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Meet the campaigners designing a diverse future

We shine a spotlight on the initiatives championing diversity in design, plus the BAME creatives to support now

modular by mensah
Modular by Mensah

The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the US earlier this year sparked a global anti-racism movement and, alongside it, renewed scrutiny of the barriers to progress for ethnic minorities and other marginalised people in many industries.

In the design sector, there’s a growing consciousness that its culture of exclusivity is perpetuated by practices such as unpaid internships and the need to have personal connections to succeed. We spoke to some of the people striving to breakdown these barriers and champion diversity.

Design for Diversity

design for diversity logo
Design for Diversity

‘The Design for Diversity pledge is a simple three-line statement promising to make your channels – sites, blogs, social –more diverse; to seek out candidates from diverse backgrounds for interview; and to be more inclusive when it comes to public events,’ says interior designer Rukmini Patel.

She set up the initiative this summer with author and founder of blog Mad About The House,Kate Watson-Smyth, after appearing on the latter’s podcasts and discussing the lack of diversity in the interiors industry.

With big names such as Heal’s and Morris & Co already on board, the aim is to simplify what they believe businesses should be doing anyway, and make these commitments visible by way of a logo on the company’s platforms. As well as pushing for concrete change (one participant, wallpaper firm Blackpop, has already arranged a bursary for a black textile student at its local university), the scheme is also designed to be a sign of businesses’ openness to diversity.

Patel and Watson-Smyth say it has helped textiles and wallcovering brand The Monkey Puzzle Tree reach a more diverse pool of job candidates, while online art gallery Oneoffto25 is using it to find more BAME artists to showcase.

The vision is a design industry in which people from minority groups don’t have to question their place. ‘To the BAME community,I say embrace your heritage – be proud of who you are,’ adds Patel. rukminipatel.com; madaboutthehouse.com


Exciting fabric and wallpaper artists to watch. Chosen by Rukmini Patel and Kate Watson-Smyth

Diane Hill - ‘A London-based artist who creates exquisite chinoiserie, artwork and wallpapers’@dianehilldesign

london designer diane hill
Diane Hill

Natalie Manima - ‘Bold and beautiful designs and vibrant African prints’ @bespokebinny

natalie manima aka bespoke binny

Kirath Ghundoo - ‘A modern, fresh and edgy wallpaper designer’ @kirath_ghundoo

wallpaper designer kirath ghundoo
Kirath Ghundoo

Creative Mentor Network

creative mentor network
Creative Mentor Network

For better or worse, creative careers are built on social networks, so when Isabel Farchy noticed, as an English teacher at a London academy, that her students were struggling to find decent work placements, she set up a mentoring programme to help those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

‘Understanding what work is like and how to start out comes from talking to people about their experiences, knowing the right people and having the confidence to put yourself forward,’ she says.

The Creative Mentor Network (CMN) pairs students who aspire to enter the creative industry with professionals in the field, while also providing mentors with training to understand the barriers to access for young people and to advocate social justice in their organisations.

In 2018, for example, it launched a partnership with private arts and media club Soho House, encouraging its members to become mentors, a programme that has supported more than 100 young people over the past three years.

CMN also strives to tackle the wider factors making the creative world exclusionary, such as lack of support in schools for students who may otherwise seek out creative careers, a culture of working for free and cuts to art education. ‘We want to see a world where every young person can achieve their potential, irrespective of their start in life,’ Farchy says. creativementornetwork.org


The creatives using different mediums to get their message across, who deserve your attention. Chosen by Isabel Farchy

Mary Mandefield - ‘A dancer and presenter – her videos on race are excellent’@mary.mandefield

mary mandefield
Mary Mandefield

Kidst Ayalew - ‘I love the colours and tones of her short films and photography’ @kidst_ayalew

film maker and photographer kidst ayalew
Kidst Ayalew

Arda Awais - Arda’s work is incredibly clever– check out her interactive exhibition about data mining’@identity2_0

designer arda awais
Arda Awais

Design Can

design can logo
Not Flat 3

‘There can’t be any more room for the excuses people create to avoid making change – it’s not good enough any more,’ says Sabine Zetteler, founder of Zetteler PR, which worked with a steering committee of creative industry professionals to spearhead DesignCan.

Launched last year, it comprises two elements: a manifesto that outlines the industry’s problems and acts as a call to arms; and a website that offers a resource to anyone in the industry looking to diversify their network and sources of knowledge. Essentially, it’s a database of people, projects, films, articles and podcasts that otherwise might slip past many people’s attention.

