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ACID’s Series of Influential Women in Design – Charlotte Raffo of The Monkey Puzzle Tree

ACID member Charlotte Raffo, founder and owner of The Monkey Puzzle Tree, works closely with artists from Northern England to create luxury, innovative, and unique wallpapers, wall-coverings, and fabrics which transcend trend and allow textiles to enhance your home with eccentricity and bold creative force. Charlotte believes in creating a fair and ethical business model, staying local and sustainable, where artists are generously remunerated and full credit is given to their outstanding artistic contributions. Charlotte also believes in keeping the industrial Norths’ rich textile heritage alive by using the same mills which have been used for generations, helping to protect vital, skilled jobs.

Charlotte talks to ACID about her thoughts on how women are represented in the design sector and beyond.

Charlotte Raffo, founder of The Monkey Puzzle Tree

1. What is your role in the design industry? i.e., business or job role?

I am the founder and director of The Monkey Puzzle Tree, which is a multi-award winning business that collaborates with artists to create luxury wallpapers and fabrics with a twist and a conscience.

2. Can you name any three women who inspire you, and why? Past or present

My inspirational women would be Pauline Black OBE, singer with Ska band The Selecter, Hedy Lamarr, actress and inventor, and Delia Derbyshire, the pioneer of early electronic music.

All of these women have had interesting twists to their careers which has led to unexpected creative and scientific output.

Pauline Black is the singer with Ska band The Selecter. Initially working as a radiographer, she was a founding member and the singer of the Ska band The Selecter and is an inspirational performer and campaigner for racial equality. Now in her late 60’s she is still performing. 

Delia Derbyshire studied maths and music at Cambridge University which was an achievement for a working-class woman in the 1950’s. She went on to create ground-breaking work at the BBC radiophonic workshop in the 60’s, famously working on the Doctor Who theme and creating the foundations for much modern electronic music.

Hedy Lamarr was a glamorous film star during Hollywood’s golden ages, and at the height of her film career in the midst of a world war, she invented signal hopping, the basis for all modern wireless communications.

‘All Tomorrow’s Future’ by Alexis Snell

3. Tell us one thing which people may not know about you? Personally, or design associated.

Something people wouldn’t know about me is that other than an A-level, I don’t have any formal design qualifications. My degree is actually in Colour and Polymer Chemistry, but I’ve had an intense love of textiles and design since childhood. I think it can be helpful to take an unconventional route to bring fresh ideas and new ways of thinking to a discipline.

4. Do you feel there are challenges for women in the design industry? Do you have any personal stories to share?

Overall, I think the design industry is relatively female friendly, certainly in comparison to my time studying chemistry in the late 90’s and also as one of very few women in manufacturing in the early 00’s. However, I think there are still issues with business and management and in older organisations which are part of The Establishment.

Many larger organisations are headed up by men who may be blind to their own bias – and even more so in terms of diversity. There have been a few events I have been part of where I feel more effort should have been made to have a diverse panel (and I have made this point). The business world is very male dominated. It’s easy to feel stereotyped as a female with a creative business, that it’s somehow a less serious proposition than a business started by a male entrepreneur, or to feel that it’s necessary to behave like a man to be successful. Personally, I insist on running my business on my own terms and not conforming to anyone else’s ideas of running a business.

5. There tends to be a large rise of women in design, which is brilliant, but less women seem to hold higher positions in larger businesses. What do you think the design industry could do to redress this imbalance?

I would say that visibility of women in higher positions in business as well as on panels, judging awards etc is critical to redress the balance. I think diversity in prominent positions is really important. Even if you can’t see someone like yourself, if everyone is different from each other at least you can see a range of people in that position, which is less threatening than if there is only one archetype. I think this applies for gender, diversity, class, and background.

‘Blues Fantasia’ by Josephine McYebuah

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