At this fall’s High Point Market, visitors may notice a new name among the show’s many hosts and events – unlike the others, this one aims to transform the interior design organization. The Diversity Advocacy Alliance, a 14-person organization created in partnership with High Point Market Authority, will debut with an inaugural roundtable and subsequent networking event, where it will position itself as an agent of change in the community experience. BIPOC at Market and welcome new relationships to expand its mission.
The organization’s journey began in August 2021, when High Point Market and Esteem Media’s announcement of the lineup for a design influencer tour – comprised of nine white women and one white man – sparked an outcry on social media for the list’s lack of diversity. In the wake of the controversy, many design professionals took to social media to express their disappointment, urging High Point Market to take a serious look at its commitment to diversity. To remedy the immediate situation, the organization issued an apology and changed the tour’s lineup to include a more diverse set of influencers.
At the suggestion of some design professionals, High Point Market also went a step further by bringing together the group of designers, furniture leaders, students and publishers that would eventually form DAA. The group then appointed a product development and design consultant Patti Carpenter direct long-term effort toward improving diversity, equity and inclusion practices within the organization. As Carpenter explains, the goal of the DAA is not just to amplify the voices of BIPOC in High Point Market, but to create the conditions that will allow all businesses to thrive.
“It’s not just about visibility in the market, but it’s also that feeling of support – it’s one of those things that helps people build businesses, get your practice known, to make magazines want to talk to you, to allow you to be asked to speak on a panel,” says Carpenter. now.”
While DAA will host events for the design community throughout the year, much of the group’s efforts will focus on enhancing the experience of BIPOC designers in the exhibition spaces. The problem of BIPOC designers receiving poor treatment—whether by having their credentials double-checked, being ignored by salespeople, or answering unnecessary questions about their shopping habits—quickly emerged as a common experience when the community swapped their stories in the wake of the aforementioned controversy, a point founding DAA members reiterated in early group meetings with High Point management.
Founding member DuVäl Reynolds recalls walking into High Point Market with his then assistant, who was white, and realizing that vendors often spoke to him first, a clear indication that a culture change was needed. “Things like that make you feel like you’re not really the one being invited, like you’re the guest of a guest, [instead of] have a stake in the community,” Reynolds says. “You can’t maximize Market’s potential if you feel like you don’t have credible access to what it has to offer.”
In its early iterations, even the group that would eventually become DAA required an internal overhaul from its initial members to ensure that the organization accurately reflected the racial diversity of the wider design community. Carpenter notes that while those invited to the first DAA meeting were all black, the group self-corrected to ensure its members were more representative of a wider range of identities – in accordance with this, the band’s inaugural members include Carpenter, Reynolds, Christi Barbour, Erick and Lisa Walker Brown, Benjamin Johnson, Dudley Moore, Rachel Moriarty, Tiffany Parson, Ashley Ross, victoria sanchez, David Santiago, Alex Shuford and Carisha Swanson.
“Each of them brings something different to the table,” says Carpenter. “It’s about the BIPOC community, so there’s that sense of inclusion — and not just being included, but being valued, being heard, and being a part of it.”
Reynolds points out that understanding diversity in design also means looking at the full range of experiences that can affect a person’s interactions at Market, including race and extending beyond. For example, the challenges that people with disabilities may encounter when navigating often-complicated terrain. It’s a prospect that demands an even greater overhaul of daily practices at High Point, he says.
While creating a more accessible atmosphere for BIPOC designers at the Market may seem like a somewhat abstract goal, the group is also focused on implementing concrete initiatives to achieve their goals. Using local social innovation company Change Often as the facilitator for the organization’s strategy sessions, the group identified five specific categories to focus on – showrooms, buyers, public , students and marketing – and began to articulate ways to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at every level. While recognizing that a top-down approach can do little to improve an unwelcoming showroom environment, initial ideas include DEI training for suppliers, collecting data on the value of doing business with BIPOC communities and creating a signage system for showrooms to display advancing towards DEI values or to signify a minority-owned business.
Beyond the showroom level, the group is also focused on starting conversations around the cultural use of certain design pieces and how to deal with them in relation to their communities of origin. Ashley Ross, DAA member and interior designer for Charlotte-based Muse Noir Interiors, describes a recent incident when a stool traditionally reserved for East African kings and queens was misused as an ottoman everyday by a design company. While her own experience with High Point has sometimes left her wanting more (two years ago she asked market executives for a map of the organization’s BIPOC vendors, only to find that no such list existed), Ross emphasizes the importance of High Point Market in starting one’s own business and the potential it has to serve as a springboard for the next generation of design entrepreneurs.
“No matter who you are, your background, where you are in your career, opening these business accounts is the meat and potatoes for [design] businesses,” says Ross. “Muse Noir Interiors is young, but people often don’t realize how young it is, and I think a lot of that is due to the relationships I made at High Point.”
As Carpenter explains, although DAA started in High Point Market, the group hopes its mission could potentially expand to other major markets across the country, which is part of why members have included the term. “alliance” in the title of the organization. Additionally, although DAA’s current board has signed on for a one- to two-year term, the group hopes to see the organization grow and evolve alongside the design community, acting as a representative of visitors. of BIPOC in particular to ensure the organization’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion extends beyond the current moment of focus.
“The idea is not to point fingers,” says Carpenter. “What we’re trying to do is say, ‘Here is where we are now and how can we move forward better in the future?'”
Homepage image: Courtesy of High Point Market