The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
Strap up your Mary Janes and stuff your Telfars, we’re headed to Fashion Month! Joining me this week are two trailblazing Black women in fashion, Sherri McMullen of McMullen Boutique and Telsha Anderson of t.a. During our conversation we chatted about how they she care for their mental health as business owners, championing other Black people in the fashion industry, and the importance of mentorship.
Visit our Amazon Store for all the books mentioned on the podcast.
Get updates about Sisterhood Heals.
Where to Find Sherri
Where to Find Telsha
Is there a topic you’d like covered on the podcast? Submit it at therapyforblackgirls.com/mailbox.
If you’re looking for a therapist in your area, check out the directory at https://www.therapyforblackgirls.com/directory.
Take the info from the podcast to the next level by joining us in the Therapy for Black Girls Sister Circle community.therapyforblackgirls.com
Grab your copy of our guided affirmation and other TBG Merch at therapyforblackgirls.com/shop.
The hashtag for the podcast is #TBGinSession.
Make sure to follow us on social media:
Our Production Team
Executive Producers: Dennison Bradford & Maya Cole Howard
Producers: Fredia Lucas, Ellice Ellis & Cindy Okereke
Session 275: A Moment for Black Women In Fashion
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 275 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into our conversation after a word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: Strap up your Mary Janes and stuff your Telfars. Today I'm in conversation talking with two trailblazing black women in fashion. When Sherri McMullen moved to Oakland 22 years ago, the former buyer at Neiman Marcus was drawn to the community fostered by the area's local businesses. With 15 years of experience under her belt and a desire to support designers of color and bring high fashion to the city, she founded the eponymous McMullen Boutique in 2007. The all-inclusive concept shop for luxury fashion featuring emerging and established designers from around the world has introduced the work of Christopher John Rogers, Peter Do, and Sergio Hudson to the town for the past 15 years. In this week's special episode, fitting for Fashion Month, we speak to the master of brand discovery, Sherri McMullen, about her fashion entrepreneurship journey. Our conversation explores how she cares for her mental health as a business owner and champions black people in the fashion industry.
But it doesn't stop there. Across the country in New York City's Meatpacking district, is a young woman following in her footsteps, Telsha Anderson. Telsha opened her boutique and concept shop t.a. amid the pandemic, with a nontraditional fashion background. Since t.a.’s founding, the shop has become known for its commitment to emerging designers and buzzing indie labels. Stay tuned for more on our chat with Telsha. And now, here's Sherri.
Dr. Joy: I'm very excited to have this conversation with you, Sherri. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Sherri: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Joy: For someone who has never visited McMullen boutique, can you paint a visual for us? What can we expect to see in the store? I've heard that it's gorgeous and lots of beautiful, different shades of brown mannequins. Can you paint a picture for us?
Sherri: Sure. When you walk into the store, you immediately see a pink neon sign, which is my signature in cursive. And you see that in the front of a pink large wall, there are shades of pink tones and *[inaudible 0:03:40] tones and sort of a mustard-colored carpet, sort of this 70ish feel, there are vintage chandeliers. But something that people really are drawn to, above our accessories wall are pictures of my family from Oklahoma. We have large blown-up pictures of my mother and my grandmother and aunts, the women who have influenced me in fashion, in life generally. You'll see velvet curtains and pink beautiful lighting within the dressing rooms. It is a really very inviting store. And of course, the fashion is spectacular and we have brands from all over the world. But that's what you immediately see and feel when you walk into the space.
Dr. Joy: It sounds like a beautiful shopping experience.
Sherri: Yes, it is. I can definitely say it is worth visiting because sometimes when you see something online, it's completely different than when you actually physically see it and experience it in person.
Dr. Joy: I bet. You spent 15 years as a buyer before opening your storefront. Can you talk a little bit about how that experience led you to opening your boutique?
Sherri: I studied business in school, I studied accounting specifically and really was great at numbers and really understood the accounting side of it. When I graduated from school, I moved to Texas and I was really trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was 21 or 22 and I was working in this industry that I wasn't really enjoying and I found myself still wanting to do something in fashion, just not understanding how I could get into the space and what that looked like. Because I wasn't a designer, I didn't necessarily want to work in a store, but I was very much interested in the behind the scenes and figuring out how product got into the stores. I just didn't know what that job title was. I was working my full-time job in accounting and then on the weekends and after hours, I was working in the retail stores at a few different boutiques and larger retailers. And then I discovered that there was a program called the Executive Development Program at Neiman Marcus and they essentially taught you how to be a buyer. I joined the program, I applied for it, I got in, I left my accounting job, and the rest is history.
