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This founder wants to empower girls through furniture making
May 30, 2018
Katy B. Olson

What does furniture have to do with empowering teenage girls? Quite a bit, according to Girls Garage founder Emily Pilloton, who has made it her mission to provide a design-building program and workspace for girls ages 9 through 17, equipped with an all-female staff that blend math, engineering, material and social sciences, arts, craft, and physical challenges.

Girls Garage founder Emily Pilloton
Girls Garage founder Emily Pilloton; courtesy Jeffrey Braverman

Pilloton will be delivering the keynote at The Furniture Society’s upcoming conference in San Francisco. The organization, which grew out of an idea generated at the American Craft Council show in 1995, is a nonprofit that aims to advance the art of furniture making. Furniture Society board president Forest Dickey says of Pilloton, “When we were deciding whom to invite as our keynote speaker, Emily’s name was at the top of the list: She embodies the energy, spirit and essence of the Furniture Society. She is talented, totally fearless, and committed to building meaning and community into the art, craft, and practice of furniture making and sharing that with the world.”

Pilloton discusses inspiration—and empowerment—with EAL:

Tell us about your experience with The Furniture Society—when were you introduced to the organization?
I had heard the name for years, but only recently became aware of the scope of the organization! I’m excited to learn more about the community of makers and all the educational programs. And I am, of course, excited that it was founded by a woman, Sarah McCollum, with such grassroots support as a nonprofit with a great mission.

Give us a preview of your keynote. What will your theme be?
Interior designers and furniture makers and architects and designers and artists all live such brave lives because we believe that the world can always be better and that we can physically make it so with our own hands and hearts. So I’ll be talking about what it means to be a maker today, and speaking specifically to a “go big or go home” attitude, doing personal work in more community-based ways, and embracing inclusive spaces where we can all share our stories and diverse backgrounds.

This founder wants to empower girls through furniture makingIt’s important for girls to be in contact with professional designers and creatives, who can show them the pathway into their careers. —Emily Pilloton

What are some of the programs, initiatives or news coming out of Girls Garage? How can designers get involved?
I’m most excited about our work with teen girls, which happens throughout the school year after school, and in a very focused way over the summer in the form of our no-cost Young Women’s Design and Building Institute. This summer, we have 24 incredible teen girls coming to us with such ferocity; they are so hungry to do meaningful work and learn new skills. We build furniture for the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center in Berkeley every year, because we also want girls to connect their own skills to the needs of their community.

I think it’s important, especially in this context, for girls to be in contact with professional designers and creatives who can show them the pathway into their careers and futures. It’s so hard for young girls to become something they’ve never seen, so having professional folks volunteer their time as a mentor, or even just an extra set of hands, creates an intimacy and proximity that just opens up their whole universe.

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