Last fall, I publicly shared one of my big crazy ideas on my IG stories, after reacting to news surrounding a few different industry events. I am beyond words excited to share that this summer that big idea is coming to life — The Meridian Experience Weekend. This 4-day inaugural event is an in-person conference that I will be hosting in Bellevue, WA, gathering 100 designpreneurs across interior design & content creation. This is the culmination of all that I’ve observed & experienced in this space & I am excited to share my story with you!
If you know nothing else about me, then by now I’d like to think you at least know that I’m an idea machine. For as long as I can remember, I have been someone who sees a creative need and concocts a usually elaborate idea to fill the void. I think a lot of this is attributed to my general “scrappy” disposition that I inherited from my parents, because while they’d always encouraged me to pursue a more “traditional” career path, they’ve also long subscribed to the “be the change you want to see” way of life.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also credit being a millennial to my over-the-top big scary goals.
I graduated in 2008 with a degree in Advertising & Public Relations, with a minor focus on Psychology. Even with a mountain of education & academic experience by way of internships, I couldn’t get a solid job. Before I knew it, I was teaming up with friends to start an entertainment & lifestyle blog – this long predates Albie Knows. Along the way, this blog evolved into all facets of marketing, with a huge focus on event production. During our short 2 (maybe 3) years together, we produced a few small events – a coat drive with Sean John 5th Avenue, an HIV/AIDS fundraiser & education workshop, a music showcase for upcoming singers, photoshoot sessions for aspiring models, a college basketball game halftime show in honor of a passed classmate, and – our largest endeavor – a runway & trunk show highlighting local talents in music & fashion. Thankfully these all predate what we’ve come to expect from social media these days so there’s also no proof any of it happened because not everything ages as well as we’d like to think.
I recently listened to “We Should All Be Millionaires” by Rachel Rodgers and in one of the chapters she talked about tapping into your zone of genius & that there are likely clues in our childhood that could help define exactly what that is. While I never saw any correlation between the events at the time – I simply saw them as finding ways to keep myself busy & hopefully get the attention of a permanent employer – in hindsight I was always leveraging my skills to bring awareness to issues near & dear to my heart.
Fast Forward Over A Decade…
In the summer of 2018, I got a wild hair (is that how the idiom goes?) about how, as an e-designer (aka online interior designer), I constantly felt like an outsider in this space. Even though today online interior design is a hugely accepted part of the industry – especially in a pandemic – this wasn’t always the case. In fact, lots of designers & trade professionals didn’t take this subset of interior design seriously. Needless to say, there were little to no resources for e-design… and definitely no community.
Be the change you want to see.
I came back from High Point Market that Spring after speaking on a panel about the emergence of e-design as a valuable business model… and in June I launched a virtual conference – The E-Design Experience – to help people tap into their digital potential. Just because other people didn’t take the digital landscape seriously, I knew there was an opportunity to help designpreneurs be better online.
If you were to listen to any of the podcast interviews I did during the conference “press tour” from that summer, you’ll hear me say over and over that that conference was designed to be the beta for an in-person conference that I was convinced I’d launch in 2019. I wanted the 2018 event to be the testing ground for what I envisioned for my online design community. That fall I went on two co-host two High Point Market events – a speed mentoring event with the Black Interior Designers Network & a walking tour of Furnitureland South.
All of these initiatives were pretty massive for someone like me – no capital, no team… just me, my big ideas, and industry friends who believed in me.
In 2019, my husband was deployed so the idea of hosting a conference went right out the window – there’s a lot I can do on my own, but hosting a conference while working outside the home and taking care of a toddler was not one of those things… and I was okay with that.
BTW…is it okay if we officially called this decade the roaring 20s as well… but like not in a good way? Just saying.
Be the change you want to see.
There’s no need for us to rehash the hot mess express that is 2020. What did, however, come of it was my adaptation of the #ShareTheMicNow Initiative for the home industry, which brought together hundreds of industry personalities to reach millions of audiences for conversations on the intersectionality of race & design.
