In the Mix

Shake It Up

Design Miami

5 badass women of NYC leaving their mark on the design world today

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating five exceptionally bright talents in the NYC design field, all of whom are shaking things up for the greater good. In addition to each of their fresh perspectives and expertise, every one works to actively lift up others in the creative community. Read on to get to know these incredible individuals—plus their best advice.

 

Jean Lin, Colony

Gallerist Jean Lin; Photo by Christie Blickley. Courtesy of Colony

Jean Lin founded NYC design gallery Colony with the intention of offering independent American designers a quality home to showcase their work—and one that wouldn’t break designers’ banks. Lin reimagined the traditional gallery-designer commission structure, which often demands high percentages from the designer, and instead charges a monthly coop fee and takes a much smaller commission on every sale—giving designers room to grow at their own pace.

Recognizing that good business is about much more than the bottom line, Lin notes: “We try to run our business in a way that benefits everything that we touch in a positive way. I have so much pride in not just the work that we put out but also the relationships that we’ve built over time…[but ] really what we’re trying to do is push ourselves to bring real, lasting beauty into the world and to seek out our contribution to the greater good.”

Colony’s NYC showroom; Photos by Alan Tansey (left) and Charlie Schuck (right). Courtesy of Colony

What’s one piece of advice you wish you’d been given when you began your career? 

“I wish someone had reassured me that hard work can and does pay off. When youre starting out in any industry, career, or endeavor, adversity can feel insurmountable. Feeling small in a big industry can drive you to make choices that arent right for your career. Having confidence in what you bring to the table is so hard at first, but so important, and I wish I had that foresight then.”

Name one other amazing woman or woman-led business in the design world today who inspires you.

“I refuse to name just one! So many of the studios we work with are women-led and provide camaraderie, community, support, and inspiration on a daily basis. At Colony alone are Allied Maker (Lanette Rizzo), A Space (Anna Aristova and Roza Gazarian), Bec Brittain, Flat Vernacular (Payton Turner), Grain (Chelsea Minola), Hiroko Takeda, Meg Callahan Studio, Moving Mountains (Syrette Lew) and Vonnegut/Kraft (Katrina Vonnegut). Madeleine Parsons, who works here at Colony as our Art Director, is my right hand and soundboard and contributes unending energy and dedication to our work. Behind every great woman is a whole community of great women holding her up.”

 

Malene Barnett, Artist, Activist, and Founder of BADG

Artist and activist Malene Barnett; Photo © Quinn Russell Brown

Award-winning multidisciplinary artist and activist Malene Barnett centers her creative practice on the modern Black experience, exploring ways to reflect the Black narrative while raising awareness about racial inequality in America. In addition to her own studio work—which spans ceramics, mixed media paintings, and handwoven rugs—Barnett is founder of the Black Artist + Designers Guild (aka BADG), a collective of independent Black artists, makers, and designers dedicated to “building a more equitable and inclusive creative culture by advancing a community of independent Black makers in creative industries.”

Malene Barnett’s Adire 6 and Adire 1; Courtesy of the artist

Whats the best piece of advice youve received in your career?

“After ten years of designing, the best piece of advice I received was from Jasmine Takanikos from Candor Branding. After a consultation on rebranding my design business, she told me that Im an artist—and to embrace it. I welcomed her advice, and now I ground my design practice with an artistic thought process of research, materials, and techniques at the center of anything I design. So now I tell all budding creatives to stay true to their voice.”

Name one amazing woman in the design world who inspires you.

“We often overlook those who support creatives behind the scenes through media relations and collectives. My amazing woman pick is Tiana Webb Evans, founder of ESP Group. Although Tiana is masterful in communications for artists and designers, her advocacy for Black diasporic creative futures has resulted in founding two platforms, Jamaica Arts Society, a celebration of Jamaican visual arts, and Yard concept, a cultural investigation collective consciousness journal. Im always inspired by those who believe in the power of collectives.”

 

Lora Appleton, Founder of kinder MODERN and Female Design Council

Lora Appleton, founder of kinder MODERN and FDC; Image courtesy of Appleton

Lora Appleton is the founder of kinder MODERN, a gallery specializing in inspiring children’s design, as well as the Female Design Council, an organization dedicated to nurturing a strong professional community for ALL female identifying individuals in design. FDC has grown dramatically in its first few years—reflecting a clear demand for an entity of its kind.

“Our vision is for ALL female-identifying individuals from all disciplines, color, and socioeconomic backgrounds to be represented properly and fairly within the design industry and in the media, and to provide access to professional opportunities for all womxn to succeed in their creative careers.”

