In North America, product and furniture manufacturing has been plagued by stiff offshore competition, almost back-to-back recessions and dwindling consumer loyalty. The industry has seen increased downsizing in overall manufacturing and resistance to invest in prototyping and updating of equipment by manufacturers. It’s survival of the fittest. Couple that with the notion that most female designers steer into research instead of product development, as noted by design scribe Alissa Walker, and what you have is a ginormous gap – which is ironic since it’s women who have the greater purchasing power when it comes to consumer goods.
It may be some time before we see six women grace the pages of a highly circulated general interest magazine, á la mid-century icons Nelson, Eames and Bertoia here. Yet female designers, whether working on an international or local scale, are creating unique products, furnishings and concepts that push the boundaries of critical thinking, innovation and risk tasking.
Such ingenuity is on full display in 5%: Against the Odds – Canadian Women in Industrial Design, an exhibit at Cambridge Galleries (running til January 15) that lauds the prolific work of seven Canadian female designers who have achieved international success and have collectively accumulated 125 years of practical experience.
Here’s why these seven designers stand out:
Toronto’s Diane Crouteau is the brain behind the Actar 911 Manikin, used in CPR training and exported to more than 15 countries.
Helen Kerr, also of Toronto, has created a line of smart and beautiful healthcare seating options for Sittris, a subsidiary of contract furnishing giant Keilhauer, which includes lab stools and waiting room chairs.
Amsterdam’s Michelle Ivankovic used to oversee the art direction of Umbra’s luxury U+ collection. Her Strass stool for the line is now part of the permanent collection at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum.
Patty Johnson is a leader in driving collaboration between manufacturers and artisans in developing countries. The Liana chair is made from kufa by Liana Cane, a Guyanese company that works exclusively with renewable materials.
Cynthia Hathaway examines the world through a magnifying glass, exploring contemporary applications to traditional craft. She recently presented the XXL City concept for Droog to a packed audience at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel. It explores feeding entire neighbourhoods by growing giant-sized food, like large hares and much larger pumpkins.
Rachel Dacks, a Toronto-raised and Savannah-based furniture designer, has contributed unique pieces to the home furnishing collections of retail giants Target and Loblaws President’s Choice.
Diane Bisson, who studies the relationship between food and design, showcased her food nests – edible bowls that eschew the need for disposable containers – during Milan design week last April.