That initiative meant a lot of things to me for a lot of reasons, however, what I didn’t expect was how much it brought back those feelings I had 2 years prior… almost to the date BTDubs! This massive Instagram takeover initiative was a space for those who are typically unseen or unheard… a chance to shake things up & maybe even change the narrative around so much of what we’d come to expect (and accept) from our industry. My feelings of being an outsider in 2018 weren’t just because I was an e-designer… that was only a small part of it if we’re being honest. The STMN initiative was the beginning of me unpacking a lot of that baggage while also helping my peers do the same. It was then that I slowly began replotting an event, however, it was through a different, more evolved, more mature lens.
I spent the next year watching as long-standing establishments in the industry would try & regain their footing after a year of virtual events & calls for diversity – what a year 2020 must’ve been for all the folk that never thought they’d have to change!
As event after event returned to their in-person programming, it became obvious to me that all that “listening & learning” in 2020 didn’t really amount to much. Once again, we witnessed whole sectors of the designpreneur community going unseen & unheard. Now nearly four years after the original conference, I came to the realization that maybe you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Many of the spaces we’ve become accustomed to just dunno how to be better because they’ve never had to be better. They dunno where to even begin to create organically inclusive & diverse spaces because for years the bare minimum has been acceptable.
And to clarify – when I say “diverse & inclusive”, I mean everything from race & sexuality to education & business model…
…diversity of thought
…diversity of experience
…diversity of expertise
What spaces in this arena actually speak to the self-taught designer?
The millennial designer?
The creators & designers of color?
The digital creator who is also an interior designer?
…and every iteration in between.
Be the change you want to see.
While other industries have done a pretty decent job of adapting to a new era of creativity & community, the home industry has seemed determined to keep things as it’s always been… at least below the surface. On the surface – supes progressive! In practicum tho… we’re practically dragging em into the “new roaring 20s” kicking & screaming.
After countless frustrating conversations, I decided to just do it myself.
I can’t expect someone else to create something they’ve never needed for themselves. How’s the saying go? Necessity is the mother of invention? I decided to take things into my own hands, dust off all my old conference materials, and get to work on bringing my in-person conference dreams to life. Everything seemed to be pointing me in that direction anyway, and I was just too busy letting my own insecurities block the calling that was right in front of me. And thus bringing us to the present…
The Meridian Experience Was Born Out Of My Frustration With The Industry.
Plainly and simply. Even in creating my conference nearly 4 years ago, there’s so much that I would’ve done differently had I not internalized a lot of the toxic messaging in this space. Time & experience have illuminated deficiencies that I wasn’t checking for back then – I just wanted to be in the room. Now, on the other hand, I want to be in the room, take the door off the hinges, and give everyone a seat at the table.
The Meridian Experience is the room… bring your own chair tho. Lol.
Meridian, which is also an acronym for Making Exceptional Relationships with Interior Design Influencers through Authentic Networking, is more than just a conference for me. As the name implies, it’s an experience that’s designed to bridge the gap between interior designers & home influencers for meaningful & intentional exchanges.
It’s a conference in the way that a conference allows you to network & learn.
It’s a retreat in the way that a retreat allows you to recharge your battery.
It’s a family reunion in the way that a family reunion allows you to connect with your people.
It’s an experience.
Be the change you want to see.
My frustrations with this industry weren’t just limited to the undeniable air of elitism & exclusion – lots to unpack there btw! – so if I could at least start to chip away at what contributes to that… well it’s a start, right?
Taking on such a massive passion project… well let’s just say this is definitely one of those times that I wish my friends would finally just tell me to sit down somewhere. In over a decade of big ideas, never have any of my friends even attempted to stop me. On this one… maybe they should’ve lol.
I’m stepping into an arena that is largely dominated by people that look (and think) nothing like me. I’m not backed by any investors or coming in with any equity except my own grit & whatever is in my Albie Knows bank account. Everything else is heavily reliant on crowdfunding & sponsorships.