I continued to work in this space, I learned so much just working at large corporations, and I was figuring out, sort of, do I want to live in Texas, do I want to move and try something different? But I still wanted to stay in this space. So I was deciding if I was going to go to California or New York, and I ended up in California and ended up with another corporation, Williams Sonoma, and I was chosen to be a buyer, a textile buyer for the company. I ended up moving to San Francisco and falling in love with California, and here I am today sort of 22 years later, still in California. But when I was with that company, I started writing my business plan for McMullen because I was in this space and thinking, is this really what I want to do? Continue to work for companies and helping them build their companies? I had the fastest growing business, I was doing very well at my company, I was moving, traveling around the world and I learned so much. But I knew in my heart that I wanted to do something for myself and create something completely different than what I was seeing and experiencing in the corporate world.
Dr. Joy: You opened the boutique in 2007. Can you say a little bit about what the landscape looked like for black women in fashion at that time?
Sherri: Black women are fashionable icons generally. If you think about Diana Ross and Diahann Carroll and so many icons, sort of looking at what they were doing, what they were buying back in the 20s, the 40s, the 50s and 60s, it keeps going on and on. When I opened in 2007, if you think about the number of designers that were black women, there were very few that you could actually get to. There was no social media at that time, there was no e-commerce, so the discovering black designers was a little bit challenging during that time because we were really heavily relying on showrooms. When you'd go to New York or go to LA or whatever markets you were attending, you really relied on those showrooms to show you the new brands. Tracy Reese was the first black designer that I had in my store, and she is a woman. She was at the top of her game at that time, and she was selling to huge companies. She was dressing first lady Michelle Obama, she was dressing everyone and it was just such an honor to have her in the store and she happened to be my top selling brand. Everyone was wearing her so it wasn't just black women who were supporting her, it was everyone who was buying her clothing. I found myself wanting to bring more black designers to the forefront because I just had a really hard time finding them and it became sort of my mission to discover emerging brands, new talent, and especially designers of color and make them accessible to people who wanted to discover those brands.
Dr. Joy: I love that. Can you say a little bit about the evolution that you've seen now, 15 years later?
Sherri: There's definitely been an evolution over the last 15 years that I've had the business. I would say the last five years especially, maybe even two or three years really. We're seeing more black designers in the forefront, thanks to organizations like Black in Fashion Council, The Fifteen Percent Pledge, even the CFDA who’s been really instrumental in putting more black designers in the forefront and making them more accessible to other retailers. For a really long time, we were the one, we were the store to go to, to discover those brands. And now you're finding brands at stores from Anthropologie all the way to Bergdorf’s, and of course McMullen, you will always find lots of different brands from designers of color and all over the world. So we've definitely seen a shift and definitely more desire and hunger to find those brands.
Dr. Joy: I've been kind of stalking the Instagram for the store for some time now and so I love seeing like the Telfar that you have on display, and Hanifa. You really have done an excellent job I think of showcasing some very new talent.
Sherri: Yes, that's something that I'm most passionate about is the discovery, and that's what we're known for. People to us because they want to know who's new and who they should be wearing. We're considered a tastemaker in that regard, where people are looking for what's new and hot, and who should I be wearing?
Dr. Joy: Right, I love it. We talk a lot about the excitement and the power of owning a business, but I don't think we always talk about the stress and the mental health impact that comes with entrepreneurship and owning a business. Can you talk a little bit about what has been most difficult for you, maybe mental health wise or stress wise, in terms of running a business?
Sherri: Being an entrepreneur I would say is not for everyone. You have to really know that there are going to be a lot of sacrifices along the way, and not just financial sacrifices. A lot of personal sacrifices. It's a constant grind, really, every day even 15 years in, I work every single day. I do take the time off when I need to because it is really all-consuming when you have a business, especially when you are the sole owner and you don't have other partners. I have had to find balance in… Whatever balance is. I don't know if balance really exists, but I've had to find ways to really take time off from the business and allow myself the space and time to take in the day and wake up with setting intentions for the day and what I want to do. Just taking moments for myself and for my mental wellbeing. Waking up full of gratitude for just existing and being able to wake up in the morning and being able to have a business that I love and enjoy. Going for walks and taking 20 minutes, even 15 minutes, just to meditate and have quiet time before I get my son up or before I get on Instagram or before I even start breakfast for him. Like it's so important to block off that time for myself because for so long I didn't. I would wake up to work, I would go to sleep to work, and we have to find the balance in some way to make sure that we're taking care of ourselves first and foremost. Because it can be all consuming.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. You talk about like, is balance even real? I agree with you. I don't know that it is because there will be times that work calls more, there will be time that mothering calls for more, so it really is kind of like, okay, what needs my attention and priority right now?
