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The Design Industry Needs to Be More Inclusive of Black Designers and Artisans

Photo credit: Courtesy

From Veranda

In the wake of the recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the United States has been compelled to examine the systemic racism ingrained in our society—including the design industry. This fight isn’t new for industry veterans Joy Moyler and Malene Barnett. When doors were repeatedly shut in the design community, the two powerhouses forged their own ways and opened avenues for other young Black designers and artisans to showcase their works. And they’re continuing the mission to this day.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

For interior designer Joy Moyler, this meant traveling extensively throughout the world; studying different styles, techniques, and architecture from all across Europe; and developing a signature style of layered opulence and glamour. It’s no wonder she was named the U.S. Head Designer of the Giorgio Armani Interior Design Studio and earned quite a client list—with names like Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Joy Moyler
Photo credit: Courtesy of Joy Moyler

Moyler doesn’t stop at just interiors, though. With nearly 30 years of experience under her belt, the design maven has also dived deep into product development and is currently working on a tabletop collection that will debut this fall.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Artist and activist Malene Barnett began the early part of her career designing and constructing rugs, but soon found that her designs were often overlooked or not accepted within the industry. This lead the creative down a path of rediscovery within herself and regarding her heritage, connecting with her ancestors by studying creative processes used by African artisans.

From her pottery, paintings, and rugs, Barnett strives to share her African heritage on a global level and inspires other Black creatives to do the same through the Black Artists + Designers Guild, which she founded.

The Guild is a curated collective of independent Black creatives whose mission is to build “a more equitable and inclusive creative culture by advancing a community of independent Black artists, makers and designers in creative industries. We are committed to honoring our ancestral legacy in design by taking ownership of our narrative and by creating spaces to celebrate Black excellence and culture in design.”

Both Moyler and Barnett have seen and experienced how, time and time again, the design industry has undervalued the Black voices within the community. And both are ready for the industry to own up to its downfalls and acknowledge it has let down people of color—more specifically, the Black community. To help better understand what it will take to break the systemic chain of racism too long plaguing the design industry, Moyler and Barnett shared insight into how allies can help create change and celebrate Black artisans.

Take Ownership

The first step in solving any problem is admitting there is a problem.

“Before you try to come up with any solutions to help the Black community, you have to take ownership as an individual, as a company, and as a brand,” explains Barnett. “Take ownership of the fact that your brand has been a part of this problem and you see now how you’ve failed Black voices.”

For too long, all facets of the industry—media, showrooms, brands, and firms—have overlooked or looked down on the work of Black artisans. To create real change, we must admit we have been part of the problem.

While our mission at VERANDA has always been to be an authority on extraordinary design, we recognize we must do more to elevate Black voices within the design community. We are committed to featuring more work from Black designers, artists, and architects across our platforms.

Educate Ourselves and Listen

While Black leaders and activists can point us in the right direction, it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves on issues of racial injustice and how to be an active ally. From memoirs written by prolific Black authors to essential movies that confront systemic racism, there are a host of resources available to help us understand the Black experience in America and how to be actively anti-racist.

Beyond that, Moyler and Barnett suggest researching the work of Black designers, expanding your knowledge of different styles, and listening to the voices of these artisans that have experienced and overcome so much.

“I want to be able to share that knowledge with everyone, but I need the community to be listening,” says Moyler. “My exposure to the best of luxury first-hand is something that I think can be a tool for learning to many.”

Invest in Training and Organizations

Change will happen over time, and it’s going to take time and training for the industry to develop a new standards. Barnett urges design firms to have the hard conversations about race within their staff or firm, and seek out bias training on how to better support coworkers of color.

Because Black creatives have rightfully felt undervalued with the industry, many have come together to form associations and spaces for themselves to foster a sense of community and promote their work. Organizations like the Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG), Black Interior Designers Network (BIDN), the National Organization of Minority Architects, and Black Females in Architecture (BFA) provide a global stage for Black artisans to showcase their work and talk about issues most important to them. By investing in organizations like these, we help ensure Black-owned firms and studios are showcased and supported.

“Invest for the generation now and the next,” says Barnett. “That’s one of the ways that you could support our work and not have it be based on guilt but on change.”

Reach Out and Collaborate

“From media to manufacturers to design schools, I think people are only getting to see 50 percent of what’s out there in the world of design,” says Moyler. “There needs to be a great deal more of collaborations with Black artisans from brands and firms.”

Reach out beyond the same 30 contacts and start working with Black artisans who can bring a new perspective and breath new life into projects. With so many working in the industry for decades, these experts will most certainly offer unique insight into designing a more welcoming and beautiful space.

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