‘We know the industry has been complicit and is a place of privilege, but design is also a powerful tool for change,’ says Meneesha Kellay, a steering committee member and curator of festivals at the V&A. ‘DesignCan was established to provide valuable resources for those who face discrimination in the industry, and guidance for everyone else to enact change for it to accurately reflect the world it serves.’

Zetteler echoes the last sentiment. ‘How can you design for the world if you don’t reflect it?’ Equality isn’t just about what’s right – it’s also exciting, rewarding, enriching, and a huge opportunity for growth. design-can.com


African heritage is at the heart of these women’s powerful and unique designs. Chosen by Sabine Zetteler

Mawuena Kattah - ‘An artist based at art and design studio Intoart who creates stunning repeat patterns, illustrations and ceramics’ @mawuenakattah.artist

mawuena kattah

Bisila Noha - ‘A ceramicist and feminist who makes emotive, beautiful homewares here in London’ @bisilanoha

ceramicist bisila noha
Ida Riveros

Kusheda Mensah - ‘A designer who creates furniture in tactical shapes to encourage interactivity’ @modularbymensah

designer kusheda mensah
Modular by Mensah

United in Design

united in design logo
United in Design

Interior designers Alex Dauley and Sophie Ashby launched United in Design in the wake of this summer’s protests, as a way of addressing, says Ashby, ‘the exclusionary and elitist nature of the design world’.

This included the lack of diversity in her own firm and Dauley’s experience of working in an overwhelmingly white industry as a person of colour.

Alongside a steering committee of designers and magazine editors, it aims to level the playing field for minorities in interior design by calling on businesses to sign up to three out of seven pledges.

These include:actively championing diversity; training staff on issues related to diversity and inclusion; and encouraging potential new entrants to the sector through mentorships, outreach programmes and apprenticeships.

‘Our end goal is to become an ongoing sponsored initiative that is able to nurture, coach and develop high-potential candidates from black, minority ethnic and low socio-economic groups – eventually funding scholarships, apprenticeships and bursaries via annual subscription fees and events,’Dauley says. Ashby adds: ‘When confronting such a systemic, far-reaching inequality, it can feel insurmountable. We are at the start of our journey and learning more each day.’ unitedindesign.com


From a Nigerian photographer and New York-based sculptor to a London woodworker. Chosen by Sophie Ashby

Lakin Ogunbanwo - ‘Evocative photography and a colour palette of dreams’ @lakinogunbanwo

lakin ogunbanwo
Kosol Onwudinjor

Malene Barnett - ‘One-of-a-kind sculptural vessels with an incredible intricacy of colour and detail’ @malene.barnett

malene barnett
Alaric Campbell

Sophie Selu - ‘Deliciously tactile woodwork objects crafted from reclaimed timber’ @grainandknot

sophie sellu of grain and knot
Grain & Knot

Creative Access

creative access logo
Creative Access

‘Our mission is to help under-represented communities to not just enter the creative industries, but to thrive when they get there, because only then will the industry truly reflect and engage broader society,’says Josie Dobrin, chief executive of Creative Access, a social enterprise focused on improving recruitment diversity in theUK creative industries.

Supporting both candidates and employers through affirmative actions schemes, events, development programmes and diversity training, Creative Access works with more than 300 businesses, ranging from behemoths such as ITV, Apple, the National Theatre and Hearst UK (the publisher of ELLE Decoration) to small, independent firms. It has placed 1,787recruits to date and helped 30,673 young people to develop employability skills.

However, in recent months, Dobrin has witnessed the impact of the coronavirus on the people she works with. ‘Our survey findings show how disproportionately our community has been impacted – more likely to be furloughed, have work cancelled or postponed, and to be affected by Covid-19 itself,’ Dobrin says.

‘In addition, individuals are impacted by the longstanding structural inequality within the creative industries.’ All the more reason, she adds, for organisations to commit to bringing in and uplifting talent from under-represented communities. creativeaccess.org.uk


The portraitist, animator and illustrator making an impact. Chosen by Josie Dobrin

Charlotte Gray - ‘A self-styled “creator of things” – her gorgeous, bold portraits are a favourite’ @charlotte.upandaway

charlotte gray
Charlotte Gray

Jessie Francis - ‘As an animator, her feed is packed with imaginative characters’ @wimpyrastafairy

jessie francis
Jessie Francis

Olivia Twist - ‘A lecturer and illustrator – her vibrant prints and murals fizz with energy’


olivia twist
Olivia Twist

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration October 2020

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