“Deeper than Text,” an exhibition presented by FDC and 1st Dibs during NYCxDESIGN 2019. The show was curated by Appleton. Photo © Pernille Loof

What’s the best piece of advice youve received in your career?

“When it comes to creative work, first focus on the creativity and not all the other stuff (expenses, selling, marketing, etc). You can get very caught up in the wrong things and take your focus off of what matters. If you focus on the actual work—the creativity—you follow the truth.”

Name one amazing female-identifying person in the design world today who inspires you.

“I am inspired by so many womxn, and I am especially lucky to meet so many female driven initiatives via the Female Design Council, including Laura Young, Gallery Director at The Future Perfect. Laura is someone Ive been inspired by for a long time, especially as I’ve watched her rise in the design ranks to put on some of the most impactful contemporary design exhibitions in the last 5+ years. Her eye for talent and construction is enviable, and she enables growth in her designers and her team. In addition, Laura is always working to bring more diverse designers and womxn onto the TFP roster. I am most inspired by how Laura has the same 24 hours in a day we all do, but manages to eke out double the time, given her incredible design efforts.”

 

Alia Williams, Managing Director of Jeffrey Deitch, New York 

Alia Wiliams; Photo by Janice Chung. Courtesy of Alia Williams and Jeffrey Deitch, New York

In just a few short years at legendary gallery Jeffrey Deitch in New York, Alia Williams has already made a big splash. Most recently, Williams curated the celebrated 2021 exhibition Clay Pop, which spotlit a new generation of artists reinventing the often undervalued field of ceramic sculpture. Embracing the medium to share personal narratives, the featured artists explore popular culture and pressing social topics—including issues of  gender, race, and identity. As Williams has noted, “Artists are taking a traditional medium and turning it on its head.” Outside the gallery, Williams is engaged with Entre Nous, the networking collective and supper club founded by gallerist Courtney Willis Blair to support Black women working in the art world.

From right: Woody De Othello’s It is what it is (2021) and Bari Ziperstein’s Farm Labor: Handwork + Technology  (2021). Photos by Genevieve Hanson; Courtesy of the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, New York

The best piece of advice youve received in your career?

“The best advice I received was to see as much art as possible.  See gallery shows, visit museum exhibitions, and travel to see public projects when you can so that you can truly immerse yourself in the art world.”

Name an amazing woman or woman-led business active in the creative world today who inspires you. 

“All of the women in Entre Nous inspire me daily!”

 

Jenny Nguyen, Founder of Hello Human

Hello Human founder Jenny Nguyen. Photo by Jonathan Hokklo; © Hello Human

Longtime communications specialist Jenny Nguyen launched her firm, Hello Human, in the height of the pandemic, after recognizing a disconnect between the PR industry’s traditional business model and the people she’s most passionate about supporting: independent creatives.

Working as a communications collective composed of freelance PR experts around the globe, Hello Human aims to make PR more “accessible, transparent, and approachable.” It offers a range of flat-fee services so small businesses can pay for only what they need, when they need it, at a fraction of the cost of traditional PR. In this way, Nguyen says, “We give our clients access to the share of voice that they deserve; the majority of our clients are emerging, BIPOC, or female-owned or social impact businesses—and I believe they should be taking up more space in the media landscape.”

What’s the best piece of advice youve received in your career so far?

“I am very lucky to have met a woman, Liz Friedman, a publicist-turned-fundraiser-turned-jewelry designer (in her retirement). She has become a hugely important mentor. She took me in and taught me everything she learned about perseverance and dealing with people through her incredible stories of growing up in New York City. The biggest lesson I learned from her was to continue to get out there and connect with people, even when you’re down in the dumps, because this is the only way that opportunities can happen upon you.

A few weeks ago I met Judy Dobias, the legendary founder of Camron PR, for the first time, and she gave me similar advice—that conversation sparks ideas and opportunity! I am lucky to have had this advice to follow because conversation and connection is truly the backbone of what I have built up until today.”

Name one other amazing woman or woman-led business in the design world today who inspires you.

“Lately I have been working with the female and WOC-led team at San Francisco-based spatial experience design studio ADITIONS. We came together through the BIPOC non-profit creative community at Office Hours, and are now working to co-curate an exhibition at Alcova for Milan Design Week 2022.

I’m inspired by the work they do to lift up the underrepresented design community, with their recent pop-up exhibition, which highlights Bay-area designers, and how committed and thoughtful and open they have been as we work together to design a showcase that surveys female and BIPOC designers that make up the creative voices of American design today. It is heartening for me personally to have connected with so many people in design that share this commitment to making changes in our industry, because it’s so telling of the future that we hold together.” ◆

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