Sherri: That's right. Yeah, that's exactly how I feel. I have a young son, who requires all of my attention and I want to be present for him when he's here. He goes to school, and when I pick him up and at night, my time is with him—it's not working. My team understands that and respects that. If there's emergencies, they have someone else that they can contact now, but it did take some time to get to that place. For me, it's like I have to set boundaries and I have blocks of time on my schedule where people can't reach me and that's my time. I have it blocked off for an hour every morning, and it says exercise, but that time could be spent doing anything. It just means that I'm not taking any meetings and you can't schedule any time during that time.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned practicing gratitude. Is that something you do formally, like do you keep a gratitude journal? Or is it more just kind of a talking to yourself or talking out loud kind of thing?
Sherri: I've journaled for years. I don't do it as much, but I do keep great notes of sort of my thoughts and my day. It's all in one personal and business binder that I have it logged by day. But for me, it is really just taking the mental time, not looking at my phone when I first wake up. I have a beautiful view, so taking that in in the morning and just feeling so grateful for being here, for existing. For me, those are those moments of practicing gratitude.
Dr. Joy: What do you think makes pursuing a career in luxury fashion different for black women?
Sherri: What makes it different? I think just generally, for black women, we are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs, and not necessarily in the fashion space, but just generally business owners. I think one of our biggest challenges that we face as black women entrepreneurs is that we don't necessarily get the funding that we need to sustain our businesses and keep going. Black women, we will make sure that our families are taken care of, our communities are taken care of, it is just something in us that we are nurturers and we lift people up. We lift up everyone. And many times, we are left out of resources. And being able to have these conversations around finance. Like my friends and I, we get together, we talk about money. I think a lot of times, black women we shy away from those conversations around investing and ownership. We're talking about a lot of different things but I think it's really important that we talk about how we can create things for ourselves and have long lasting businesses. It's really important to have that because we have for a long time been left out of that conversation.
It's something that we have to really demand. Being a business owner, it has probably been my biggest challenge. There have been a lot of things that I've been up against but getting funding for the business has been by far, from the very beginning, the biggest obstacle. And it's really growth. We have a solid business and I make sure that we're good and we're solid, but how do we get to the next level? And I mean like really big growth. Because many times, it's like, how dare you black woman want so much more for yourself? Especially as a single black person, you know, I'm not married. I have gone to banks and they're like, is someone supporting you? Do you have someone cosigning? Do you have a husband? Do you have a partner? Do you have a father? All of these questions, and I'm like I'm an adult. I'm actually a grown woman and I have to answer these questions still? I'm like, no, it's just me. But yeah, we still have so far to go. We have to keep having these conversations and demanding that we get taken seriously in the business space.
Dr. Joy: More from our conversation after the break.
Dr. Joy: You’ve mentioned getting more comfortable talking with your friends and colleagues about money. Is there any financial advice that you’ve received recently, that has been incredibly helpful in running your business or sustaining it?
Sherri: In running the business, I do have really good mentors and advisors. I've always been told sort of ask for a lot more than you actually need. Many times, we're like we'll just accept something because it's like, oh, well, someone's giving me something so I might as well accept it. And now I'm like, am I going to spend this many hours for a very little amount of, whether it's money or resources, when I could be spending the same amount of time focusing on organizations or businesses? Or whatever it is, whether it's VCs or whatever it is, getting a lot more. I don't want to accept just a little bit because someone is offering it. I'd rather wait.
We talk about that and sort of not accepting less than you're worth. Or if someone's saying, Sherri, can you work with me on styling or doing this and that, I really have to weigh out, is this going to be worth my time? Many times, I have to say no to things because I cannot give to everyone all the time and then have very little for myself or very little for my family at the end of it. It's like, is this going to get me to the goal at hand? I set real goals for myself and for my business every single year and I have to think about every decision. Like, okay, does this get me to my goal? How much time am I going to put into this that's going to ultimately get me to my goal? So there are those thoughts that I got and most times I'm saying no to things.
Dr. Joy: You know, Sherri, that sounds like a very seasoned business owner and I'm thinking to myself it feels like it takes a while to get to that place in business. What kinds of things do you feel like really helped you to get to that place where you were able to set those kinds of boundaries?
