Yet another International Women's Day has come and gone, but there's still a lot of work to be done to achieve gender equality in various industries. Design is one particular field where there's no dearth of talented women, yet it remains difficult for professional female designers get the same level of recognition and business opportunities as their male peers in this still male-dominated industry.
Aiming to focus attention on the great creative work that women are doing, Sweden-based industrial designer and entrepreneur Terese Alstin (co-creator of the inflatable Hövding bike helmet) has launched No Sir, an e-commerce platform for women to showcase and sell their designs. In addition to a brick-and-mortar location in Malmö, Sweden, there are also plans to set-up a pop-up shop that will tour Europe.
No Sir's roster is a result of Alstin's dedicated research to find fresh and emerging talent, featuring textiles, furniture, jewelry, artwork and more from makers like Marlène Huissoud (previously), Maria Jeglinska, Ejing Zhang and Karina Eibatova.
In an interview with Fast Co.Design, Alstin recounts some of reasons why she started No Sir. She relates her own personal experience encountering gender-based discrimination within the field: leadership positions are largely held by men; female designers having to use email addresses with male names and bringing male colleagues to business meetings because they find the reception more favourable; professional women being perceived as the assistant or as the "lesser talent" in male-female teams. It's a problem that is rarely discussed, but is widespread and indicative of a sneaky double standard that operates even outside of design, says Alstin:
In a subjective field like design, denial of a female designer’s professional expertise or talent is an easy way to reinforce gender discrimination. A successful product designed by a woman may be regarded a lucky shot rather than drawn from talent.
The inequality also becomes obvious when you take a look at the gender split of the designers employed by the big international design companies, which is very unbalanced. The same goes for juries of design awards. Women are underrepresented both as designers and as voices in discussions about the field. While opinionated men are often referred to as prominent 'thinkers' or even 'geniuses,' outspoken women are often labelled 'difficult' or 'radical feminists.'
But there's really nothing that radical about women taking on equal opportunities and equal recognition: women have a lot to contribute, and the design industry can benefit tremendously from women's creative expertise. Alstin explains her collaborative take on the issue:
I really want to show women that there is a lot to gain by collaborating and helping each other out. In a male-dominated industry, it’s common that women isolate themselves from each other and become competitive. They fight each other because the career opportunities for women are so rare. But I believe that women being united is important in the pursuit of more equality in the business. Together we can become more powerful and have more influence.
It's an idea that is pretty common-sense: just as in the environmental movement, we put our money where our mouth is by supporting local producers, or buying fair trade items, or buying nothing at all. Here, we can also show our support by consciously purchasing designs created by a talented women designers, or at least becoming more aware and questioning the status quo. More over at Fast Co.Design and No Sir.