At the beginning of last year Maxine Hall and Paula Moss were pondering the lack of diversity in interior design. Co-founders of Blackpop, a successful textile business based near Derby, they were thinking about offering a bursary to a local black student to see if they could start to make a difference to this imbalance.
Then the pandemic hit in March and they were forced to furlough the staff of their small studio and focus on staying afloat. The following May George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis and a few weeks after that, as the rest of the interiors world caught up with Blackpop and their realisation about the lack of diversity in the creative and interiors industries, Rukmini Patel and I set up Design for Diversity in an attempt to start a conversation around this issue and help businesses and employees talk to each other.
Maxine then contacted me and I offered to do whatever I could to support her initiative Bursary+X (the X is for experience) and any students who went through the programme and today I am delighted to showcase the work of Jessica Boateng, whose Tropica designs are available via Blackpop.
“The programme has been really beneficial for my development as a textile designer and I have learnt many new skills,” Jessica told me yesterday. “This is the first time I’ve had my designs made into a product. When I first saw them, I could have cried – happy tears.”
Jessica was finishing her second year of textile design at the University of Derby (she has just been awarded at 2:1 final degree) when her head of department got in touch to say she had been approached about a mentoring programme. Jessica, who had already started work on her dissertation on the lack of diversity in her chosen industry, was selected for the bursary, which was to run alongside her third year studies.
The aim of the ‘Bursary+X’ scheme was to support a Student of Colour through a year-long programme of mentoring, designing and realising a number of designs. Blackpop would then print these designs onto their trade mark velvet and have cushions made up.
Plans had been made to get together with Jessica for 12 monthly workshops, but of course the pandemic wasn’t meant to go on for so long and those original plans were transformed into fortnightly Zoom sessions with Maxine running Photoshop workshops, discussions and developments with Jessica. Through mentoring and technical guidance Jessica produced several designs, three of which were chosen to go to print and they had three velvet cushion templates printed and duck feather-filled cushions made up.
Blackpop and Jessica are now in the process of completing the final part of their journey – the aim was not only to mentor and teach her – but also to help her on her way to join the interior design community. The next stage is to launch a campaign in the hope that in part this will be a launch pad for her career.
The designs were intended to be showcased at Decorex but that is a hugely expensive undertaking and Blackpop are not taking part this year. However, I had always said I would share here, not only to help Jessica showcase her work and gain a wider audience, but also because Maxine and Paula are keen that other businesses follow their lead.
“It wasn’t a huge investment financially – we paid Jessica’s expenses – but we invested our time and expertise and we hope that other businesses might be able to do the same,” said Maxine, who said they have plans to repeat the exercise next year – I will share the details when they are ready to receive applications. “It has been so rewarding for Jessica and for our team and I hope other brands and businesses will take this template and do something similar.”
The programme also included a photoshoot of Jessica’s final designs and the agreement to sell them (made to order) at least until the end of the year by which time Jessica may be ready to launch her own business. They will split the profits 50/50. The velvet cushions measure 48x48cm and retail at £120.
Jessica and Maxine spent many hours together on zoom and Jessica feels she has been able to find her design ethos.
“Growing up I felt I didn’t really know my African heritage as well as I wanted to and I was grieving not having had much experience of my African identity. My mum had kept these beautiful dresses that she wore in her 20s and I always thought the patterns were so gorgeous. I studied more about African textiles at University and these cushions show my influence and skills.”
Currently Jessica is waiting to hear if her application to the Government KickStart programme has been successful as she would like to gain more experience before starting her own business (this scheme gives grants to businesses so they can provide job placements).
If you would like to offer a similar mentoring or bursary programme then either contact Blackpop direct or leave a comment below and they will see it or I can forward it on to them.