Sherri: It takes a while to get there. For me, I was just figuring out. In the beginning, I didn't have a brand, we didn't have social media. We were getting very little press in the beginning because we're also sort of away from New York where all the editors and magazines and publications were. I felt like I had to work a little bit harder to just get our name out there, so I was saying yes to so many different things. Then you get to a place where you're like, okay, I'm recognized, I have a brand that is established and I'm able to pick and choose what I want to participate in. Fifteen years in with my company and my calendar is always busy. But even I was just thinking, right before I got on this call, I said, do I have a window on Friday? Because I'm gonna go and get a massage. I'm gonna get a massage and I'm gonna block off my day. I have a couple of things in the morning at my son's school, and then the rest of the day, I'm blocking off. And so when you just get to that place where you just say, it's going to get handled, someone else can manage it, I don't have to do everything, that's why I have a team now. And I can say no to things and say yes to things that are really going to move the company forward or things that I'm most passionate about. Those are the things that I want to do. It just takes time to get to that place.
Dr. Joy: Right. After your 30-plus-year (it feels like) career in the fashion industry, what are some things that you still love? What still brings you joy about being in this industry?
Sherri: Oh, gosh, I love working with designers, I love discovering new brands, having conversations with the artists behind the company and the brands, getting to know them. Many times, helping launch their careers and their brands by giving them a platform to showcase their product and watching those brands grow. I love working with our clients, hearing their stories and how good they felt wearing McMullen. Whether it's them having a panel conversation or they're on stage or their promotion, and they want a refresh. Or they bought something to wear to an interview and they got that job. Or our customers who daughters or sons are getting married, and they're looking for the perfect dress for the wedding occasion. There are so many stories that we have. The client who was with me from the very beginning, our first person who purchased from us, she's still a client today and she bought this Tracy Reese beaded capelet for an event that she had. And she always talks about that and how good she felt in it, and she still owns that piece to this day.
Those are really special things and it's really why I continue to do what I do—helping discover brands, develop them, mentor them, investing in them in a real way. And then our customers, making sure that they're taken care of. I love when young women and men are interested in working for McMullen. Many times, they've followed us for a long time and they love what we're doing and what we stand for, and they want to be a part of it. And when they're like excited to share with me a designer that they've discovered on their own, I love those moments. I feel like we're doing something right if we are training that next generation to do the same things that are making them happy, and the discovery.
Dr. Joy: For this episode, we're also speaking with Telsha Anderson and she definitely named you as an inspiration. So it feels like it is very much a part of your ethos to really be mentoring and opening the door for the next generation of people who are owning boutiques and things like that.
Sherri: Yes. I love her and we met for the first time in person, I think it was last year, a party after the CFDA awards. And I just hugged her and held her face, it was really special. I love what she's doing and what she's creating for herself. Yeah, she's doing an amazing job.
Dr. Joy: What's something on your vision board for your career that you have not done yet?
Sherri: We are focused on growth in both the physical space and the e-commerce space, so right now I'm very much focused on that and raising money for that part of the business. We are opening a distribution center, which is really exciting, and it hasn't even been announced yet. But we are opening a 10,000 square feet distribution center in West Oakland. We'll be able to hire more people, which is really exciting, and hire within the community. And then really continue to grow that part of the business that exploded in the last three years and be able to get our product out faster to customers and so forth. And then we're doing these pop ups in locations, so I'm just really focused on that and growing and expanding our brand in that way. Through experiences. As well as product offering, I mean that's something that we'll always do—continue to shine the light on new designers, black designers, emerging brands, female designers. Yeah.
Dr. Joy: Can you talk a little bit about, and you've mentioned this before. New York typically is seen as the place where you are when you're growing fashion brands, but you have, it sounds like, been very committed to staying in California and in Oakland specifically. Can you talk a little bit about that decision?
Sherri: Sure. I moved 22 years ago to California, and I was living in San Francisco, and I found myself being drawn to Oakland and the warm climate, it was definitely warmer here. But also just the people, there was this strong sense of community here. I found that the small businesses had been around for a long time, people were supporting them. It just felt right for me to be in a city that at the time when I moved, there were so many more black people who lived here. It just felt like a great community that I wanted to raise my family at a certain point in time. I didn't have children at that time. And my friends were here, beautiful lake, beautiful buildings, architecture. Obviously so much history here. It just felt right for us to be here.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned that you take pride in kind of introducing others to new up and coming people. Who do you have your eye on right now? And what are some black owned fashion brands that we can spend our money on?
Sherri: Christopher John Rogers is a dear and one of my favorite brands. We’re actually the first retailer to pick up Christopher's line back in 2019. But I also love brands like Aisling Camps. She is a wonderful knitwear designer that we also introduced first to the retail space. Harwell Godfrey jewelry, she has an amazing luxury, fine jewelry line. She's based in the Bay area as well, a black woman. Diotima is a brand, Rachel Scott is the designer. She is Jamaican and she has a lot of hand crocheted pieces from Jamaica that are crocheted by artisans in Kingston, and she is very committed to including that in her work. So those are a few. We have a list of amazing designers, but those come to mind first. There’s also Nomia Yara Flinn is a designer we've had for almost a decade now, and she's based in New York, but she really focuses on sustainability and just doing like timeless pieces. She is an amazing woman to women in her space, and she's doing so much herself still. But she is just an incredible person that I love supporting and working with.
