Update: Home furnishings industry reacts to HB2’s impact on High Point Market
April 6, 2016,
The home furnishings community responded in force after the High Point Market Authority issued a statement cautioning that North Carolina’s House Bill 2 could negatively impact the April 16-20 market, and by extension the state’s economy.
The Market Authority said it has heard from “dozens of customers” who plan to boycott the spring market over the controversial bill, which was passed by the North Carolina legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory on March 23 after a one-day session.
“As leaders and organizers of the High Point Market, we feel an obligation to inform the public and our government leaders in Raleigh of the significant economic damage that HB2 is having on the High Point Market and on the North Carolina economy,” the Market Authority said in its statement. “Based on the reaction in just the last few days, hundreds and perhaps thousands of our customers will not attend Market this April.”
A visit to the Market Authority's Facebook page shows extensive feedback on the law and multiple threats of boycotts, as well as people speaking out in favor of attending the show, despite their opposition to the legislation.
The American Society of Interior Designers, which represents 26,000 interior design professionals, manufacturers and industry representatives, issued a statement April 1 calling laws such as HB2 "unacceptable and counterproductive for business and the profession at large." While the organization will proceed with its scheduled programming at the spring High Point Market, it will "evaluate future interactions and business opportunities in North Carolina as well as other states with similar laws."
"A thriving business environment depends on inclusive practices that welcome all who want to participate," ASID said in the statement. "In fact, North Carolina prides itself on being one of the top states in the nation in which to conduct business and to establish businesses. Yet HB2 sends a clear and harmful message to the contrary. As a result, numerous businesses and consumers are calling for boycotts of North Carolina’s economy and, more specifically, the upcoming biannual High Point Market; one of the largest income producers for the state of North Carolina.
"Members of the design community have not only joined these calls, but also are forgoing participation at High Point Market — at a cost to their businesses. ASID commends their actions in the name of pressuring the governor and legislature to rescind HB2.
"Similarly, ASID supports those individuals attending market who wish to champion the many manufacturers and businesses speaking out against the new law. Laws such as HB2 that permit discrimination are regressive and place individuals at risk of being denied service, lodging, employment, and business in general. Therefore, ASID encourages anyone attending market to ask hard questions of the organizations they do business with and to consider carefully, and morally, where they spend their money."
Chris Bruning and his companies, Groovystuff and Chris Bruning Collections, have been attending High Point Market for years, not only as exhibitors in the Suites at Market Square, but also as the organizers and sponsors of Groovystuff by Design, a program that has showcased the accessories and furniture designs of more than 500 students from across the country. Bruning said that after years of supporting and "building up" the High Point Market, he's "exhausted just thinking of how to repair the damage" this has caused the venue.
In a letter to the High Point Market Authority and IMC, Bruning stressed his concerns about safety, dignity and liability:
"Due to the extreme nature the HB2 employs at the expense of individuals that are FREE and ENTITLED to the SAME rights and respect of ALL other FREE and sovereign people, I will have no choice but to look after the safety and well-being of my staff and the customers we choose to do business with and cease all business relations with IMC Properties. If the safety and dignity of those subject to these intolerable laws are put at risk then that action would make Groovystuff directly liable and open to litigation by knowingly and purposefully putting my employees and customers at risk from being forced to do business at the High Point Market.
"Legal contract or no legal contract, if the safety and human decency of any Groovystuff employees and customers are put at risk by the passage of the HB2, then I will NOT endorse the High Point Market after our contract expires in 2016. Groovystuff will NOT take responsibility for the enforcement of these policies and will not be subject to them where we do business. In addition, as the President of Groovystuff I do not wish to witness any members of the general public, facilities management, police or state agency abuse the sovereign rights of ANY of my employees, colleagues, or customers courteously visiting the High Point Market to do business. Please advise what can be done to ensure the safety of my employees, customers and the patrons attending The High Point Market or Groovystuff will be forced to remove ourselves from this open liability concern."
In a letter to the editor sent to Furniture/Today, Claus Ihlemann, president of Virginia-based retailer Decorum Furniture, said he, husband Robert Roman and the store's staff will not attend market this spring because of HB2.
