maison du design
DP ID: BEfr-51
Transnational Partners: PACTS (France), Partnerstwo Inicjatyw Nowohuckich (Poland)
TCA id code: 3810
Contact DP: Barbara Sylvester
Phone: +32 65 23 51 00