The Pebble In The Pond
By Wanda Jankowski, Editor-in-Chief
“Darling Companion” is a limited run movie currently making the rounds in select movie theaters. The plot line seems straightforward: the husband (Kevin Kline) loses his wife’s (Diane Keaton’s) dog. Yet that one change in circumstance jolts the couple, as well as a few family members and friends, out of their normal routine, opening up pathways for each of them to change outlooks and deepen relationships with each other for the better.
With so many large and complex entities seemingly out of our control impacting varied aspects of our lives—from government and mass media, to big-box chains and global corporations on a business level—it’s easy to forget the power that one person can have, whether the achievement is prompted by changing circumstance or comes directly from the individual. Like a pebble thrown into a still pond that creates ever-widening circles of ripples or an irritant that finds its way into a mollusk to become a pearl, one person taking action out of the norm can begin a proverbial monumental downhill slide or spectacular climb to the mountain top.
Claire Coleman was the “pebble in the pond” 65 years ago, when just out of college she learned about a “men only” industry dinner and decided that women needed a place in the field, too. Claire met with colleagues in 1947 and founded the National Home Fashions League (read her thoughts in “Industry Views” at right).
Through the years, as the organization grew so did its accomplishments. In 1949, it created a nationwide promotion—Home Fashions Time with the slogan “Enjoy Living At Home”—adopted by 8,000 retailers and endorsed by 19 industry associations.
An Educational Foundation, incorporated in 1970, carried out educational and philanthropic activities, such as awarding scholarships to scores of students over the years and enabling the restoration of American architectural treasures, such as Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill in Hyde Park.
A Career Day was launched, along with the Trailblazers award, honoring industry notables, and the Big Apple Award for New Yorkers who bettered the city.
In the 1960s, Coleman relates that the organization opened its doors to men, allowing them in first as colleagues and years later as full-fledged members.
In 1988, the name of the organization was changed to what it is still known as: the International Furnishings and Design Association. Today, it includes 16 chapters around the country and one in Japan, all dedicated to insuring high professional standards and educating the industry and consumers about the field.
As for Claire Coleman, after working as a reporter on Retailing Home Furnishings and then at The New York Times on its Home Section, she delved into public relations, working for suppliers, such as United Wallpaper and Croscill, and later for a public relations company, before she began her own public relations firm, Coleman Communications, specializing in serving the home furnishings field. When I asked Claire, now retired, what her favorite thing about the home furnishings industry was, she said, “It’s that the people have been wonderful to work with—they are so down-to-earth and solid.”
Claire’s action resulted in a spectacular climb to the mountain top. Perhaps it’s time to be the pebble in your own retail pond.