US decorating company S Harris (available at Turnell & Gigon) has teamed up with designers from the Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG) to create Orejen, a collection of fabrics, wallcoverings and trimmings centred around the history and heritage of three culturally rich parts of the world. The five designers – Malene Barnett, Beth Diana Smith, Linda Hayslett, Rayman Boozer and Erin Shakoor – collaborated across three cities to bring the collection together, helmed by S Harris’ creative director Jodi Finer.
S Harris uses the phrase “responsible inspiration” to describe one of its aims, encouraging cross-cultural collaboration and always giving due credit to the source material or object that influences the designs. “Throughout this entire process, it was about trying to marry what we gravitate to as designers and being respectful of the culture and traditions that inspired us,” explained Smith as part of an online Creative Collaborations talk at Focus/21 that she took part in alongside Boozer. “There’s almost an epidemic of creators taking work without giving a nod to where it came from, and I find that disrespectful. We needed to find a way to do it responsibly.”
This ethos not only lends the collection a sense of integrity, but it makes for some fascinating stories, too. “We decided to go back to the beginning – the source of where creativity came from,” said Boozer, explaining the choice of three cultures that the group decided to explore deeply: Bhutan in south-east Asia, Zanzibar in East Africa, and new Zealand and Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Islands.
The meandering ‘Pele La’, which means ‘mountain pass’, is a tribute to the winding paths through the Himalayas and the journeys that the elder guides take through the region, while ‘Moko’ translates the sacred art of face-tattooing from New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, and ‘Tinga Tinga’, a striped cut velvet on a slubby ground, takes inspiration from 20th-century Tanzanian artist Edward Tingatinga, whose stylised, naive paintings found favour with European and American buyers.
The BADG was founded in 2018 by Malene Barnett and was originally going to be a simple directory of members to promote greater diversity in art and design. As Smith explained as part of the talk, that was great for those looking to commission a designer – but its members also wanted “community, collaboration and to meet people who were going through a similar journey. It has been amazing experience for me, as I got to build so many relationships with other designers.” The non-profit’s activities include talks, a dedicated design week, and Obsidian House, a virtual show-house where members have each designed a room.
Watch the Creative Collaborations talk here