Monthly Archives: April 2009

Predetermined Solutions

With the coming of spring we can expect a few constants – daffodils, lawn mower noise and new spring catalog from Crate & Barrel that looks a lot like last year and the yearcb01sm1 before. As one of the country’s premier lifestyle retailers, they have mastered the concept of predetermined solutions: if we didn’t sell it to you last year we simply recycle the palette with perhaps some small modifications of style and present it again as new and trendy.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe C&B is one of the best at inspiring customers with effective visual marketing and a fill-in-the-blanks approach. But lifestyle5smwhen do we move from room-in-a-box to a more open and eclectic approach that reflects a modern reality, in particular a response to the tastes of the modern African-American consumer?

Can you image the expectation and joy of receiving a catalog that projected a sense of “organized eclecticism” that would focus on the inspirational needs and wants of the African- American consumer and others who appreciate the uniqueness and richness of the culture? I can.

Sadly this won’t happen with idle coffee-and-donuts conversations about the “opportunities” in the market. Good, bad or indifferent there is an existing process in the design, lifestyle3smlicensing and manufacturing of home furnishings. From my point of view that will not change in the short term.

In an effort to discover more efficient and profitable approaches for interior and product designers to bring their designs to market, we have formed ethnicitiSTYLE. We arelifestyle2sm collaboration of professional designers formed to pool our energies and resources to create African-American home fashion collections that will be developed and licensed to mainstream manufactures and distributors. Our goal is to create new lines of home fashion developed, designed, and managed by African Americans.

It is time. Let me know what you are thinking.

More than Just an Experience

Every morning we should arise blessed with a sense of renewal. In spite of the current challenges we face today on many levels, we still seek to satisfy our search for inspiration and fulfillment… SO WE SHOP.

ethnicitistoresm02We have been told time and time again that the retail landscape is dramatically over stored, some say by hundreds of thousands of stores. This fact is undeniable, but finding a source for African-inspired home furnishings on a reliable basis still remains a huge challenge.

Clearly when money is no object it is relatively easier. Even then what is available is a version of products I describe as Shangri-la: poor imitations of authentic artifacts from places existing only in the manufacturer’s imagination… STILL WE SEARCH.ethnicitistoresm01

In the major metropolitan areas with substantial African-American populations, the task of filling this unmet need is being soldiered by forward-thinking entrepreneurs who are committed to promoting a sense of pride and awareness of the African culture. These individuals deserve our encouragement and support in their quest to advance the notion of African-inspired design.

In this article, I’ve shared with you images of our retail gallery opened in Columbus, Ohio. While at this moment we feel we are alone in the wilderness in our quest, a new-found ability to network with like souls gives us hope.

ethnicitistoresm03Are there any retail outlets carrying high-quality, African-inspired home furnishings? I encourage you to make us all aware of the retail/gallery owners in your city who are grass-root movers in this struggle. We would like to recognize and support them where it counts… LET’S SHOP!

From Runway to Hallway: African Cultural Inspiration

fashionpicreduced01I am always fascinated by the migration of style from one segment to another. The notion that fashion is driven only by high-minded designers seems not to tell the whole story. While it is true that couturier design concepts at times seem over the top, they do signal to me a trend that creative types need to payfashionpicreduced041 attention to – African cultural inspirations.

A recent New York Times Magazine spread deftly illustrates the juxtaposition of African-Americans and Africans IN America. This dramatic black-and-white photo shoot of Lacroix, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Prada, etc. designs, clearly defines a modern interpretation of an fashionpicreduced031essence of African culture – textiles thought about in a unique and creative way.

The New Arrivals to our shores are bringing a new sense of energy and timeliness to the creative environment that will surely make its impact on all areas of fashion.

Tell me what you’re thinking.

Who Gets to Decide?

classicAt a recent furniture show, I attended one of the countless breakout sessions on diversity. The speaker droned on about the need for diversity in the workplace. As a designer I was looking (perhaps praying) for insight on more diversity in product development in the marketplace. Clearly increasing the numbers of participants around the conference tables might result in products that are more desirable to an increasingly diverse customer base.

At the heart of trend and product decisions is “who gets to decide” – what comes to market and how and if products meet the needs of the modern African-American consumer.

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Different from the idealized notion of “what does it look like when we live elegantly in the bush,” (often subscribed to by Ralph Lauren) today’s African Americans are sophisticated consumers who make purchase decisions on the basis of their personal styles.

Concepts for collections, such as “classic,” “contemporary,” and casual” can be touch points for African Americans as well as for the general public, but manufactures and retailers must begin with the understanding that THERE IS an African-American style as it relates to home fashion.contemporary-copy

This style is driven by ancient inspirations and modern interpretations defined by a unique sense of style and fashion leadership, but equally as important, accented by a new sense of pride and accomplishment.

Tell me what you’re thinking.