Keia McSwain Is Asking the Design Industry to Take Action
The Black Interior Designers Network’s 10 steps to being an ally.
Updated Oct 11, 2018 3:56 PM
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“We aren’t new to the fight but indeed true to the fight,” wrote Keia McSwain, president of the Black Interior Designers Network and principal designer of Kimberly & Cameron Interiors, on Instagram yesterday. Spurred by the nationwide protests to eradicate racial injustice and police brutality, the nonprofit organization launched a new social media campaign this morning, the Designer Ally’s How To.
The 10-step guide calls on everyone from shop owners to shelter publications to change how they do business to promote diversity and inclusion—not just now but forever. Spread the word by sharing BIDN’s post and make a donation to support the organization’s annual conference, industry events, and resources and operations, as well as the NAACP. We spoke to McSwain about the challenges Black designers still face and her hopes for the future of the industry.
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What inspired you to launch the Designer Ally’s How-To?
Dialogue and guidance are necessary to affect change. The Ally’s How To sheds light on the areas that need improvement in a designer’s workplace. The best opportunities for understanding and accountability come from having the difficult conversations. We can’t teach people how not to be racist. We aim to address head on the microaggressions faced by people in the industry, along with the fact that white voices are prioritized. In doing so, we expect that people will be challenged to grow.
Your bio mentions your personal dream of being the face of the millennial design evolution. What are your hopes for this evolution?
My hopes are many! Ten years in and the main goal is still to aid other designers in their journeys. From self-taught designers to vets within our industry, the hope is that we have the tools to help them develop. I know it sounds like a huge plight, but we are not new to this fight. The Black Interior Designers Network has been campaigning for opportunity, visibility, and amplified voices since 2010. It seems as though we are finally being heard. That’s a great feeling.
How has systemic racism impacted you as both an interior designer and the president of BIDN?
Whether within the industry or more specifically the BIDN community, the impact of systemic racism for me is the same. One perpetuates the other. Systemic racism is complex. It’s the instrumentation of a multifaceted genre of faces, rules, and existences. One of the most obvious examples of this is the fact that our cultural aesthetic is saturating the industry right now, but our stories and history within the interior design world aren’t being shared. Our aesthetic is largely the face of the industry, but you don’t necessarily know many Black interior designers by face. This has to change, because we are out there.
Since becoming president in 2017, what have been your biggest roadblocks to bringing more diversity to the interior design world?
Within any leadership role, you find challenges and hurdles. Like many other Black designers, I too have had to be resilient and determined. I’m always aware that I represent the entire Black design community and not just myself. Guiding my counterparts on the proper way to treat their Black colleagues is and will always be a challenging roadblock.
You’ve been fighting for inclusivity in design for 10 years at BIDN. What changes are you most proud of creating in this time?
I’m most proud that I’m seeing the vision through. Creating a safe space for Black interior designers to network, create, culturally express, and learn was the vision that our founder, Kimberly Ward, created. Once the baton was passed to me, it became my driving force. Every day I’m elated to have had the opportunity to grow, push forward, and help evolve this organization toward her vision.
The launch of the BIDN stemmed from Ward’s Top 20 African American Interior Designers list, which she created after constantly getting the question “Where are all the Black designers?” What would be your response to someone asking that question today?
My response is simple. “We’re here as we’ve always been!” Join the movement. Our organization will continue fighting for the Black designer’s visibility and voice to be heard.