The Orejen collection by the Black Artists + Designers Guild for textile manufacturer S. Harris is exactly as its name (phonetically) suggests—a deep dive into the landscapes, heritage, and craft traditions of the cultures referenced by each fabric, wallcovering, and trimming. From the sandy shores of Zanzibar's coast to traditional headdresses worn in Bhutan to rituals of indigenous groups in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, each piece represents a carefully researched cultural narrative.
Similarities in craft techniques across the chosen locales—East Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands—enabled the BA+DG designers, led by founder Malene Barnett, and the S. Harris team to form a cohesive aesthetic, drawing on traditional forms of braiding, beading, and woodworking. “This collection represents a new foundation in storytelling through colors, textures, and materials, by attributing the multiplicity of inspirations to all of its sources,” explains Barnett, joined by Guild collaborators Rayman Boozer
"We really tried to define, differentiate, and then symbolize the importance of these different cultures," affirms Jodi Finer, creative director of S. Harris, who first met Barnett at an event in 2018. The two recognized a natural synergy in each other's work and, soon after, planted the seeds for what would become the Orejen collection. Countless hours of research, from pre-pandemic museum visits to searches for artisans on social media, went into creating the 77-SKU textile collection, which features novelty yarns, prints on linens, and boucle textures, to name a few. And since the areas represented are "ripe with intel," as Shakoor notes, the team worked tirelessly to ensure local traditions were thoughtfully incorporated into the collection. For example, given that some pieces reference New Zealand, Finer sought out a local resource there to utilize a wool blend from the region.
"When we started the conversation, all of the creators had a conversation about place and geography and it became clear that some of us very much wanted to work with unexpected and undiscovered regions in the design world," says Shakoor. "We were all tired of seeing an industry that was very, very white-washed and we wanted to highlight all the amazing Black makers, artists, and designers," adds Smith.
In addition to shedding light on underrepresented cultures, the royalties from the collection will directly benefit BA+DG, which means the designers donated their time, skills, and resources to help enhance the Guild's mission. "Every designer who was a part of this collaboration did it with such an incredibly generous spirit," Finer points out. "They did this to benefit their organization that they believe in so much, which is so rare... That should be commended." And they are eager to continue doing so.
"The collaborative part of this has been a thrill—to be working one-on-one in this dynamic group of people and to be hashing it out and figuring it out... I want to do this all the time," Shakoor asserts with a smile. "I'm really proud to have been a part of this," Smith adds, noting that like BA+DG, which was founded to help support BIPOC designers and artisans, the Orejen collection carries the same mission.