Over the course of the past 50 years the association has made major advancements. Begun as the Home Fashions League by a core of six women in the drapery industry in New York, the group's goals were to increase the prestige and broaden the potential of the women in the industry; to bring together women in related fields to exchange ideas; to meet established professional women through lectures, forums and other programming; and to offer opportunities and training for members and others who would like to advance themselves through clinics and scholarships.
Much has changed since the League's first official board meeting in 1948. In 1949 its membership had already increased to 237 as executive women in all phases of home furnishings were offered membership. Between 1949 and 1957 eight local chapters across the country were established and incorporated. The League published its first membership directory in 1959 and opened its first national office in Dallas, TX, in 1964. In 1970 IFDA incorporated its ducational Foundation to help direct the association's educational and philanthropic activities.
As the organization grew, gaining more chapters and more members, its leadership recognized the need to make two key changes: in 1986 it voted to allow men to participate as full members, and in 1988 its current name was chosen.
This month, Frances Phillips begins her one-year term as IFDA president. Phillips, who formed Phillips Communications, her own public relations company based in Philadelphia, PA, in 1995, has been a member of IFDA since 1982. In addition, she has been directly involved on its board of directors for the last six years including two stints as its vice president of marketing. In 1996 Phillips chaired the association's annual conference held in Cancun, Mexico. In 1997 she served a one-year term as director-at-large and last year served as IFDA's president-elect.
While so much as changed within IFDA over the past half-century, Phillips says its goals have remained essentially the same even as its membership has become more diverse. "We are an association of individual executives from all facets of the furnishings and design industry from manufacturing to communications to publications to interior design. We cover all the bases," she says. "IFDA provides a professional forum for communication and interaction among the various disciplines within the industry. We are, perhaps, the most diverse association within the furnishing and design industry. We have 15 chapters throughout the country and a number of members at-large around the world," she adds.
D&WC: What areas would you like to focus on during your term as president?
Frances Phillips: Membership in any business association should be considered a business investment like any other business expense. So, professional development has to be on top of the list of priorities because that is why people belong to an association like IFDA.
The focus will be to continue to give members the tools they need and can use to improve and grow their businesses. IFDA can accomplish that by working on the national level to provide its chapters with guidance, programming and membership and leadership development. Things are changing very, very rapidly out there and we've all got to know what's going on-in some cases we may not like it, but we better know that it's happening so we can adjust our businesses and adjust our business practices so we can continue to compete and be successful.
Communication also will be a focus for me. Just reminding each member in the association that everyone else is there for them, that they have access to the other members and the sharing of ideas and information.
Also, I would like to concentrate on building our student membership. We've always had a strong student membership, but it could be so much stronger. Because of our diversity of membership, our association has a lot we can offer students and they have a lot they can offer us.
D&WC: Does IFDA offer specific programs for furnishing and design students?
Phillips: The Educational Foundation, which is our charitable fund-raising arm and is supported by the membership and the chapters, offers a number of merit scholarships based on academic achievement. The individual chapters sponsor Career Day events to introduce students to the various professions within the industry.
The Foundation also offers partnership grants to the chapters that help underwrite educational programs a chapter might want to put on.
D&WC: Describe some of the programs IFDA offers in support of its members?
Phillips: Nationally, we have a number of programs and member benefits to offer. Our most important, I believe, is our annual directory, which gives our membership access to a qualified list of resources-access to expertise, knowledge and information across the industry. We try to structure the information to be as helpful as possible. So if I'm working on a project for a client and I want to talk to somebody in the window coverings business, for example, then I can go to that section in the directory and find a list of IFDA members who I can call upon for whatever I may need.
Each year we also hold a national conference. This conference gives the membership an opportunity to get together, to meet each other and to exchange information and ideas. It's an important opportunity for membership interaction because generally our activities are chapter focused. In May 1997 our New York chapter sponsored a conference to celebrate our 50th anniversary. It was a three-day event filled with lectures and panel discussions and tours.
