In 2020, Jomo Tariku, a furniture designer who was born in Kenya and raised in Ethiopia and who had a second career as a data scientist with the World Bank, was preparing to give a lecture at Princeton University. Combing through the websites of 161 international furniture companies, he found that of the 4,399 designers that these companies employed, by his reckoning, only 14, or 0.03 percent, were Black.
It was a statistic heard round the world. Black Lives Matter activism had been catalyzing efforts to diversify design. After decades of designing handmade furniture in Springfield, Va., near Washington, and struggling for notice from manufacturers that could put the designs into production, Mr. Tariku suddenly became a star.
His Meedo chair, modeled on a hair pick, was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His three-legged Nyala chair, inspired by an antelope, is among the five pieces he contributed to the film sets of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Recently, he arranged his first licensing deal.
“It took me 30 years to get here,” said Mr. Tariku, 54, “and I don’t want it to die with me.” He said he is intent on boosting the careers of other Black designers, like those in the Black Artists + Designers Guild, a nonprofit platform and mentorship organization that he helped to get off the ground in 2018.
“We keep saying design is a global language. Well, it did not include us,” he said. “What’s the global part?”
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