Dr. Joy: Thank you. I hadn't heard of any of these so I'm very excited to do a little bit more digging into all of these great finds.
Sherri: Yeah, you'll love them.
Dr. Joy: A fun question for you. If you could only go to one Fashion Week, which shows would you go to? New York, London, Milan or Paris?
Sherri: Can I pick something else?
Dr. Joy: Oh, yes of course.
Sherri: Because I've been to all of them. I would select Lagos Fashion Week because I have not been yet. I have been dying to go the last couple of years but because of the pandemic I haven't been able to go. I'm hoping in October. But the number of talented artisans, designers, based in the continent generally and they show at Lagos Fashion Week, is just incredible. We have three designers from Ghana and from Nigeria combined, from the store. And the most incredible beadwork and hand dyeing, the textiles are just incredible, most exquisite pieces. If you want sustainable product, that is the most sustainable pieces of garments that you can get. It’s slow fashion, you know. It may take you eight months to a year to get a piece but when you get it, you're like I'm cherishing this forever. Now I understand why it took so long. Because of the amount of love and work that has gone into it. So I would say that's probably where I would go. And after that, Paris, my heart. I love Paris.
Dr. Joy: Are there any other international areas that you have your eye on?
Sherri: Copenhagen. I’ve been to Copenhagen Fashion Week as well but it's a really cool place. It’s a beautiful city, it's a great biking city if you enjoy that. People are just happy, generally. Very friendly, very clean, like beautiful architecture and home goods that you can discover. Yeah, so I would say Copenhagen is another one.
Dr. Joy: Okay. What advice would you like to share for any younger black women who are wanting to enter the business of fashion?
Sherri: I would say if you're wanting to enter the industry itself (not necessarily being a business owner, but if you want to enter the industry) I would reach out to other black women and men in the space, and just set up meetings with them. Just calls and say, I just want to pick your brain about how you got into the business, and what would you recommend? For me, I started a really long time ago so the way I got in was different than probably how many people can get in today. I went through working for companies first before I started my business, and you don't necessarily have to do that. But I would say, get some training for sure if you’re wanting to start your own business. Get a little bit of training under your belt and then really have lots of advisors, have your people that you can go to for really anything that you need. Can you connect me with this person? You know, I've been really trying to get this brand in my store, can you make an introduction? Don't be afraid to ask for what you need. And that's something that we also have to talk about as well. Let's not be afraid to ask for whatever it is that we need. There's no shame in it, just ask.
Dr. Joy: Love it. And where can we stay connected with you, Sherri, and all the incredible work that you're doing?
Sherri: My website is ShopMcMullen.com, and our Instagram handle is also @ShopMcMullen. My personal one is @Sherri.McMullen and you can find more sort of behind-the-scenes, my life as a business owner and mom, and all the things that we're doing. We're in Oakland so you can discover our space at 2257, Broadway, Oakland, California, right in the Uptown in the heart of Oakland.
Dr. Joy: Thank you. I definitely plan to make a visit the next time I'm in California, so I appreciate you sharing that with us.
Sherri: Thank you. We look forward to having you.
Dr. Joy: Thank you. Thank you for joining us today, Sherri.
Sherri: Thank you so much, Dr. Joy, I enjoyed it.
[END OF PART]
Dr. Joy: Sherri dropped gems in that conversation but the tidbit about when she met t.a.’s Telsha Anderson warmed our hearts. Sherri and our next guest Telsha aren't only black women boutique owners; they both are committed to protecting their peace of mind as entrepreneurs in an unforgiving industry. When Telsha opened her store in 2020 during the height of the pandemic and the country's racial reckoning, the world and many storefront owners remained uncertain of their future. In part two of this episode, the young business owner shares t.a.’s origin story, how she nurtures her mental health as a budding business owner and sings sweet praises to Sherri in her pioneering boutique. Thank you so much for joining us today, Telsha.
Telsha: Thanks for having me, Dr. Joy. How are you?
Dr. Joy: I’m doing well. How are you?
Telsha: Good. I'm on my off day, so relaxing.
Dr. Joy: Very glad to hear about off days. Those are always necessary.
Telsha: Always, always. It’s the day of decondition and relaxation.