It’s a challenge I willingly accept though. As I previously mentioned, what I am hoping to do – to create – is something other industries have done a much better job at; and by comparison, the home industry remains pretty antiquated. As a self-taught multi-hyphenate millennial creative of color, I
believe know I bring a unique perspective to this arena, not to mention sharing many of the same pain points as my target audience.
We want to feel seen & safe in the spaces we occupy.
We want to be mentored.
We want equitable opportunities.
We want to adapt with the times & redefine the norm.
This Is M.E.
See what I did there?
M.E. = Meridian Experience… but also… ya know… me.
No? Okay moving ok lol
What Can You Expect From The Meridian Experience Weekend This Summer?
Whether you’re part of this industry or simply a spectator, my hope is that this event will touch you in some way. In the same way that I still have people tell me the impact #ShareTheMicNowHomeEdition had on them. It can be as simple as you reaping the benefits of your favorite home creators attending & putting what they take away from the weekend into action.
I’ve spent the better part of the past 6-7 months pouring so much of myself into creating something that I hope will set a new precedent, not just for anyone who has felt like an outsider, but also putting existing establishments on notice that we can all stand to do better & be better. There’s a quote I heard in one of the live-action Cinderella movies that sums it all up way better than I could – “Just because it’s what’s done doesn’t mean it’s what should be done.”
Where Am I Now With Meridian?
I remember thinking to myself back in 2020 that I would never take on such a major undertaking again because – verbatim – “I am not the hall monitor for the home industry.”
And yet here I am again.
Last year I, thankfully, did a lot of heavy lifting in preparation – pitching sponsors, securing a venue, scouting lodging, market research, etc. After getting through the holidays – and COVID – I am not eyebrows deep in all things planning because *surprise surprise* there are a lot of moving parts to something this large, and yet here I am with yet another big ole crazy idea, pushing forward, and doing it scared.
Because trust and believe – I’m petrified!
Be the change you want to see.
So much of what I’d already done laid the foundation for this event… and not just the work from last year. Components of the programming are derived from many of the events I concocted nearly, what feels like, a lifetime ago! A lot of the people who are now pouring into the event – either as sponsors and/or speakers – are from the relationships I forged during STMN & thereafter. Case & point – the EHD team! I first reached out to Emily for the takeovers, knowing that if I could get a yes, I would want to partner her with Shavonda Gardner. I got the yes… and now fast forward 18 months, both the EHD team AND Shavonda will be at The Meridian Experience sharing their insights, stories, and knowledge as speakers & mentors. It’s more to me to just “fangirl” over these women. Their careers – and their longevity in this space – are admirable so to be able to create a space where others can connect with them & learn from them… that makes my heart sing.
The other day I found myself having one of many panic attacks – brought on by self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and general fear – and kept thinking to myself, “Why did I do this to myself?” My own insecurities around being a young woman of color with no financial backing or long-standing in the industry. Over & over again I kept thinking, “Why did I do this to myself?” I repeated it so much that my tone began to change, and instead of questioning my sanity, I started reminding myself of my actual why. And so I keep chugging along knowing that even with some unexpected and/or unwelcome roadblocks, I got this.
That was a lot of words so thanks for reading along, especially for something not as sexy & exciting as a reveal.
If you’ve made it this far, I appreciate you deeply! I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced support like this before, as though so many people needed this just as much as I did. I hope you guys follow along with me the whole journey from now till June & then follow along with the weekend when the time comes.
The Meridian Experience Weekend is being held this June in Bellevue, WA. General admission tickets are currently available, in addition to premium add ons for ticket holders. Donations are still being accepted & every dollar has helped towards speaker & attendee materials. All event details are now live on the new site that launched this week.
Opening Image Credits: Design by Albie K. Buabeng | Photo by Ellie Lillstrom | From: What Happens When You Design Your Living Room and Then MOVE?? You Make It Work… Albie’s New Living Room Round One!