"Since 2003, Robert and I have been actively supporting Equality Virginia, and the Human Rights Campaign," Ihlemann said. "It is so important that all Americans can enjoy the same rights and freedom, and that discrimination is fought at every level across this nation. We are both totally shocked by recent developments in both Georgia and North Carolina and cannot remain quiet or indifferent to this situation."
Currey & Company issued a statement last week saying the lighting, accent furniture and accessories manufacturer is "deeply disappointed" by the passage of HB2.
"We oppose this measure to undermine equality for all and discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This legislation is contrary to our core values, which reflect inclusion and diversity as strengths, not weaknesses. Since 1988, our mission statement has been to serve our customers, owners and employees in an exemplary manner through a culture in which all are encouraged to flourish. We take our commitment to these words very seriously and have long enjoyed fruitful, productive relationships with many talented individuals, including members of the LGBTQ community.
"Currey & Company has been conducting business in North Carolina for many years and knows that the spirit of this law is not reflective of the wonderful people with which we have had the pleasure of working. We are looking forward to this year’s High Point Market, and as always, we endeavor to create a warm, inviting environment in our showroom for all to enjoy."
Interior designer Jill Gordon said she will not attend the spring High Point Market because of HB2's passage.
"As an interior designer who deals with many furniture and design companies that are based in North Carolina, I am appalled at the passage of HB2," Gordon said. "I will monitor the companies that I deal with to see their response to this odious legislation and will seek other options for my business accordingly. This law needs to be repealed as soon as possible and I expect all North Carolina-based companies doing business in the interior design trade to zealously work towards this end."
North Carolina-based home furnishings brand Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams condemned the law last week.
“The Republican-led North Carolina senate seems determined on passing draconian laws at the expense of North Carolina’s economy and worse, citizens,” Mitchell Gold, co-founder and chairman of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, said in a statement. “Despite numerous businesses threatening to pull jobs and conferences from our great state, Governor Pat McCrory is set into taking North Carolina back decades.
“This law is a complete farce being driven by ignorance and anti-LGBT animus. As a North Carolinian, as a business man, and as a gay man – I couldn’t be more disappointed with Governor Pat McCrory signing bill HB2 into law. Not only is this an attack on the LGBT community, it’s an attack on our economy. Indiana lost an estimated $60 million last year due to its anti-LGBT legislation. Has Governor McCrory given any thought to how this affects hundreds of businesses based in North Carolina?”
House Bill 2 overrides an anti-discrimination ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council in February that would have allowed transgender people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. It also overturned nondiscrimination policies of 22 other localities, and was pushed through in a 12-hour emergency session – which limited time for business owners and concerned citizens to react in support or opposition.
“We are extremely disappointed with the passing of HB2," said Staley Keener, president and CEO of Leathercraft. "For 50 years Leathercraft has welcomed everyone into our showrooms. We cherish our relationships and associations with interior designers, many of whom are members of the LGBT community. We believe in inclusion and will continue to welcome everyone into our showrooms including the upcoming market in April.”
The Sustainable Furnishings Council sent a letter to McCrory and the North Carolina General Assmebly urging them to repeal the law.
"The Sustainable Furnishings Council, a North Carolina-based organization comprised of 400 member companies in the furnishings industry, is appalled by the passage of HB2 in the North Carolina General Assembly and by the Governor's signing it,” the statement said. “The discrimination this law condones is contrary to our principles and values. Furthermore, the law is a detriment to our industry and the economic well-being of our state. We call on the Governor and our legislators to repeal the law and work assiduously to reverse the damage it is causing.”
"The small mindedness of the legislators who pushed HB2 through their system will negatively impact the home furnishings market in North Carolina. It has already started," luxury linen producer Ann Gish told Home Accents Today. "There are plenty of other venues in which to buy product, and I am sure that many of my customers will be using these alternative ways instead of visiting High Point. I feel embarrassed once again for the intolerance shown in our country. I am really angry about this."
A company statement from Theodore Alexander encouraged others in the industry to join the manufacturer in taking a stand against HB2 while "continuing to support and patronize the many manufacturers, designers and tradespeople in High Point that have always stood up for, and believed in the beauty of, diversity."
