Meet the textile entrepreneur looking to improve diversity in design

A textile entrepreneur is looking to work with a more diverse range of artists to ensure that her high-end designs remain unique as well as reflecting the region’s diversity better.

Charlotte Raffo set the business up in 2017.

The Monkey Puzzle Tree was founded by Charlotte Raffo in 2017. The Leeds-based business works with artists to create unique wall coverings, fabrics, cushions and lampshades.

Ms Raffo has signed the Design for Diversity pledge, which is looking to improve diversity across the design industry.

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Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ms Raffo said: “I realised myself, earlier this year, that actually the artists we were working with were not really representative of our region.

The Monkey Puzzle Tree creates fabrics, cushions, lampshades and wall coverings.

“I was looking to increase our diversity and the Design for Diversity pledge helped us find a new artist who is Ghanaian.”

Diversity will also help the business remain unique, according to Ms Raffo, who has been in the textiles industry for the past two decades.

She said: “For me it’s really important because a key part of our brand is that the designs we do are different from everyone else.

“I put a call out for a new artist at the start of this year and I found that the applications that I had were all very samey. It was not what I was looking for at all.

Charlotte Raffo earlier this year realised that the artists that she was working with did not reflect the region's diversity.

“Everyone’s design just looked like something that you could pick up in John Lewis – that just wasn’t very original.

“By promoting that I was actively looking for people from different backgrounds, I had more diversity in design styles and that’s really key for me.

“What I want to do is create designs that are really unique. It’s really important to me that what you buy from The Monkey Puzzle Tree you can’t buy from John Lewis or anywhere else. I need a diversity in design.

“I also think it’s the right thing to do as well – to give more opportunities to others.”

Ms Raffo admits that it can be hard to find people to work with “outside of your own business and social bubble”.

She said: “When I started The Monkey Puzzle Tree, I was working with artists who I knew. That’s disadvantageous to people from different backgrounds.”

Ms Raffo set her own business up after being made redundant from her roles as a textiles designer and developer at the nursery brand Mamas & Papas in 2016. Prior to that she was at the Pittards tannery in Leeds before it closed in 2006.

“Because of my background in textiles development and working hands-on in the tannery, I’m really interested in the choice of materials as well as the design,” she said.

Ms Raffo added: “It’s not just about taking a design and printing that onto a piece of paper to make a wallpaper. It’s really about the technique so using different kinds of printing techniques.”

The Monkey Puzzle Tree is hoping that securing a listing with local home decor business, Dowsing & Reynolds, will give it an opportunity to further its presence in Yorkshire.

Ms Raffo says the two businesses are a good fit for each other with both having a similar aesthetic.

She added: “We have a lot of design ideas in common. It’s a perfect match. To find another business like that in Leeds with a similar ethos is great. I’m really grateful for that. They’ve been really supportive as well.”

A lifelong passion for interiors

Charlotte Raffo has been interested in textiles from an early age.

She studied colour and polymer chemistry at Leeds University.

Ms Raffo says the biggest challenge of running her own business has been getting her head around sales as her background is technical design.

She added: “I’ve always been massively passionate about interior design. My mum says, when I was a little kid, I’d always ask to go to the toilet at people’s houses because I wanted to go see what the rest of their house looked like. It’s been a big passion of mine. I’m also interested in manufacturing and being hands-on.”