Dr. Joy: I hear you. Before you started working in the industry, what was your perception of the kinds of jobs or opportunities that black people were having in fashion?
Telsha: That's a really good question. For me, I didn't know a lot of the jobs within fashion for black women and black men even existed. It was this whole myth that there were just really pretty clothes out there, you really didn't know about the behind-the-scenes aspect, we didn't really know anyone of any race that was doing anything within the fashion space unless you were a model or a designer. Then when I graduated college is when I was first introduced to the possibility of even being a part of the industry and how many different people were a part of it as well. When it comes to black faces specifically, André Leon was probably it in my head. I didn't really even know there was anything else that could be out there other than a correspondent or some type of editor.
Dr. Joy: What happened during your senior year, close to graduation it sounds like, that exposed you to other opportunities?
Telsha: There was an ad that went out on Fashionista.com and there was a few companies, specifically Essie, looking for interns for Fashion Week. My second semester, which was around like February of the new year, right before I graduated, I applied. I took two weeks off from school and I went to work behind the scenes of all these different fashion shows, it was my job to make sure that every model had their nails done before they went on the runway. I didn't do their nails, but I was in charge of the nail techs and then I would assign a nail tech to a model. And so just being in that field, I was like, oh my god, this is so cool. I can't believe even like this little job was what someone could even have. There still weren't a lot of black people within the fashion space. I was working at the time for a white woman, she was working for another white woman, and then she was working for a white man so there weren't any tools really given. I just don't think that's something that we were even exposed to as kids, outside of the sports or whatever other high-profile jobs you could have.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, and so what do you feel like really got you interested in fashion? Were you somebody who was just always paying attention to trends? How did you really get interested in fashion and definitely as a career?
Telsha: My grandmother and my mom are my inspirations for everything, mainly fashion. They both have beautiful closets to this day, and when I was younger had amazing wardrobes that they just cultivated on their own and took tips and little tricks for style that were passed down to them for generations to generations, and then passed them down to me and my sister and my brother. I think that's where my first interest piqued. I was younger when both my parents gave me like a Coach set, this patchwork Coach set that I wore to school even in the summer, which was ridiculous. I really just wanted to, I don't know, look good and feel good and I think for me, that was expressed through fashion and through wardrobe. And they encouraged me to do the same and wear what I wanted to wear, how I wanted to wear it, when I wanted to wear it. If I wanted to wear Sunday school shoes to a Monday school class, they were okay with it. And if I wanted to wear jeans to church, they were okay with that, too. They just kind of let me be me and I think that's where my interest piqued. Of course, I'm like from the era of Tumblr, so seeing different kinds of editorials on that platform as well was really encouraging and exciting to see the possibilities of what seemed at the time like a make-believe world.
Dr. Joy: I really got excited hearing you say that your first grown up or maybe fashion bag was Coach because mine was also, and I think that's so interesting. There are some brands, I feel like especially for black women, that are like this hallmark in your closet. And I love that Coach has made this resurgence and is doing so well right now.
Telsha: So good, I'm so excited. They're rebranding and it is, in my opinion, incredible and I'm excited to see where they continue. But you're right. There are like these staple brands and for me, it was Michael Kors, Coach and Louis Vuitton. And those were the brands that I feel like I always saw my mom and my grandma wearing or just different black women wearing wherever they would take me. It's nice to see those brands are still around and still, to some degree, cater to us as a consumer.
Dr. Joy: What was your first job in fashion, post-graduation?
Telsha: Post-graduation first job. My first job ever after college, I sold park guides to the National Parks Association, I believe. I continued to intern at random odd jobs within the fashion space. I continued to work for BPCM which was a part of the Essie program that I mentioned earlier, or I would meet different photographers and try to be their assistant or just random weird things. Just trying to find that in and it really didn't even happen for me until (I want to say) I became a social media manager at Hypebeast. I was helping them out with social on the Hypekids side until I was exposed to kind of streetwear culture through that. And then officially fashion, it's funny. I don't think I had an official fashion job until I opened the store. And so that's when I would say I had my first fashion job. Everything else was either an odd job or very temporary, or it would happen and then people would go ghost on me and then it would just fizzle and fade. Or it was fashion adjacent, but still not in the fashion world.
Dr. Joy: Right. That feels like a huge leap, to go from like, okay, I don't even have any entry-level jobs to “I think I'm going to open my own boutique.” I mean, very bold which I think is very cool, but talk to me a little bit about how you got to that place without having any of those entry-level jobs that you think you might have before you make the leap to a boutique.