"I am extremely dismayed by the passage of HB2," said interior designer Jamie Drake, one of the company's design partners. "I feel lucky to live in a modern world, and work in an industry that has been open to all for years. The design industry is one of inclusiveness and individuality. I implore the people of North Carolina to demand of their elected representatives that the law be repealed immediately, and reverse this step backwards."
"As a symbol of support and solidarity for our design community and for basic freedom from discrimination in North Carolina and throughout our country, I am pleased to partner with Theodore Alexander in donating funds to The Trevor Project," said designer Michael Berman, who is launching a collection with Theodore Alexander this market. "The Trevor Project focuses on crisis and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth while helping many young and talented individuals who are desperate to be heard, understood, work and live within safe environments.“
Steve Mittman, owner of Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman, released a statement in opposition to what he calls a “far-reaching and blatantly discriminatory law.”
“EF+LM has been producing furniture in North Carolina since 1985 with honesty, integrity and diversity the center of our core values," he said. "We deplore any effort to exclude or discriminate against any person on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. Our relationship with the LGBT community, and the interior design community at large, is cherished and deeply personal. We will work to continue to provide a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone.”
Andrew Joseph of Andrew Joseph PR launched a social media campaign encouraging vendors, designers and retailers to share photos of themselves with signs that read “Design Don’t Discriminate,” along with the hashtag #DesignAgainstHB2.
“Working in a community of designers and manufacturers that have always been supportive and protective, I stand up against HB2 to support and protect those within this community as well as those this bill directly affects,” Dwayne Clark of Dwayne Clark Interior Design Management Group said in a Facebook post signed with the #DesignAgainstHB2 hashtag. “I will be attending this spring's High Point Market to support not the Governor of North Carolina, but the people of our industry. I speak out against hate, discrimination and division to protect my fellow LGBTQT men and women all over the world. Let's go further and find the same rage and indignation at the rest of a world that would not just allow, but promote discrimination and violence against any group targeted for their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.”
John Strauss of John Strauss Furniture Design and Design Legacy's Kelly O'Neal encouraged the law's opponents to show their support for the industry by attending market and to protest HB2 in other ways.
“As a vendor showing in High Point, we have paid our rent, we have made our samples, we have staked our company's livelihood on having a successful market," Strauss said. "So you can imagine how it feels to see what North Carolina has done with HB2, and to disagree with the governor and the republican state legislature's actions but not be able to have a business survive a boycott of the market. Please show your displeasure by writing the governor, by hashtagging #wearenotthis, by protesting in public. But please do not hurt small companies like mine, do not hurt the employees who depend on #hpmkt and let us focus on making changes for now and for the future. High Point Market Authority has come out against HB2 which was shoved through the State House in 12 hours under protest from the democrats. Consider who you are hurting by not attending and then attend. I will give you a hug, fist bump and smile of support to be there and help to defeat the real villains.”
“Design Legacy will be passing out buttons promoting equality for all Americans as well as incorporating tolerance into our marketing materials for the show," O'Neal told Home Accents Today. "Contrary to the poor decision made by N.C. Governor McCrory, our industry has a thriving and diverse group of people who must stand up and carry on with their business by showing up for markets. We strongly urge all buyers to show up and support all businesses, large and small, who make up this industry. Not doing so would have a devastating effect on those not responsible for this unjust bill.”
In its March 31 newsletter, Design Campus suggested ways to support the design industry while still expressing opposition to HB2, including making travel arrangements with companies that have spoken out against the bill like American Airlines, researching which companies support the bill before making purchases at market and sending letters to McCrory, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and Speaker of the House Tim Moore.
"We at Design Campus do not discriminate regardless of race, religion, color, national origin, age, handicap, sexual preference, or gender," the newsletter said. "We would like to implore everyone in our community to rise above this injustice, join forces to end discrimination, and continue to support our friends and family in the design industry."
Will you boycott the market this spring or protest in some other fashion? Why or why not?
If you’re willing to make an on-the-record statement, please comment on this article or email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will continue to report on House Bill 2 and its potential impact on the market at www.homeaccentstoday.com and in our April print edition at market.
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