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Jeremy Rowe: Colour is an endlessly complex and fascinating area to work in

Jeremy Rowe of AkzoNobel Decorative Paints talks about India as a key market, global trends in the paints industry and why consumers are more inclined to certain colours culturally


Jeremy Rowe, managing director, AkzoNobel Decorative Paints. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Jeremy Rowe, managing director, AkzoNobel Decorative Paints. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Mumbai: AkzoNobel, the global paints and coatings company known best for its Dulux brand of paints in India, launched ‘Denim Drift’, a smoky grey blue, as colour of the year for 2017. In India to launch the findings of its annual global study ColourFutures 2017, Jeremy Rowe, managing director, AkzoNobel Decorative Paints, south east and south Asia, the Middle East, talks about India as an important market, global trends in the paints industry and why consumers are more inclined to certain colours culturally.

Edited excerpts:

How important is this market for you?

Asia is a very important market for AkzoNobel across paint categories. If we talk specifically about decorative paints, then India is already the third largest decorative paints market in the world after the United States and China. If you look at the growth rates of India and what we expect in the next few years, it will be second, or even the largest market at some point in the future. That’s not too surprising in a way because the paint markets are really driven by things such as home renovation and re-painting, so obviously, housing, having a young population, rising income all contribute to growth of the paint market, plus investment in infrastructure by governments and industries. And because that is what we expect a lot of in the medium long term for India, it will be an increasingly important market going forward for us. The Indian decorative paint market is about Rs20,800 crore growing at about 8-9%, the organized market is a large part of the market, and the top four players account for 90% of the organised market.

What is the colour prediction for this year? How do you arrive at that prediction?

It’s a question we’re often asked—about what colour will be up and coming, what’s trending, which is why we started the ColourFutures programme 14 years ago. It wasn’t about us inventing a trend, it was about us discovering what is trending at an early stage, trying to identify that, and around the time when we’re launching it, to amplify it for our consumers and professional customers. The process takes about 18 months, it’s a global research initiative across different cultures which draws insights from a multitude of influences— not just in interiors but also fashion, fine art, architecture, technology, music and pop culture among others, and broader societal trends. The colour prediction for 2017 is “Denim Drift” best described as a smoky grey blue. It’s a relaxing, universal, introspective colour. Mainly because when people are deep in thought, they tend to look up at the sky. People were wanting to step back from the complexities of modern life, look back, and find something simple and meaningful in the lives. It’s really about looking at life in a new light and blue is a great colour to represent that. Also, it’s a versatile colour and is very easy to integrate.

Do consumers in different cultures pick colours differently?

Colours interact with people at a human level. There are almost universal responses to certain colours such as blues, reds, greens. But that’s always overlaid with a cultural response to a colour. And there’s individual meaning you associate with colour, perhaps you’re more inclined to a colour because it reminds you of a sports team you support. Having said that, culturally, there is a predominant use of white and pale colours in the north of Asia, to the use of vibrant, particularly warm colours - the reds, yellows and oranges in the South of Asia. South-East Asia is in between the two, not as vibrant as India but definitely more so than China. These are deep cultural trends which have been going on for a long time. Also, you have specific cultural meanings, so red for the Chinese which generally is around wealth and success. Yellow for Thailand is a colour of the royal family and the monarchy, which has an important, deep meaning for the Thai people. Which is why colour is an endlessly complex and fascinating area to work in because there are so many colours, and what we do is provide inspiration and advice. In the end, you will choose what is right for you.

What are the key global trends?

The aesthetic trend is quite pronounced, the increased use of deeper more dramatic colours and special effects. The second would be paint that does more, by bringing newer functionality to the paint. In this part of the world, heat causes houses to expand and contract and the problem with that is that it causes cracks, so innovations such as crack-proof technology helps. And then there is sustainability, people are increasingly interested in who is making the product, how they are making it and how long will it last and important question of sustainability which is about doing more with less.

AkzoNobel has featured in the top ten on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for almost a decade now. From a business perspective, how important is that?

In our view, it is the most well recognised independent benchmark of companies. It is a ranking that investors will look at. What’s more exciting is to talk about our products that do more, and are active products in a way that they help consumers manage either sustainability or cost. One is interior light reflectance. So if you use that paint on your walls it will reflect twice as much light. What that means is that you use less wattage of light in areas that you don’t want to spend too much energy on, such as stairwells. It’s a passive investment in the wall which saves you money on your utilities. Same with external heat reflectors, if you can prevent the walls from heating up outside you end up spending less energy cooling it from the inside. Then there are paints that can take pollutants away from the internal environment. Another big one for us is the use of water based paints…that’s because traditional solvent-based paints release greenhouse gas. So if we can get painters to transition to water-based alternative, it decreases the carbon footprint.

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