Is the concept of global interior style racist?

Is the concept of global interior style racist?

If you followed my former blog (Needs More Cushions in a slightly different guise) you may remember this post. If you're a newer reader, I should say that this is not a typical post for me. I usually write posts that are light-hearted, up-beat and, well, about shopping for ethical interiors products. Very rarely are they high brow. However, I decided that I would update and re-post this article as it is still topical, relevant and worthy of further discussion. I hope you agree. 

In case you didn’t know, I’m a HUGE Emily Henderson fan. I think she is a fabulous interior stylist and her book, Styled, is one of my regular reference guides for design inspiration. One of the things I love about Emily’s style is that she has quite eclectic taste and I regularly spot African indigo fabrics, mudcloth and other traditional textiles in her photoshoots. Right up my street. She also offers visitors to her site a chance to discover their own personal style using her online quiz (yes, I have done it several times...!).

So what has got me so fired up?

One of the possible quiz outcomes, and the one I got, is 'global style'. Probably not a big shock given my love for the eclectic and traditionally crafted fabrics. Emily describes global style in a recent blog post in the following way: “If traveling to the far off corners of the world, collecting beautiful things and layering cozy and handcrafted textiles is your favorite hobby, then you my friend could have a global style. It’s a mix of eclectic and bohemian inspired pieces from all over the world and it’s exciting and totally wild”.

So far, so good. She goes on to set out the importance of mixing and matching different styles and pieces in order to create a collected, curated look, all of which I wholeheartedly agree with. She then goes on to pull together a shopping list with global pieces sourced from US interiors giant, Target.

Target!? WTF? This is a huge no-no for me as none of these products will be genuine or ethically sourced. Argh! But that’s not the only thing that prompted me to write this post…

Is the concept of global interior style racist? Ethical interiors, ethical home, slow interiors

Looks lovely huh? Mass produced by a huge company with no recognition of the culture or history behind these designs...yuk.

Say what?!

I scrolled through the comments section on this particular post to see what people were saying about global style. But, man was I surprised when I came across this showstopper of a comment:

The idea that this is a “global” style is a pretty white-centric view and counts as racist in my book. If it wasn’t obvious, *all* of the styles featured on this website are global to some degree — they involve influences from around the world and incorporate design elements that span countries and eras. The only difference here is that many of the textiles and patterns are from so-called “third world” countries, which white people have historically traveled to in order to collect “exotic” furniture for their homes. Often this “global” style prioritizes natural elements, geometric patterns, and hand-made adornments — reinforcing the idea that third-world artisans are primitive and somehow closer to the earth.

Conveniently left out is the fact that the African continent, India, and other developing countries moved through all of the beloved styles included on this site, including mid-century modern, brutalism, minimalism, etc. This ahistorical focus on *only* third-world craft (to the exclusion of third-world modernism, etc.) plays right into the narrative of white Europeans as civilized and artistic, and people from the global South as primitive and natural.

Please research the ways that art and design are influenced by the racist histories that all of us bear in some way or another. And please research the other styles represented in these so-called “global” countries — they will not disappoint”.


Is the concept of interior style racist? Ethical interiors, ethical home, slow interiors

Does our use of traditional baoule cloth constitute racism? Our goal is to celebrate the use of traditional ways of weaving fabrics


Of course this led to some heated debate in the remainder of the comments section. Some in agreement, others diametrically opposed. I’ve included a link to Emily’s original post here where you can see the ensuing debate for yourself. I have to say, perhaps unsurprisingly, that I don’t agree with the comment above. I can see where the commenter is coming from. And maybe, in some circumstances, and by some people, global style could be construed as racist. However, I don’t believe that it is inherently so.

Is the concept of global interior style racist? Ethical interiors, ethical home, slow interiors

Pretty but without provenance or soul - it just doesn't cut it for me. The world deserves better

I completely take the commenter’s point that technically all interior style can be considered as global. This of course largely depends on where you’re from in the world: something made by an artisan in Mali is certainly global to me (originally from the UK, currently in New Zealand), in the same way as a UK hand-crafted piece would be considered global to them. That I get.

But the idea that global interiors are classed as such because they are from less-developed countries, or reinforce the idea that they are ‘primitive‘ is something I disagree with. There is nothing primitive in keeping alive traditional techniques, such as weaving and printing using natural materials. Indeed there are a number of companies out there, including ours, doing some fantastic work to marry traditional crafts with contemporary design in innovative ways. 

I am proud to part of a company supporting artisans across the world who strive to produce unique, hand-crafted designs that help to educate us about past traditions and cultures and get us to think more consciously about what we buy. In a world of mass produced, cheaply made ‘stuff’, I believe that we need global style more than ever. To attach problematic labels, such as racist, to the concept of global style merely undermines the cause of supporting local talent, traditional crafts, natural materials and the empowerment of local communities that many of us hold dear. And that just isn’t cool.

Is the concept of interior style racist? Ethical interiors, ethical home, slow interiors

Image credit: Five | Six textiles

Global interiors may not be racist, but...

Whilst I generally dismiss the point that global interiors are inherently racist, there is another elephant in the room - cultural appropriation. It is defined by the Oxford English dictionary as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” And when huge companies like Target create cheap crappy woven baskets or print tribal motifs on its polyester cushions and then sell them at a knockdown price with no reference to the culture and history behind them, it stinks. 

What do you think? Am I being unfair?

Is the concept of global interior style racist? Ethical interiors, ethical home, slow interiors

One of our genuine mudcloth cushions, with some hand-made woven art by Jane Denton - photographed by the wonderful Bonny Beattie

I guess I am looking at this from a particular perspective. We source genuine, traditionally made fabrics from artisans around the world in the hope that our purchases help provide a sustainable income and keep those ancient techniques alive. Sure, it would be (alot) cheaper for us to buy printed, patterned fabric from somewhere like China, but who exactly would this benefit? Probably not the workers in the factory, and certainly not the folks who make the real thing who will struggle even more to sell their wares and access global markets. 

My plea to you therefore is to stop and think next time you spot a gorgeous looking 'global' cushion or textile that looks a bit like the real thing, but is on sale at a 'too good to be true' price. The cost of that purchase may be small to you, but it will be pretty big in negative ways for others around the world. Don't do it! Save up for the genuine article and help to make the world a better place whilst indulging your global interior style obsession. Your home - and artisans - will certainly thank you for it. 

You can shop our cushions made from genuine traditionally crafted textiles here.



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