Telsha: I will track back. I did work at some retail stores. Still, in my opinion doesn't count. But for me, I was a retail management minor during my undergraduate life and then I went to NYU for grad school under their brand management program. And a lot of the classes I took, electives, whatever people call them now, dove into the fashion space and how we articulate ourselves within that world and how we communicate through our clothing. And how the fashion world has figured out a way to communicate through us with marketing tools, whether it be social or out of home, or newsletters, whatever tools they use. So I had a lot of schooling in it. And then a lot of my jobs, working in social media and in PR, kind of always being adjacent to that world, just continued to encourage me to see what was needed within the market.
Oddly enough, I wanted to be a buyer so bad. Which is funny when I graduated and no one was hiring, especially no one was hiring a black girl that didn't have a lot of intern experience or didn't come from this fashion family or have a connection within that world. I think I've just built my business plan. I talked to different professionals within this space, I had the background education-wise, and I had the background from just being close to it. And then kind of went out and broke out on my own and used the skills that I did have to make up and encourage the skills I didn't. I would always say, I opened the store or t.a. when I was 26 and if I opened it at 48, I think I'd still have the same questions. Even having whatever experience needed from then until now. I think being an entrepreneur, while yes, I'm in the fashion space has proven more needs outside of that fashion space than within it, if that makes sense.
Dr. Joy: Can you say more about that?
Telsha: Yeah. A lot of running a business, at least for me personally, has been very business administrative, people facing, rapport building, working with landlords, contracts, negotiations, all of that. Of course, what I do is glamorous to an extent, but a lot of what I do on a day-to-day basis is more kind of people-facing, emails, administrative, than it is fashion. That piece is what I put forth and is the biggest piece is often the smallest. Like a New York Fashion Week or Paris Fashion Week or a buy really only lasts two weeks. And then you still have a whole year to get through. And so of course I entered this space with, okay, I had these fashion connects that I've learned from or met in the past, I'm gonna dive in and use them for the buy and I'm going to make short term appointments. But again, that's still two weeks out of my whole year, or I'll even give it a month out of my whole year. And the other is just running and operating a business.
Like I would have to put in the same legwork if I was selling kitchen sinks that I do when I'm selling clothing. It's probably a different marketing approach but I'm still within this big pool trying to get someone to buy from me. And I think that's the fun part. I get to use all my previous skills to build what it is I'm doing now. And the great part is that fashion just somehow comes very naturally. The buys is hectic in a two-week span, it’s probably my least stressful. I probably get more stressed out when I'm trying to create a job description to hire somebody than it is when I'm picking out clothing for this season that's going to be featured in the store that following season.
Dr. Joy: I was gonna say it does seem like your previous experiences really were a good setup for the kind of work that you will be doing running this business. Your experience with marketing and brand management I'm sure come in incredibly handy.
Telsha: Yeah, they do. It's funny, when I was doing all those jobs, I didn't really know what I wanted to do (which is what I'm doing now) until halfway through it. So the first half, it was just like, oh, let me just do this random thing. Let me get a check, I want to live in New York City. Then it kind of grew to, okay, now I know why I'm at NYU, why I'm taking this class. Let me make sure that it aligns with what I want to do. So it was kind of a mid-epiphany that I had in the middle of schooling and in the middle of my jobs and working in social. And now those same tools, like you said, I get to use and apply to the store.
Dr. Joy: Who are some of the black people and black women specifically that you look up to in this space, or any pioneers that really have been pivotal for you?
Telsha: Oh, my head is spinning. Sherri McMullen for sure. She owns a store in Oakland, it is beautiful. They've been open for about 15 years and I believe she was a buyer beforehand. And Sharifa Murdock, she founded Liberty Fair, she now works at Kith. She's an amazing black woman within the retail space, fashion space, all of that good stuff, and she's always been extremely supportive of me and of other black women looking to find their way and find their footing in what we do. I'm probably missing so many. Carly Cushnie, I love as well, she's a designer. I haven't had the chance to meet her officially, but I've been following her and her brand for a while. I'm trying to think of other women that I love. There are so many, but I think the sad part is they're not that many. And it’s what we're talking about today. I know a lot of those women that I mentioned also are entrepreneurs in their own rights and so that I think is what's most inspiring to me as well. They found a way to create their own business and their own voice within the world that always still continues to champion white women or nonblack women.
Dr. Joy: It's funny you mentioned Sherri because we'll be speaking to her for this episode as well, so I love that you named her because I think it'd be interesting to hear your insight kind of as a newer entrepreneur, but also her being an OG in the game in a lot of ways.
