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Why is there such a lack of diversity in the interior design industry? – Mad About The House

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Last year I started a directory of companies that were actively trying to reduce their impact on the planet. It’s by no means complete and I don’t update it as often as I should, but I hoped it would raise awareness and help you make more informed choices about where you shop based on your criteria for what you want and the budget you have.

interior design by fawn interiors studio

Over the last few days I have considered starting another directory. A resource of BAME interior designers, shops, stylists and photographers. It was as much about offering space on a large platform on which they might get noticed as providing something useful to prospective clients and consumers. It was, in fact, intended to shine a light on an industry in which minorities and people of colour are so under-represented.

But a list felt wrong. Many businesses don’t promote themselves as black-owned, after all. But then many people look at the interior design industry and think it won’t be for them because of the colour of their skin. Busola Evans, the associate editor of Living etc, told me this yesterday:

“The interiors world in the UK is terribly under-represented – the reality is that it is predominately white and middle-class. It’s not unusual for me to be the only black person at an industry event and while I don’t dwell on it, it does sadden me. By not addressing this lack of diversity, the industry is losing out on great talent, a variety of viewpoints and different design perspectives which, in the long-term, everyone can benefit from.

“It’s always important to do some self-analysis as a brand or an individual and last year we recognised at Livingetc that we could do better at reflecting the country we live in. Since then we have been more active in bringing in as many diverse faces and voices to our editorial as possible. It all makes more a much more rounded, inclusive, and yes, ultimately better magazine.

“In my experience, black people in interiors – usually women – often shy away from talking up their skills, experience and businesses. It’s an issue women have in general, but can be magnified when you throw the racial element into the mix. So it is great to give an opportunity for them to champion their work. I hope the general sea-change and the increased awareness of the importance of equality will open more doors and make clear that black people are just as worthy of their place in this industry.”

design by copperdust london

Interior designer Charmaine White, of The White House Interiors, told me yesterday: “I have never promoted myself as a black-owned business; as far as I am concerned I am a designer. But going to trade shows and industry events you never see Black or BAME faces. To the point where I have wondered if they even exist or it was just me.

“It has played on my mind although I have never had a bad experience. In the US there is the Black Interior Designers Network and I have wondered if we should have something like that here. And then I think, why should we have to be separate? Maybe the BIID (British Institute of Interior Designers) should set up a BIDN as a branch of their organisation?”

Articles on the popular and influential design website Dezeen have addressed this issue, but the posts are two or three years old, although this from Design Matters might be useful. In researching this post I found a list of 30 Black Interior Designers you should be following on instagram (updated January 2020) but noticed it was posted initially in honour of Black History Month, and that felt wrong too. Why is OK to wait for a specific month to post this list? I’ve been on many lists at many random times of year and no-one felt it needed to be a designated month before they wrote that list, and yes I’m aware that that’s the problem.

One black interior designer told me that the lack of diversity in the industry was something she thought about a lot but didn’t know how to address. Another that she felt it was so deeply woven into society that she wasn’t sure how to begin unravelling it and had decided to just work alongside it.

eden hall norfolk bathroom image by Sarah Griggs -see below

I asked the television presenter and former Editor of Elle Decoration, Michelle Ogundehin (who has also been a guest on the podcast), for her thoughts. And Michelle, a trained architect, who is nothing if not thorough, wrote 2,000 words. And they are all brilliant. It is a fascinating, thought-provoking post and I urge you to read it all. The link is here.

She ponders that to ask why is there not more diversity in interior design is, perhaps, the wrong question. Should we, in fact, be asking how many children of a non-white background do not pursue a career in any industry because they think they won’t succeed/be accepted/fit in? I don’t want to pick paragraphs out of context so please follow her thought process from that starting point for yourselves.

And talking of posts, Tash South also wrote about her experiences growing up in Apartheid South Africa  for me and, again, rather than take a quote, I have linked and urge you to read.

Against this background of under-representation what is also clear is that during this pandemic small businesses are suffering. And small black-owned businesses are suffering even more.

So this post is for you to add anyone you know (including yourself) in the comment section who might wish to be linked from a large platform. And hopefully this will give everyone a chance to increase their business and raise their profile should they so wish.

Over on Instagram I have offered my platform to black voices for the rest of the week (starting yesterday). I will do this once a month from now own to voices that are different from my own. Yesterday was Jax  @Jazzierere, today is Lucinda @nest_twenty-eight and tomorrow is Paula @hillhousevintage with television presenter Jay Blades @jay_n_co on Saturday.

Copperdust London said: For so long we haven’t been apart of the conversation. Our design and ideas have been ignored. Now is the time for radical change, it is time to use privilege to recognise fellow black designers.”

When it comes to my own sponsorship deals, I tend to prefer to organise long-standing collaborations where I work alone with a brand, but when that is not possible I always ask who else is involved and try to suggest black women and POC be included. However, perhaps since the industry is so under-represented, often those who are approached may feel the brand isn’t right for them, or that they don’t want to be involved on a tokenistic basis. And so the vicious cycle continues.

I would ask, as so many have asked in recent days, that you don’t approach any of the people, brands or organisations I have included here for help on what to read or say or do. It is not up to them to educate us (I speak as a privileged white woman here) so do your own research and read your own books.

The following people gave me permission to include them on this post. Bear in mind that they are not educators or activists, they are people in the interiors space. But if you are looking for more diversity, here are some people you might like to follow.

I am also linking, with permission, to the UK Black Influencers Directory, which has been complied by Tinuke Bernard and published on her eponymous blog. Here is a link to more Black-owned British Businesses via Another Magazine. .

Laura is renovating her Oxfordshire cottage with wallpaper and pattern @nofeaturewalls

Phillip is doing up a Victorian house in Norfolk @bryridge_house

Fawn Interiors is based in Hampshire

The People’s Shop in Birmingham sells clothes, homewares and gifts

Oneoffto25  is an online art gallery

Bespoke Binny offers homewares and gifts made from African cloth as well as lampshade making classes (which I have spoken about a few times during the last few weeks).

Copperdust is a homedecor shop selling luxury African interiors and there’s a great blog too.

Sarah Griggs is a photographer at @peas.in.my.pod I have featured her work on these pages before but do get in touch if you need photography.

I have spoken to dozens of people over the last few days. I will add to this list as they come back to me and, as I say, use the comments for raising awareness of other businesses, too. I will add them to the body of the copy from the comments as we go along.

And I will finish with this quote from Jayda Barham, a second-year university student at Bristol and an aspiring interior designer: “During my experiences at university we have gained various opportunities to visit and work with interior design companies. This has opened my eyes on issues across the board.

“It is hard to avoid the fact that there is a lack of diversity and lack of representation for ethnic minorities in the interior design industry. As a young black woman and an up-and-coming designer, I believe that the next generation is crucial in changing this. As a design community, creating a platform like this can be a stepping stone to giving a voice to those who are under-represented and miss opportunities because of the colour of their skin.

“There is an incredible opportunity to learn from this. Diversity enables designers to educate themselves on different cultures round the world that can inspire and influence a design. It’s about collaboration and coming together as designers, no matter your background or the colour of your skin.”

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