Interior designers Sophie Ashby and Alexandria Dauley are tackling the lack of diversity in the interior design world head-on with their initiative United in Design. They tell Jessica Jonzen how they are working together to make a positive change
INTERIOR DESIGNERS ALEXANDRIA DAULEY (LEFT) AND SOPHIE ASHBY (RIGHT) CO-FOUNDERS OF UNITED IN DESIGN
This has been a year unlike any we have known before. From the ravages of the global pandemic to the bitterly-fought presidential contest in the US election, 2020 has been a year which has challenged our values and beliefs like no other in our lifetimes.
But it was the brutal killing of George Floyd, and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement which confronted the world with the reality of the entrenched racism, inequality and more insidious unconscious bias still faced by black people.
Like all industries, the interior design world took a hard look at itself and saw an overwhelmingly white and privileged face staring back at it. In response, interior designers Sophie Ashby and Alexandria Dauley have joined forces to create United in Design, a visionary charitable organisation which is tackling the lack of diversity in the design world head on. In the six months since its launch, United in Design has established apprenticeships, attracted a stellar group of trustees, partners and steering committee, all dedicated to making a change for good.
Here, Sophie and Alexandria tell us more…
SOPHIE ASHBY’S FORMER APARTMENT AT TELEVISION CENTRE SHOWCASED HER DEFT USE OF COLOUR AND TASTE IN ART AND ANTIQUES TO CREATE A LAYERED AND ECLECTIC HOME. IMAGES: ALEXANDER JAMES
Sophie, you wrote a powerful and very honest post on Instagram after George Floyd’s death, acknowledging that your practice could and should do more to tackle the lack of diversity in the design industry. How did it feel to make that public admission?
Whilst acknowledging those failures (of my own, and the industry) and sharing them with the world is uncomfortable, it felt wholly necessary. The response I received was overwhelming; I spoke to at least 20 people on Zoom over the course of the following week, mainly black designers and students who had a story to tell me. I heard some very real and desperately sad stories and received the most extraordinarily heartfelt and open responses to my post and I felt motivated and compelled to figure out how I could help.
Alexandria, how did you feel when you read Sophie’s post?
Hopeful. Sophie and I discovered quite quickly that we were simultaneously having the same conversations, thoughts, ideas and were independently beginning to put the edges to some kind of ‘something’.
Alexandria, can you tell me more about what your own experiences had been like within the design industry?
My overall experience in the industry has been positive. Despite regularly being the only black face in a room at an event, showroom or studio I have met some wonderful people and I love my job. My hope for the industry is that others will also experience such positivity and be welcomed with warmth and acceptance.
ALEXANDRIA’S SLEEK AND CONTEMPORARY DESIGNS CREATE HOMES WHICH ARE BOTH BEAUTIFUL AND PRACTICAL, REFLECTING HER CLIENTS’ TASTES AND LIFESTYLE. IMAGES: DAULEY DESIGN
Can you tell me more about the moment when you both first connected?
Sophie: We spoke on Zoom a few times, got on instantly and agreed that one strong message was better than many quieter ones so we joined forces. We work really well together and I am very proud to be collaborating with Alex on such an important charity. She is a ‘doer’, as am I, and we both seem to be solutions-driven, fast-moving people so the combination of us together works well!
What was the first action you took with United in Design?
Alex: The first thing was putting our UiD Apprenticeship Programme in place. We pool groups of four design studios, makers, suppliers together in order to provide a 12-month apprenticeship placement, with the apprentice spending three months at each organisation. The apprentice is paid a junior designer salary, split across the four studios, giving each the scope to gather a broader set of skills, knowledge and contacts in order to progress through the industry. We’ve been really impressed and overwhelmed with the take up from our partners; the opportunity is very unique.
Sophie: The response has been fantastic, and it is so exciting to see such brilliant candidates coming through. We want to ensure we’re reaching a really wide pool so recommend anyone looking to embark on a career in the industry – APPLY!
STUDIO ASHBY’S RECENT PROJECT AT LONDON’S HEXAGON APARTMENTS. IMAGES: ALEXANDER JAMES
Can you tell us more about the United in Design Pledge?
Alex: In order to become a member of United in Design, businesses or individuals must commit to three actions from the seven-point pledge, which aims to encourage partners to unlock doors and inspire others within the industry to share their wealth of expertise and time with those who need it most.
What are your main goals for United in Design moving forward?
Sophie: 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 for programme participants via annual subscription fees and events.
(TOP) A GORGEOUS BEDROOM AT STUDIO ASHBY’S HEXAGON APARTMENTS PROJECT; (BOTTOM) ITEMS FOR SALE VIA SISTER, STUDIO ASHBY’S NEW ONLINE STORE. TOP IMAGE: ALEXANDER JAMES
What advice would you give to someone thinking of training to be an interior designer who thinks that issues with diversity might negatively affect their career?
Alex: As a black woman I have always been aware that my skin colour could potentially be an issue for some people and therefore hinder my career. However, the issue is their’s and not mine. My mindset is that I can achieve anything I set my mind to; hard work, dedication and talent cannot be denied in the end. If you are good enough someone will open a door and give you a chance. Do not let others’ small mindedness stop you from striving towards your goals. Also, hold people to account: if you feel you are being treated unfairly then speak up – there are people who want to help you and if more employers acknowledge that unconscious bias exists in their workplace then they are more likely to address it. Be the best you can be, give it 100% and stay true to yourself and your craft.
Aside from United in Design, can you tell us more about what projects you are both currently working or?
Sophie: I’m super proud to have launched Sister recently. Sister is really a coming-together of all our Studio Ashby projects, and a way of sharing our bubble of eccentric colour, craft and play with the big wide world! With prices starting from just £20, we wanted the collection to feel accessible and authentic, and we’re excited to follow with a real-world shopfront opening in 2021 in central London (hopefully when we’re a little closer to some form of normality!)
Alex: I am really busy working in my lovely little corner of South London and Surrey on several residential design projects. Dauley Design has really taken off in the past year and I am looking to expand my team and perhaps look for a little studio and move out of my home office. I love working locally to home with great clients and my team of trades so I hope to be able to take on even more projects whilst still striking the work/life balance with my girls and Mr Dauley.
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