Spotlight: New York Times Features Jomo Tariku

Jomo Tariku manages Jomo Furniture, his company featuring modern African design while also working at the World Bank as a data scientist and graphic designer. (The New York Times)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Updated: October 4th, 2020

New York (TADIAS) — Jomo Tariku, whom we have featured several times on our website, is one of the leading industrial designers at the forefront of a movement to break wide open the gates of opportunity for Black designers – who to date have little representation in the sector.

So it’s both exciting and reassuring to see that Jomo was one of the people prominently featured in a recent New York Times article aptly tilted “Opening the Doors of Design.” The paper notes: A tiny proportion of designers are Black, but a host of new initiatives, as well as evolving tastes, are working to right the imbalance” in the wake of the new Black renaissance ignited by the death of George Floyd last spring.”

“In areas of public relations and exposing my work it has been going very well,” Jomo told Tadias speaking about how Jomo Furniture is doing at the moment given the pandemic and BLM. “I was not expecting this much attention during the pandemic but because of the work we have been doing under the umbrella of Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG) things took off when Black Lives Matter exploded again, to be followed by Black Out Tuesday that advocated for supporting black business.” He added: “On the flip side the pandemic has affected sales and production and things are a bit slow. There is some sign though that might change very soon.”

Jomo, who is also a data scientist employed by the World Bank, is a big believer in the power of visual communication. He was one of the guest speakers on the lack of representation in the furniture design industry during the International Designers Conference last month. “I convinced the organizers to change it to a panel discussion with other black furniture designers,” he told us. “It is probably the first time where 4 black furniture designers appeared together for a panel discussion.” He continued: “I asked for this arrangement so people see that we are more than a couple of people in this industry. We covered the areas of our own personal journey and where we are right now and giving advice to young and up-and-coming black designers.”

In addition, Jomo did a similar presentation at Princeton last February on greater inclusion of Black designers, which “became a hot topic on Business of Home, DeZeen and now The New York Times.

“It proved to me again the power of data and doing your homework has a great value,” Jomo said. “It showed to many that we were not talking about anecdotal incidents.”

The New York times reports that the high-end furnishings business generated an estimated $25 billion in worldwide sales in 2019 with a very tiny portion going to Black designers.

Per NYT:

That is exactly what Jomo Tariku, a Virginia–based Ethiopian-reared designer, did to compile a report that found that less than one percent of all furnishings produced by top international brands are by Black designers.

In addition to running his studio, Jomo Furniture, Mr. Tariku works as a graphic designer and data scientist for the World Bank. He initially undertook his research to put some numbers — which he concedes are scientifically imprecise — to his own experience of feeling like the only Black person at many industry events.

“I’d go to trade shows, but people don’t take you seriously as a Black designer because they don’t know — they’ve never met one,” said Mr. Tariku, whose work marries traditional African forms with digital modeling and a crisp, minimalist aesthetic. “When I’d ask for the name or the contact info of a company’s creative director, what I’d get is a blank stare or, ‘He’s not available.’ I don’t know if white designers face the same thing.”

As Mr. Tariku found, if you scan the designer pages of top furnishings companies you might see two or three Black faces out of dozens — or none at all.

Jomo shared with Tadias that he is currently dealing with two world renowned museums that are reviewing his work. “But I really can’t say much more than that until they announce it first,” he said. “I am working on two new chair designs and additional stools also, but the main focus is releasing my stools by Christmas.”

All Jomo furniture items are custom orders and built in the US. His work can be viewed at www.jomotariku.com and current progress can be followed at instagram.com/jomofurniture

Related:

Opening the Doors of Design (The New York Times)

Contemporary Design Africa Book Features Jomo Tariku’s Ethiopia Furniture

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