Today we are celebrating International Women’s Day 2023 and have chosen to highlight a wonderful selection of truly inspirational women who are vital members of the commercial interiors sector, each playing a different role. We spoke with Dids Macdonald OBE about being an inspiration to others, the women she celebrates, the advice she gives as a mentor and the potential impact of greater gender equality on her work.
Please could you introduce yourself and your role?
Originally, we started out as an interior design company then branched out into designing and making hand painted accessories. The business was niche, global, top-end and successful. That’s when the copying began. Badly. So, I co-founded ACID to try and stop the copyists, mainly David v Goliath. Our consistent campaigning has improved design law, not least spearheading a change in the law in 2014 making the intentional infringement of a registered design a criminal offence. Many call it infringement, I call it a sanitised word for theft.
In short, I have been a design & IP warrior for the past 25 years. Our founding pillars remain the same, IP education and awareness, prevention, deterrence, support to champion success and support when things go wrong as well as being the “go-to” organisation to Government and policy makers. My proudest moment was becoming Master of the Furniture Makers’ Company, the furnishings industry charity.
What does it feel like to be inspired by, and inspire, people around you?
We live in an ever-changing and fast-moving world where inspiration is all around us. It is the oxygen that breathes life into creative thought which is one of life’s riches. My approach to mentoring is based on common sense, even in the highly litigious field in which I work. When we were copied shamelessly, I decided, when I co-founded ACID, that I would try and simplify what is a very complicated set of laws and communicate them in practical tips and advice within the context of the design process. IP isn’t rocket science and whilst it is necessary to know the basics, there is so much individuals or companies can do themselves to create a low cost, no cost IP strategy. Only recently someone wrote to me and said as a result of an article I had written on the recent Aldi and Triclimb case, he bought an original. The article had painted the picture of the journey of the original designer and the sweat equity she had invested her design. A triumph for me.
Which inspirational women do you celebrate?
Her Majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth needs no qualification other than her consistent and selfless duty to us.
Emmeline Pankhurst and all the suffragettes for swimming against the tide and securing votes for women. There is a wonderful window in the House of Commons which represents in glass the ends of all the scrolls and manuscripts of their fight for equality. Any woman that doesn’t cast her vote should be ashamed in my view.
The late Dame Vivienne Westwood DBE It is said that a trailblazer is a pioneer, somebody who’s willing to take risks and tread a path that doesn’t exist. Westwood did this and more, she used her inimitable courage not only to think outside the box but carved a career believing that boxes did not exist. Above all, she walked the talk about issues that mattered to her, fearlessly and with passion.
Margaret Miller, former Chairman of Knightsbridge Furniture – At a time when women had a real fight on their hands for equality Margaret joined as a secretary. Fast forward and Margaret became Chairman. She received the BCFA Lifetime Achievement Award as well as from the Furniture Makers. In 2008, Margaret Miller was appointed Master of the Furniture Makers Company, the first woman to hold the office. A tireless fundraiser, she was also co-founder and trustee of War on Cancer, a charity which raised over £4m for research at the University of Bradford into the causes of cancer and its treatment at Bradford Royal Infirmary. Her work encouraging young people to pursue careers in industry has always been her focus in which she has excelled.
What are three pieces of advice you give to the women you mentor?
- There is little you cannot achieve if you have a will. All it takes is the first step. My schooling wasn’t necessarily the most inspirational or successful period of my life. I was consistently told I was a failure, could do better and one headmistress, when I had been discovered smoking in a coffee bar, told me I was a disgrace to my family and the school. I thought I was too “smart” for education, so I never excelled. She was probably right but somewhere along the line, the penny dropped, and I thought, “I can actually achieve if I want to” so since then I have tried to do my best. I started to educate myself, tried to go the extra mile in everything I did and do and the rewards I have experienced along the way have enriched my life.
- Be kind – I have always been impressed by the kindness of strangers, never better explained than in a wonderful book by journalist Kate Adie who, during her long and distinguished career in far flung places, experienced so many acts of kindness. It’s the little acts of kindness that can make a difference and cost nothing.
- Think outside the box and be confident.
Would greater gender equality create a more sustainable future for our sector and what would that entail?
As far as I am aware, there are no accurate statistics of women working within our furnishings industry, but it would appear, generally, it is thought that this would be around 20/25% at best. Greater diversity leads to greater creativity. The greater the variety of perspectives and life experiences we have, the greater the ideas, thoughts, new and fresh thinking enters the mix and appealing to the widest talent base possible is the key to this – more talent, wider creativity.
Many women are leading the way as thought provokers about the complexity of sustainability and I admire the work that Joanna Knight, Claire Williams, and Jessica Alexander are doing to drive awareness forward.
Reducing waste must be a focus for all companies, learning about a circular economy and circular waste issues, too. Encouraging designs that have a timeless aesthetic and last longer. We are not going to get a second chance to save our planet and we must each play a part. Influencing Government policy will play a key role and there is a strong voice through the British Furnishings Confederation.
If we, as a sector, focus on our biggest ‘minority’ first, it is clear we need more women engaged, helping to build better workplaces, where they can thrive and contribute on subjects that affect us all.
Discover all of our Inspirational Women here