How This Organization Aims to Increase Representation in the Design World3 min read
Entering the design industry after studying architecture, Tenlie Mourning knew very well one uncomfortable reality: “The call for equality in the consumer home category is long overdue.” So, at a time when America is grappling with its history of systemic racism like never before, she decided to do something about it. This problematic reality became the springboard for the Make Space Pledge, a movement to recalibrate Black representation in the home design industry. The Pledge’s mission is as follows:
“The Make Space Pledge is a new initiative aimed at changing the visual landscape of the consumer home category. It calls for home decor and design brands and media outlets to pledge that 13% of annual content, creative, and collaborations will be produced by and/or feature a black creator.”
The Pledge is an offshoot of furniture startup Dendwell, a social, curated e-commerce site which Mourning founded and is currently developing through the Columbia Startup Lab (it will launch this fall).
The experience of working on a startup—coupled with past work in the beauty industry—underscored to Mourning the urgent need for change. “Being a black founder, it was definitely a struggle feeling like there was a lack of representation,” she tells House Beautiful.
Mourning’s original idea with Make Space “was to pull these voices together,” spotlighting Black creatives and giving them a platform in an industry that has long been criticized for a lack of diversity. But, “after conversations with some bigger brands, the platform—and the opportunity—has grown bigger than I intended,” she says. Now, she sees the Make Space Pledge as a way to directly help brands and companies take clear steps towards better representation.
Finding inspiration in Aurora James’s 15 Percent Pledge, which urges retailers to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses, Mourning set the barometer of 13% as a benchmark for brands and media outlets to pledge for Black creators (meaning authors, subjects, influencers, collaborators, photographers, stylists, and more).
The Pledge kicked off with an Instagram campaign spotlighting Black creators—a strategy that had a snowball effect. “We wanted to use the collective audiences of all of the influencers we partnered with to get this message out, but I think the response from other Black creators in the space of wanting to participate and be featured has been incredible,” she says. Within its first few days, the Make Space pledge had garnered over 600 signatures (including one from House Beautiful).
So what comes next? Mourning imagines signing the petition not as a onetime act, but a continued promise—with accountability. “As a founder, I feel a responsibility to work collaboratively with the institutions to think about how we can make change,” she says. “I really want to be an active partner and collaborator in helping brands reach these goals.”
First up: “Our immediate next step is we’re doing some independent research to try to garner some kind of quantitative look at what the diversity makeup looks like in the last five years. We’ll then use that as an opportunity to open up conversations with brands and publications.” She plans to disseminate a welcome pack to signatories with suggestions and templates for next steps.
Mourning imagines Dendwell can serve as a valuable resource for making those changes: By working with a diverse group of emerging influencers and creatives, they’ll be making it easier than ever to hire and collaborate with a broader range of people.
“We’re at a point where people are realizing that systemic racism effects every aspect of American life,” says Mourning. “We really need to say something about this.”
Interested in signing the pledge? Learn more here.
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