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.
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:
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.
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…..