Retrospective 2021: Embassy of Inclusive Society

How can designers contribute to a society in which everyone feels seen and represented? That was the question with which the Embassy of Inclusive Society opened its doors for the first time this year during Dutch Design Week (DDW) 2021.

Type Update
Published on 23 December 2021
Part of Embassy of Inclusive Society
Retrospective 2021: Embassy of Inclusive Society
Part of Embassy of Inclusive Society

Black Lives Matter, a burnt rainbow flag, #MeToo, UN-treaty rights for people with a handicap, something is going on in society. In the past, it was mainly the white heterosexual man who set the standard in Western Europe. Today, a distinctly different sound can be heard. And seen. “Designers are working on this changing society”, says Jorn Konijn, one of the curators of the Embassy of Inclusive Society and Head of Programme of Inclusive Society DDW. “ We want to use the Embassy of Inclusive Society to show how they are doing this. But we also want to attract a more inclusive audience”.

The special effect of a hair salon

In order to attract that more inclusive public, in addition to an exhibition of various design projects, there was an active hair salon on the Ketelhuisplein: the Social Hair Salon. Every day other Eindhoven hairdressers, each with their own speciality and background, cut the hair of DDW visitors. 

Perhaps the odd one out during DDW, but a “hair salon has a special effect”, says Konijn. “There is a certain intimacy between the hairdresser and the person in the chair. You also constantly look in the mirror”. That is the idea behind this new Embassy. “That visitors really reflect on themselves and ask themselves: how inclusive am I really?”

Read more about the philosophy behind the Embassy of Inclusive Society in the curator interview.

The idea of the Social Hair Salon arose from a search for a social, democratic place where everyone goes and where everyone is equal. Students from Sint Lucas and visitors from Germany, Portugal, and Eindhoven took their seats in the barber chair. They waited patiently for their turn to finally leave with a new look and new insights about inclusion and diversity. 

In 2018, designer Manon van Hoeckel set up the hair salon ‘Coupe de Schiedam ’ for the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam. For the Embassy of Inclusive Society, Konijn asked her to set up a barbershop where conversations are about the different hair rituals. Van Hoeckel designed hairdresser capes with various questions, including “How prejudiced are you?” and “What is the most beautiful thing you have ever learned from another culture?” With the questions as a starting point, Van Hoeckel instructed the hairdressers to have the conversation. That’s pretty tricky, says Konijn. “ It’s not a conversation about the weather. But it shouldn’t be too forceful either.”

Read more about the Social Hair Salon during DDW21 here.

Inclusive design world

Not only a more inclusive audience but also alone more inclusive design world is important to Konijn. According to him, the Dutch design field is often a Western European white, heterosexual male world. “ A designer designs for many different groups of people. The question is to what extent these designers can always empathize with those different groups in society.” 

The Embassy was designed by Maria Piels , Paola Salviano , Carolina Abboarage, and Wouter Corvers and curated by six colleagues from the Dutch Design Foundation under the direction of Konijn. 

Warm welcome

More than 20 works were on display at the Embassy. ‘Warm Welcome’ was one of them. A collaboration of Muzus and refugee work. Visitors to DDW21 were able to listen to ‘cold and warm’ experiences from newcomers in an interactive set-up. In a conversation with the visitors, Muzus and the Council for Refugees tried to get an answer to questions such as: “What is the role of the Dutch in this reciprocal process”? What can the Dutch do themselves to support and welcome the person integrating? How do we make the Netherlands more inclusive? 

Collective power

Another joint project was Social [Distancing] Fabric. In response to the March 2020 lockdown, Karim Adduchi and the World Makers Foundation wanted to provide people with a creative and collective experience from home, remotely. They sent hundreds of participants from all over the world needle and thread along with a handmade drawing on fabric made by Adduchi. The participants were asked to finish the embroidery and return it. The embroideries came back – along with letters sharing their experiences during the lockdown. Stories of hopes and dreams. Adduchi and World Makers sewed the embroideries together and turned the individual parts into a single cloth about 30 m long. They called it ‘Social Fabric’. A diverse canvas that shows collective strength. A small selection of the embroideries was displayed in the Embassy.


Projects were also on display in the Social Hair Salon. For example, Labour of Love by Oluwatomilola Adefioye or simply Tomi. A Nigerian designer who recently graduated from Central Saint Martins in London, where she now teaches. Her work shows the rituals and care associated with afro hair. In a short documentary entitled Hidden Heritage, Wendy Owusu shows that hairstyles are never just about hair. She graduated cum laude from Design Academy Eindhoven this year.

View the curator tour of the Embassy of Inclusive Society.

Every day, the Embassy was the scene of an Inclusivity Talk. Moderated by various experts and experiential experts, designers discussed topics such as inclusive design, hair, physical limitations, (systematic) racism, visual impairments, and much more. There was also a collaboration with Social Design Showdown in the form of a diverse panel that conducted substantive debates led by moderator Praveen Sewgobind, Professor of Diversity & Inclusivity at Design Academy Eindhoven.

Homelessness among young people

A theme conference “A home for all young people” highlighted the prevention of homelessness among young people. A social task that requires creativity, cooperation, and decisiveness. Designers can contribute by thinking across sectors and proposing new solutions. Can new housing concepts help us to work better together? Can the design power of designers contribute to this complex issue? How can we ensure that all young people have a suitable home? 

In the New Housing Concepts programme of the Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, social designers talked to administrators, politicians, and entrepreneurs about their concepts and experiences. Attention was also paid to the activities of the Youth Living Lab, part of the Urban Labs of Eindhoven University of Technology.

‘With the Embassy of Inclusive Society, the ministry wants to make a joint contribution for people with disabilities in the field of accessible public spaces. So that they encounter noticeably fewer barriers that stand in the way of participation.’

People with disabilities

According to the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, partner of the Embassy of Inclusive Society, “Everyone should be able to participate in society”. “For the 2 million people with a disability, this is not always obvious. They are visually impaired, blind, or deaf or have a physical or mental disability or psychological problems. That’s why the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport is working together with experts, companies, governments, designers and other social partners in order to remove these barriers. With the Embassy of Inclusive Society, the ministry wants to make a joint contribution for people with disabilities in the field of accessible public spaces. So that they encounter noticeably fewer barriers that stand in the way of participation”.

Would you like to contribute to the Inclusive Society? Or are you simply curious about the developments? Keep an eye on the Embassy page or contact us.

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