Dismantling barriers to create spaces that make an impact.
It’s no secret that the corporate world has struggled to create spaces that reflect their employees and communities. While many want to evolve, inequality lingers in office design, and progress to change has been slow. The barriers start at the development phase. The commercial real estate industry traditionally uses the same furniture and decor suppliers over and over again—and this list falls short in terms of diversity. When attempting to diversify, many rely on a government-mandated minority-owned business checklist that adds additional bureaucratic challenges and ultimately may not be supporting the right people. On top of that, when Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) small business owners are offered opportunities, there is often an element of financial risk for their business and other obstacles they have to overcome.
At Porter, we believe that inclusive design is non-negotiable. For our team, an inclusivity-focused experience begins on day one of every project. We create spaces and experiences where everyone belongs—these solutions start with a diverse team of thinkers, makers, and small businesses.
A global technology company based in Redmond, Washington, partnered with Porter to bring our two decades’ worth of design excellence, expertise, and DEI initiatives to their nationwide office renovation project. We were tasked with helping to outfit every North American office with furniture, decor, and related services.
This company had recently expanded its offices to Atlanta, Georgia. The vision was to design a campus that reflected the unique Atlanta culture and felt welcoming to every employee. They wanted to bring in decor that was special and had a “wow factor”—moving away from the generic look and feel of traditional corporate spaces.
This particular company approached us with these goals because they wanted to do things differently and knew that we had the expertise to guide them through the process and craft an experience that celebrated diversity in an authentic way.
The small business dilemma
It was crucial to include BIPOC-owned small businesses and makers in this project. However, one of the challenges we were cognizant of was how risky it is for a small business to take on a project of this magnitude where 60, 90, and even 120-day payment terms are standard practice. It can be very intimidating to work with a corporate client. While these big projects have the potential to be an amazing opportunity, they can also potentially damage a small business financially. A small business can’t run solely off of its cash flow. Small business owners can’t always commit to an expensive project if they’re not paid upfront.
In order to partner with small businesses, we needed to ensure that this was a sound financial decision for their business too.
Make supporting small businesses a priority
One way to make this corporate campus feel at home in Atlanta? Bring in local small businesses and makers. We invited LaToya Tucciarone, owner and founder of SustainAble Home Goods—an Atlanta-based home goods store—to lead the interior decor initiative as our decor stylist. Her unique business brings together local and global artists. She connects with every artist and learns the story behind each piece. The end result was a space filled with meaningful decor choices that were beautiful, personalized, ethically sourced, and made employees feel like they were in a special space designed just for them.
We knew this project was an opportunity, but also a huge risk, for a small business like LaToya’s to accept. As LaToya explained, “We didn’t want to get into a position as a business where we would have to choose between this really great opportunity or keeping our business.”
Many corporations do want to bring in a more diverse team of makers; however, the industry is built to accommodate large manufacturers, not small, local teams. While there may be an allocated fund for small BIPOC businesses, when faced with structural challenges, these efforts to be inclusive are often abandoned to save money. In order to be a supportive partner to LaToya’s team, we knew that we had to do more than provide an opportunity—we needed to address and dismantle the barriers head-on.
We launched our Makers Program to tackle challenges just like this one. The Makers Program was designed to identify and assist BIPOC makers and manufacturers interested in scaling their business in corporate channels. The program embodies our values of inclusivity and offers highly talented people a seat at a table traditionally rooted in inequality. The goals of this initiative are:
- To create wealth for BIPOC business owners
- To build a pipeline for BIPOC talent into the real estate industry
- To nurture and promote BIPOC talent in the industry
We not only enable our makers to succeed in the corporate space but also educate our corporate partners on how best to support small BIPOC-led businesses. This education carries on long after the project, empowering corporations to continue to partner with diverse creators in future projects—ethically.
The end result: Introducing the Makers Program
“The Makers Program creates a platform for makers and designers to shine. Porter does a great job seeing the problems, seeing the lack of opportunities, but also seeing the barriers—like how small businesses can’t go ninety or one-hundred-twenty days not getting paid. This makes the program an effective tool for makers. They present these amazing opportunities, but they also knock down the barriers that would keep me from being able to take advantage of the opportunities.” — LaToya Tucciarone, founding member of the Makers Program
We have continued to build out our Makers Program and add more amazing BIPOC businesses to the roster. The goal of the Makers Program is not just to provide opportunities but to address and remove barriers that stand in the way of talented BIPOC creators. Now, we automatically offer every corporate client the opportunity to work with these talented designers, makers, and creators.
Introducing diverse thinking at this early stage sets the tone for corporations to foster an inclusive culture moving forward. Building on our experience partnering with large corporations and small businesses, we have crafted a process that can help bridge the gap between these two worlds—ultimately creating successful collaborations in our industry.
We’d like to thank LaToya Tucciarone for sharing her experience with us. LaToya has recently launched a new venture: RA/RE. Based in Atlanta, RA/RE specializes in regenerative design and curation. They create unique spaces that are not about consumption but creation with a focus on customized curation that is rooted in community and connection—which benefits all who partake in the process as equals.