The Educational Foundation also is an important component of IFDA. The Foundation will be taking over the role of educational programming primarily at the national level and sponsor a symposium probably every 12 to 15 months. The first symposium was held at the end of 1997 in Charleston, SC, and it was very successful. This year the symposium will be held in San Francisco, CA. When we have these conferences we also extend invitations to anyone in the industry who wants to attend, so it's also an industry outreach for the association.
We have a great Web site, which I think is a great asset to the members. It has lots of association membership information, a full calendar of trade events, each of the chapters has its own page within our site to talk about what's happening at the chapter level, and we also have advertising opportunities. This year we are going to expand our page and offer hyperlinks to member Web sites and other industry-related Web sites as well as chat rooms for members only. One of the goals might be to have members chat about a particular issue of importance, or a trend, or talk to an industry leader about a particular topic.
The Educational Foundation also offers a Professional Development Award, and we now have a Universal Design Grant that's given to someone who's working in that field. We also produce a quartly newsletter, Network, that reports on news and trends in the industry and in the association.
D&WC: What trends do you think will be most important in the years immediately ahead?
Phillips: Technology is one of the key influences, and it's going to continue to have an impact on our business and personal lives. Technology is here. It's no longer a trend. It will be one of the areas that we must continue keeping our members up to date on-just with how people are shopping, how people are living, what they're doing in their homes and businesses. Anybody in any business has got to stay on top of it. None of us can afford to be left behind nowadays.
Another trend is the blurring of the lines between the various disciplines-for example, the interior design field and retailing-and how people are getting information relative to their homes and what the interior trends are. Technology is having an impact on how we shop, how we buy, how we get our information every day and how we live in our houses. There used to be a little cubby hole in the kitchen that was the home office. Now, every room is going to have a portal for a computer, and that office at home will be fully equipped with a computer, fax, printer, scanner, modem and who knows what else!
We have to keep track of what's happening in the economy as well. It's important to know where the population is going, what their needs are going to be and what is driving their purchasing decisions. We need to keep track of the aging Baby Boom population and how they are going to impact everything we do.
Universal design is certainly a hot button for a number of our interior design members. We are going to be rethinking how we live and what we need and where we want to live. Sustainable design is another take on classic design. If someone has a special need, you don't have to redesign a house to make it suitable for him or her. It's the ultimate in good design-it works, and it works for a broad number of family members and a broad number of needs.
Several years ago the whole notion of quality and value were buzz words. Today they are the price of entry into the market. Everybody expects products to be well made, they expect to get value for what they are paying. If you don't offer that you're not even in the game. Consumers ask, "Does it work for me, does it work for my family, does it fit within our lifestyle?"
D&WC: How are international markets affecting IFDA or its members?
Phillips: One of the things we plan to include in our programming for the educational symposium the Foundation will be presenting in San Francisco this year is discussion about the Asian economy and particularly some of the many changes that are taking place in China. For example, how Asian daily living needs are more and more reflecting Western culture even to the point of how they are going about purchasing and furnishing their homes.
One of our members was recently involved in coordinating a showhouse in China focusing on companies that are making products for that market. As the Asian economy rebounds, with all of the societal changes that are taking place, there will be business opportunities there.
D&WC: How can IFDA members best prepare themselves for the next millennium?
Phillips: You really have to stay on top of what the trends are in your industry and all of the other industries that sort of bump into your industry, which ultimately could be any industry in the world. The challenge is going to be filtering out the information you need for your particular business.
In the design business clients are sophisticated-they're on the Net. You need to be there too if you're going to be working with them and communicating with them. Customers say, "E-mail me my floor plan and the four pieces of furniture you want me to consider and I'll look at them here on my computer!" You've got to be able to scan that in and send it over.
It's tough-not only keeping up, but finding the time to keep up. Belonging to an association facilitates access to that information. Making sure members stay on top of what's happening is going to be the association's primary role in the future. One of the things we do is prepare a Market Fax six times a year that's proprietary for members only. It is produced by our New York chapter, but it covers six key markets each year. Within a week of the markets all of the members get a report on the market from five to six industry leaders. It's a very valuable tool.