‘Women must be willing to make their voices heard’

Rubina Hughes, kbbreview100 member and owner of Zara Kitchen Design in Staines, would like to see more women in a variety of roles in the industry and having more influence in product design

Q: What’s been your experience as a woman in the KBB industry?

A: My first role was with an independent kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom retailer. I felt welcomed in this industry. I did not have any preconceptions of the business. I had on-the-job training and I also attended training provided by suppliers. I found my employer open to my ideas. Having previously worked in IT, I was keen on using design software, which was a relatively new thing at the time, and he allowed me to do this. 

Once I had got into in my stride, I was helping to design displays and contribute creative ideas. I enjoyed my experience working in a small family business. Several years later, when it came to my husband wanting to change careers and thinking about a business that we could start together, we felt that the kitchen industry was the right one for us.

Q: What advice would you give to other women looking to emulate your success as a business owner?

A: I would advise anyone starting in this industry to have a clear plan of what type of business you want to be. There are different directions you can take. You can set off as part of a franchise network, which is the route my husband and I initially took. This gives you a support structure if you have not worked in the industry before. There is a franchise manager who is there to help you. The franchisor also does the marketing, which is especially useful. 

However, if do have previous experience and are going to set up as an independent retailer, you will need to gain expertise in sales and marketing, which are just as important design skills. You can go on training courses to gain skills or employ people who provide marketing expertise. It does help to be part of an industry body such as the KBSA, as they can assist if you have any issues, such as disputes, and provide a great support network that has been really useful during the pandemic. 

As a designer, I think you must trust your own instincts. You need to keep up with trends and innovations, but you need to guide your clients for the best solutions for them – listening to them, which is key, but also bring your own expertise and creativity to the design.

Q: Do you feel women are under-represented in the KBB industry 

A: I do feel women are under-represented. There are a small number of prominent women designers/business owners. Most industry bodies and manufacturers are headed up by men. I also suspect that not many women are involved in the development of products like kitchen furniture. I would be curious to know how products would evolve if women had more of an input into their development. 

Women should be visible in a variety of roles in the industry to bring a different perspective and a wider range of talent and skills. It would be more representative of our society and encourage more people to come into our industry. 

If we are to make this industry appealing for the next generation and attract talented people, we need to address diversity. Not just in terms of gender, but other areas such as race

Q: In your experience how do consumers – male and female – react to female designers? 

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A: Sometimes people, both men and women, assume that it will be a man that carries out the survey and is the person with the technical know-how. The reality is that I have as much technical know-how as my husband. A few times, clients have specifically asked for my input as they see me as the creative one, possibly because I am a woman, who has knowledge of colour and finishes, and they want my expert opinion.

Q: Who do you find makes most of the decisions when it comes to the design and purchase of a kitchen? 

A: I think it does tend to be a team effort. Sometimes one person in the partnership does the initial groundwork and then the other person gets involved. Women do tend to have a good idea of the look that they want to achieve and have researched kitchen styles and finishes. Men tend to look into technical details, such as appliance features and the construction of the furniture. However, we have had male clients who have come with a clear vision in terms of the finished look and women who have wanted to look into the technical specifications of the products

Q: As one of the few women that holds a prominent role in the industry, do you feel you have a part to play in encouraging other women to pursue a KBB career? 

A: I think that I do have a role by promoting my industry and being more visible. I am taking opportunities to come forward and give my opinions and am enjoying this experience, whereas previously I worked more in the technical and planning aspects. Just as the industry needs to act in encouraging women, we must also be willing to put ourselves forward and make our voices heard.

Q: What do you think is the future of the KBB industry when it comes to diversity? 

A: I feel our industry could do more when it comes to addressing the issue of diversity. Diversity needs to be seen in leadership roles, such as CEOs of furniture manufacturers. If we are to make this industry appealing for the next generation and attract talented people, we need to address diversity. This is not just in terms of gender, but also other areas such as race. This is important for me, as I come from an ethnic minority background. I feel diversity and inclusivity should be embraced in its widest sense, so that our industry reflects wealth of talent and creativity of the society we live in. We all have our part to play in this.

Listen to the International Women’s Day Special on The kbbreview Podcast.  on The kbbreview Podcast. Listen now using the player below or search ‘kbbreview’ in a podcast app

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