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.”
Seana writes: “Especially in these times, my home is my peace and my inspiration. I’ve lived a life with very diverse sets of influences and experiences and the eclectic nature of my home speaks to that. My home is authentically me and embodies my journey through life thus far. Also like me, my home is ever- transforming and evolving. I’ve come to accept that it will never be “done”… the canvas will simply be tweaked and repainted over time. Our diversity, culture and backgrounds have everything to do with how we live. They influence our tastes and inform our aesthetic. The more worlds we have experienced, the more influences are found in our homes. Black people in America are by definition, multi-cultural. I believe in embracing that as a strength- at work and in the home, and I seek to inspire others to do the same. It is so important to see yourself reflected images about home and art and beauty. I feel like there has been improvement in pockets in recent years, but there is still so far to go. Personally, I would have never fallen in love with interior design or ever seen it as “my place” without seeing black and brown faces that look like mine online and in print. Interestingly, now I am also part of that representation… and it truly matters! The purpose of my online space and brand is to help all people reflect on their personal story, their passions, their style and ensure that all three live authentically in their homes. I love to inspire people to paint their own canvases, using an eclectic array of new and vintage items combined in bold and unique ways; to design, enhance, tinker until they have a home that feels authentically and beautifully theirs! I am so fortunate to have built a one of a kind, highly-engaged, exceptionally diverse online community where we not only share ideas about our homes, but also about our inner lives and what we can do to make the world around us a better place.” Visit www.makespacepledge.com to encourage home decor + design brands and media outlets to formally commit 13% of annual content, collaborations, and marketing materials to include a black creator and/or story.
A post shared by #MakeSpacePledge (@makespacepledge) on Aug 10, 2020 at 11:50am PDT
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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