Hidden sexism in the home renovation industry?! Hidden my (and her) arse!

I had what was largely a very enjoyable day yesterday, having been invited to speak at Harrogate’s Flooring Show, an annual event to showcase the best of the UK flooring industry and present new, innovative products and systems. I’d never been before and though I keep up to date on-line with the most interesting design-led flooring companies out there anyway, I was looking forward to it.

So what caught my eye, rocked my day and burns brightest in my memory? A funky new carpet design? Some delicious timber grain? Well, unfortunately, no. What I’m remembering most is the feeling that I’d somehow stepped back in time to a 1976 episode of Life On Mars when we turned a corner and faced the Anbo / Emperor Flooring stand. What did we see? Girls in bikinis and porn shoes. GIRLS IN BLOODY BIKINIS AND PORN SHOES.

Anbo / Emperor Flooring stand using girls in Bikinis in 2013 at the Flooring Show

I couldn’t believe my eyes. In 2013, someone at this flooring company had seen fit to book a handful of young women, strip them and ask them to parade around in a cunning plan to entice men onto the stand.

The poor girls looked embarrassed and humiliated, asked as they were to be little tasty morsels to tempt trade buyers to look at their wares… and the flooring obv. What in god’s name were the company thinking? Not only was it entirely inappropriate within the context of the show, it was demeaning to the girls and insulting to every woman who walked past. After 16yrs in the building industry, I’m pretty immune to day to day sexism and can handle any comment thrown but I honestly thought the days were gone when companies actually decided that this type of crassness and flesh selling was a viable, acceptable and proper way to do business. Clearly not.

The general consensus was that they’d dropped an absolute clanger, with most of the women attending who ran retail flooring companies avoiding the stand and most men I spoke about it with thinking it was all a bit sad and desperate on the part of Anbo/Emperor. Muslim attendees thought it was quite unbelievable, why would anyone choose to have naked girls at a business trade show, they wondered?

Interesting then to read the Telegraph Wonder Women Twitter feed this morning about their support of the Campaign to incorporate into school sex education teaching kids the dark side and reality of internet porn, because it appears, quite horrendously, that many teenage young women are being pressured into acting like porn stars in their first experiences because they and young men / boys think what happens in porn – gang rape, sodomy etc – is the norm and therefore expected of them. How truly sad is that? No romance, no butterflies, no taking your time, just mimic that quite probably trafficked girl with a painted on smile and track marks hidden by stage makeup please.

I know the promotions girls were in bikinis, I know they weren’t selling their bodies….. or were they?

Shouldn’t we expect better in professional environments? Shouldn’t we be setting a better example, not using young girls who just want a days work so exploitatively and in such a tacky way? Shouldn’t companies be more respectful of women in their industry who want to network and discuss business without being made to feel uncomfortable and actually unwanted on the stand.

The older sections of the flooring industry have a reputation in the UK for being old school, stuck in their ways and downright sexist, I know this from personal experience and friends who work in the sector. Decisions like yesterday’s by Anbo don’t really help, do they?!!

I would now actively avoid using or specifying their product, not least because of their arrogant & dismissive attitude when I asked them yesterday if they thought having virtually naked young girls around their suited & booted male dominated stand was a good marketing choice. Probably made them all feel like kings in their little self constructed Playboy Mansion. Saddos.

There was nothing else for it but to head straight to Betty’s for a calming cake and a Pimms, at least *some* things in life still have class!


ADDENDUM: I did contact Anbo Flooring for a comment:

Hi Anbo International

I’d be interested in getting a quote from you about the marketing choices your company made for the recent Harrogate Flooring Show, with particular reference to the semi-naked young women on the stand? I wrote a blog piece on it and would welcome your comments.

and for balance here’s what they said:

Hi Sian
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your feed.
Clearly it would appear that we have inadvertently offended some people by using the show girls to hand out the latest design’s brochure.
The design of the stand was created to give an enclosed look, allowing the maximum use of wall space and create a darker tone to allow the lighting to highlight the wood grain and finishes.
To get people to walk through the stand to see the 2013 collection we hired two models as show girls to hand out brochures. The girls wore their own clothes and were kept in a safe environment, standing only at the doorway, with a member of staff supplying drinks and breaks as they needed.
It was designed to portray glamour and intrigue to the stand and if it offended people, or was taken in a different context, then for this we are truly sorry to those offended. We did not deliberately set out to offend anyone, and indeed once we learned it could be perceived this way we did not utilise the show girls on the last day.
Since your comments we have this morning checked in with the supply company to ensure that the ladies did not feel intimidated and / or humiliated, and we will now obviously review the way we design the stands to ensure we don’t get unwittingly tagged in the future.
I hope you can accept this as an unfortunate error of judgement.
Kind regards
Anbo International

I do respect that they came back to me, at the end of the day they didn’t have to, but I do struggle slightly with their explanation. Passing off the bikinis as the show girls’ “own clothes” is palpably ridiculous. Are they saying they told the girls to wear their own clothes and they just turned up in bikinis?! Honestly, glamour and intrigue? Like a dated James Bond film? There are many things in the design world which can add glamour and intrigue to a show stand, but goose bumped, slightly embarrassed, half naked young women at a carpet show in Yorkshire is undoubtedly a questionable choice in 2013. The phrase “utilise the show girls” for me only serves to undermine their objectification.

