Orejen Stories

A new collaboration between the Black Artists + Designers Guild and S. Harris honors sources of black and indigenous craft
Large group of stylish men and women smiling for camera.

Above Image: The Black Artists + Designers Guild Founder Malene Barnett (in red dress) and fellow members. Photo by Alaric S. Campbell.

By Alisa Carroll

A pilgrimage across spiritual and geographic territories, the new Orejen collection seeks to bring source to light. Launching this month, the collaboration between the Black Artists + Designers Guild (BADG) and S. Harris celebrates artisan traditions of East Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, paying homage to craft origins while giving them a modern spin.

The vision, which began as a conversation between Jodi Finer, creative director of S. Harris, and Malene Barnett, founder of BADG, grew into a collection of 77 fabrics, wall coverings, and trims designed by five members of the Guild: Barnett and interior designers Rayman Boozer, Erin Shakoor, Linda Hayslett, and Beth Diana Smith. Their designs delve into the heritage and spiritual traditions of Bhutan, Zanzibar, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. The Utu fabric, for example, is a patterned sheer inspired by the Maori concept of balance, while the Ukili wall covering reflects a traditional form of basket weaving practiced in Zanzibar. As Boozer shares, “Part of the goal of the Orejen line is to expand upon people’s basic understandings and highlight the roots and trajectories of different cultures.”

We spoke with Finer about the story behind the collection.

Seating area with many colors and patterns visible in fabrics, wallcoverings, and furniture.

Orejen fabrics, trimmings, and wallcoverings (top to bottom): Moko in Jewel; Hingtham in Clay; Pemba Coast in Jewel and Basil; Moa in Turmeric; Chatai in Flame; Magani in Brass; Patu in Flame (tape); Whitiki in Lapis Bark (tape); Guild Velvet in Wisteria and Pebble; Spice Cotton in Carbon. Photo courtesy of S. Harris.

How did you first begin working with the Black Artists + Designers Guild?
I learned of Malene Barnett through her activism. We met at a ceramics studio, where she was doing a residency, to discuss her ideas and products, and that conversation led to cohosting a luncheon for new members of the Guild at Fabricut’s New York showroom. From there we continued our friendship, and the conversation led to a first-of-its-kind collaboration between BADG and S. Harris.

Would you share how the collaboration evolved?
It’s been two and a half years in the works. We put out a call to action to the Guild for members to submit ideas for an impact-driven product collaboration. Originally, the intention was to pick one candidate, but the concepts were all so strong and complementary that we decided to license the work of five designers for the collection.

How do BADG and S. Harris’s values inform the collection?
Both are platforms to provide ample visibility for voices of change, beautiful design, and community-driven endeavors. It was important that we were able to come together on topics that are equally important to both brands: social impact and responsible inspiration.

“African culture has a lot of amazing craftsmanship that has been used through commercial applications, but most people didn’t know the history of where the artistry came from. The void being filled is a collection created with African-American designers who know the industry well, bringing the artistry from our cultures to the forefront with conviction.”

– Jodi Finer

Two images showing textured wallcovering up close with complementary patterned pillows in front and a larger image of matching wallcovering and upholstered furniture.

Would you walk us through one or two of the designs—their materiality and meaning?
Nyota is a foil-printed velvet fabric from the East Africa/Zanzibar collection. In Swahili, nyota means “star.” Its myriad circular, triangular, and crescent shapes evoke the reflection of the moon and stars on Zanzibar’s coastline. Mantra is a wall covering from the Southeast Asia/Bhutan collection. Mantras are of course sacred words or phrases, which are also written on the surfaces of prayer wheels throughout Buddhist temples across Bhutan. Each bespoke panel is hand-painted, cut, and rolled onto a metal ground.

Another inspiring aspect of the collaboration is that proceeds from sales go to BADG.
All royalties from the Orejen collection go to support BADG. Our intention for each collection at S. Harris is to stand for something bigger, deeper—we make it our goal to inspire the design community through educational and empowering stories built on change. We are fortunate to be in a position where we can give back to the industry that supports us, so the collaboration with the Guild was in perfect alignment with our mission. 

S. Harris has a Statement of Responsible Inspiration, which notes, “It’s imperative to our creative process to recognize the contributions of artists and creatives from a wide array of diverse backgrounds…A continued diligence is key to ensuring that visibility is brought forth and original work is acknowledged.”
In creating the Orejen collection, as with all collections we develop, we wanted to be thoughtful in our interpretations of the designs that inspire us. Our Statement of Responsible Inspiration is a reminder to hold ourselves accountable for educating ourselves about craft, motif, and culture, while building on what has already been provided and communicating those ideas effectively.

Two images, one of a kitchen and one of a living room suite with a mixture of colors and textures.

The Soul Center (left) designed by Kelly Finley of Joy Street Design and the Royal Suite by Erin Shakoor of Shakoor Interiors in the Obsidian Virtual Concept House. Photos courtesy of Black Artists + Designers Guild.

Of course, the San Francisco design community is thrilled to have the BADG Obsidian Concept House virtually sited in Oakland. Can Orejen be seen in the home?
Yes, Erin Shakoor of Shakoor Interiors featured the Maji Velvet, Fernroot jacquard, and Patu tape in her Royal Suite bedroom.

For more on the Black Artists + Designers Guild and the Obsidian Virtual Concept House visit badguild.com

Two Henry Adams Street, Suite 2M-33
San Francisco, CA 94103