The Black Interior Designers Network started out as a celebration. The first big change in the organization came with a tragedy. Founded in 2011 by the designer Kimberly District, the group grew from a list Ward had compiled, showcasing the work of 20 talented black designers. From there it grew into much more: a network that provided community, mentorship, resources, and advocacy for black designers in an industry that historically neglected their work. Then, in 2017, Ward died of cancer and the designer Keia McSwain took the mantle of management.
“It’s an intimidating time for me to rethink, considering all the things that [Ward] must have gone through and still prioritize this organization, ”McSwain told host Dennis scully on the last episode of The home podcast business. “We had a few conversations and some of them I brought tears to my eyes, some of them I left smiling, some I left really upset. But I think the gist of what I think she was trying to instill even in those who haven’t become members yet is that the industry doesn’t have a say in who you are, how good you are, what you can produce, what you will be. It is our job and our duty to be there for the future.
The most recent chapter in BIDN’s history was marked by yet another tragedy: the murder of George floyd, an event that sparked widespread racial reckoning in all corners of American society, including the design industry. In this episode of the podcast, McSwain and BIDN’s new Director of Development Kia water spoon discuss what has changed and what has not changed since last summer.
“People want to hear that the change happened last year – people want a positive outcome, they want a happy ending. I think it would be dishonest of us to paint this picture [that] Since last summer, so much has changed, and it really isn’t, ”says Weatherspoon. “The backlash could be: they seem ungrateful. Like, how dare we recognize him for what he really is a year later? I think it might go over some people’s heads how [racial inequity in American society at large] is directly correlated to our industry, but it’s systematic and systemic and we deal with it in the interior design space.
It’s a raw, very real conversation about the pace of the snail’s progress in an industry that is notoriously slow to change. Tune in to the show and check out some takeaways below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on iTunes or Spotify. This episode is sponsored by Atlanta Market and The House of Rohl.
Racism in the design industry, say McSwain and Weatherspoon, often takes the form of a double standard. When a brand has a minimum buy-in, for example, reps often break the rules and allow designers to buy below that level in some cases. For black designers, says McSwain, companies are starting to follow the rules more strictly or put up additional barriers to opening an account. It’s a question. It’s, “How much are you spending, how did you hear about us, where did you find us? Are you actually going to buy from us?” Everybody this? ”said McSwain.“ Those [are the] microaggressions we face. You don’t ask Rebecca if Rebecca is going to buy wallpaper though [she] reaches out for memos. No. But you hear the Darkness in my voice and you don’t expect me to shop.
In the wake of Floyd’s murder last summer, there has been a wave of attention and an increase in donations to BIDN. That in itself was complicated – McSwain says the awareness was overwhelming and often misguided (“We felt this massive overhaul of people reaching out: How can we help? We do not know. You tell us what you want to do. We cannot share with you how to change your life, how to want to be better. Now, she notes that fatigue around the issue of racial equity in the design industry has set in.
“It’s not light work. If the industry understood what it’s like to want to work without getting something in return, I think they would really understand what we’re asking for as an organization, ”she says. “This industry is fighting to make a dollar. I’m sure there are designers out there who are like, “That black number? It slows me down. It’s because their mind isn’t about fairness, about selflessness, and what America told us America should be. It’s: I have to eat, fuck you, figure it out, and when do you think we can do it? “
Last year, BIDN launched The Iconic Home, a digital exhibition house in partnership with Architectural abstract. This partnership is ongoing, but Weatherspoon and McSwain still see a lot of room for progress in design publications covering black designers. “They are the bible of what interior designers should read, so if they push this Eurocentric model, then people will feel like this is what their work should look like,” says McSwain. “There is always a ladder to climb – in terms of equity, we are so far behind. You could partner with us and us only for the next 10 years to make a show house and it again will not have placed us where we need to be in terms of visibility within the industry.
Home page image: Kia Weatherspoon (left) and Keia McSwain | Rayon Richards