It’s one of those modern day apology emails really isn’t it. One of those ‘we apologise to those who were offended if they were offended but we don’t really get why they are offended’ emails. And that in a nutshell is why much of the UK flooring industry is still known as an industry stuck in the past, unable to see women as more than just the pretty ones who pick  carpet colours or hand brochures out as show girls. Dinosaurs, it appears, still walk the earth, albeit mostly on engineered board…..

13 thoughts on “Hidden sexism in the home renovation industry?! Hidden my (and her) arse!

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  1. This is quite disgraceful! Never seen this at an interiors trade show before, thank goodness. I will be avoiding this company in future as well and I’ll be emailing them too, telling them exactly what I think of this ‘strategy’. Thanks for highlighting it.

  2. Well done Sian,
    I heard about your gusty confrontation with the guys on this stand; I (to my shame) was too embarassed to even step inside. “Anbo” will forever conjour up this sad image for me and I can safely say I won’t be specifying their products. Do you think we could turn it into a euphemism… ie “dropping a right Anbo”

  3. Given that you hail from the entertainment industry, one that is rife with blatant sexism and women who objectify themselves in order to further their careers – why not pick up the mantle and campaign against the un-natural portrayal of stick like, false chested, teeth whitened, botox filled individuals who make normal woman and young girls feel so woefully inadequate that they become anorexic at the age of 7 – then I would actually feel that you were genuinely offended by sexism in the workplace rather than using this as an opportunistic platform to get some interest in your otherwise mundane blog.

    If you feel that strongly, why not use your minor celebrity status to actively campaign against the sexism you believe exists – or are you not offended or outraged enough to do anything more by way of action than to write a byline in a blog.

    I probably have more right than you to be offended by any company that would presume that i would be so gullible or easily manipulated as to buy a product on the basis that it made me more alluring to members of the opposite sex, or that I would ignore the quality or functionality of a product completely and buy it because it had a woman draped over it – surely no one still does that…. apart from mainstream advertising.

    I look forward to your next investigative documentary co-hosted alongside Stacey Dooley

    1. Um, I don’t hail from the entertainment industry, if you did your research before jumping in with both clodhopping feet, you’d see I have been in the building and property industry since 1996 and I find my industry quite entertaining enough. Almost as entertaining as your ridiculous comment 🙂

  4. This is horrendous! I had a similar experience at an Oil and Gas event recently which ironically had a day dedicated to ‘Women in the Industry’. I saw two stands guilty of using scantily clad young girls to attract attention: one with cheerleaders in cropped vests and tiny skirts and the other with girls dressed in overalls which had been pulled down at the top revealing teeny tiny vests!

    It’s very sad that women are still being objectified like this.

  5. I am so glad you have written this Blog on the Floor Show. I have never been to the show before but went as a Interior Designer looking for specific floor finishes for projects. Two designers took a day out of our practice to travel to this show. The show was terrible, the stands were out of date & dismal, with the exception of Karndean & one other stand. The people on the stands seem to have come out of a time warp from the 1980’s and on the whole could not have been more unhelpful if they had tried. The bikini clad ladies were unbelievable and totally unacceptable! The two young ladies must have been on a break as my colleague (another female) and myself went onto their stand without realising they had been there until we left. But the company who hired these poor girls had a extremely sexist attitude. We unwittingly went into the stand and asked about a wood floor, we were told it was ‘a bit expensive’ but the sales man had just the thing for us ‘girls’ he then proceeded to show us a black shiny glittery floor!!! Obviously the style any ‘girl’ would love!!! While showing us, having never met us before, in his very professional manner he told how ‘smashed he had got the night before’ and how difficult he was therefore finding the show!! Nice! As we left the stand the ladies in the bikinis arrived from their break which made the experience even worst.
    The only saving grace for the visit to the show were two of the Seminars, one by Google which was very interesting and one by Vanessa Brady who talked about what the flooring industry need to do. What I would like to say to some of the men on the stands is that I may be female and worst still I am a Designer but what they forget is the size of the projects we designers specify for and how much flooring is involved.

    1. I think these are sentiments shared by many of the designers and interiors people who went to the show.
      I found the Anbo man I spoke to arrogant in the extreme, awful attitude.
      Although I didn’t find the whole show terrible, it was dated and lacked the design flair I’m so used to seeing at trade shows now.
      It’s more like a trade building show than an interior design one, which is all very strange given flooring is the very base for all projects and one of the most important decisions and purchases for any scheme.
      Many of the more design led flooring companies weren’t there, which was a shame. Maybe an area designed to give a taster of non-exhibiting companies / products from more design led companies for more design led visitors might be an idea for 2014, would allow them to exhibit without taking a large space / lots of staff?
      Sian x

  6. The floor show at Harrogate has been dying a slow and painful death for the past 20 years, you are right that it’s like walking into a time-warp from 30 years ago. This is one of the reasons a lot of the more progressive forward thinking flooring companies do not attend. I would have found the Anbo stand offensive if I had seen it.

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