Telsha: Yeah, she's an OG for real, she's great. I'm looking forward to the chance to meet her and to sit down and chat. But she is amazing. Oh, my gosh, I'm missing Bethann as well. I love Bethann. She, for those who don't know, is just an incredible champion for black designers and black faces within this space. She's done so much for all of us in this space. She definitely is someone. I'm like I know there's someone I'm forgetting. But she's amazing. I just got an email from her, so I have to email her back. But she's great.
Dr. Joy: Nice. Thinking about shortage in a lot of ways, it definitely feels like there is a disproportionate number of black women in these power positions as compared to the consumers and the black women who are actually very much into fashion. So I'm curious to hear from you any kind of programs or any suggestions you would have to younger black women who are maybe interested in following your footsteps or wanting to get into fashion. Because it sounds like you have just figured it out and I think that clearly is a very realistic option for some people, but I think it's harder when there are not more formal pipelines. Can you give us some suggestions about that?
Telsha: Yeah, for sure. One that I just started working with is called Mentoring Matters. It is a UK-based program but a lot of the mentors that they find are US-based. I was a part of I think the seventh round. And what that is, for those who don't know, is this wonderful woman, she founded Mentoring Matters and she essentially wanted to connect younger women and men to minorities within this space. And so she essentially is kind of pairing a mentee with a mentor every 12 weeks, and we're able to work with them on what it is that they are looking to do within this space. It doesn't always have to be fashion-forward, but it typically is. I’m working with a wonderful young woman, her name is Amanda and she founded *[inaudible 0:49:17] which is great. So for those listening, go check it out. Her business is centered around fragrance and scents but she's still looking to have a brick and mortar. So that's kind of where we align.
But unfortunately, there aren't a lot of formal programs that champion black faces within this space, and I think that's part of the problem. Of course, I think Mentoring Matters kind of just started, so they're trying, but there isn't one that's been rooted in what we do for quite a while and I think that's part of the issue. I hope that does change over time. I use SCORE but that's not a place that is minority focused. It's a place that you just go to if you have an idea and can figure it out from there.
Dr. Joy: Can you say a little bit more about what SCORE is, is it some kind of like online platform?
Telsha: Oh, yeah. Pre-pandemic, you were able to (if you had a business that you were interested in) connect with a retired professional within that space. And they volunteer their time, it's free, and you're able to go and work with someone that's done it, someone that's done what you do. And they can look at your business plan and connect you to different people, and also kind of critique and change things that they see fit, based on what they've done before. It's based in every major city. I used to go on my lunch break, I don't suggest people do that. But I went on my lunch break when I was at my nine-to-five, and I went there and they helped me just build my plan up. I ran it through a series of professionals that were in the retail space, the brick-and-mortar space, and they kind of called out different things that I needed to know for when I were to launch. They also are connected to SBA, which is the Small Business Association, and so they can help with funding as well. So you kind of go through the program, then you go to check out the funding portion of the program. And you can sign up whenever, it's free and it's really great. They're like a list of people, they give you their bios. The great part about it, if you don't like the person you get connected with at first, you can find someone new. I went through maybe five people till I found my person. That’s SCORE.
Dr. Joy: That sounds like a great opportunity, thanks for sharing that. More from our conversation after the break.
Dr. Joy: t.a. opened not only during the pandemic, but also shortly after George Floyd was murdered. I would love to hear from you what that experience was like, as a black business owner during that time.
Telsha: That experience was tough. I was set to open March 2020 and the world shut down. And because I still had made these promises to these brands and because I'm a new business with the brick-and-mortar space, I needed to sell so I sold during that space. It was hard. A lot of people were losing family members, people were sick, it was tough. And so for me, it was about finding the balance between being empathetic and sympathetic to what was going on and still making sure that my business was heard and my business had a voice within that time. And then while that was occurring, George Floyd was murdered and so my business always was championing being a black-owned business within the Meatpacking space. And I think for me, it was just time to kind of say it louder, if that makes sense. And to speak on what we felt was injustice, and to speak on what we felt was not right, and to speak on what we will not tolerate as a business. And what I don't tolerate from my own personal beliefs and politics, whatever, as a black woman.
And so around that time, Instagram started the hashtag ShopBlack, which was (from my standpoint) supposed to encourage those who didn't know about black businesses or who wanted to do something during that time, to support us. To support who we were and to call out the fact that we were still operating, still owning, and that we were black. To me, it felt like a double-edged sword, if I'm being honest. It was a lot of pressure. It still is, but it was a lot of pressure then because a lot of people used that hashtag to appease their guilt. Specifically, white women used it at the time to feel better about what was going on and to kind of, in turn, hide from the issues that were happening. For instance, if I shop here at this store, whether it be Telsha’s store or any other store that is black-owned, or if I order from this restaurant that's black-owned, or if I repost this Instagram flyer or this black square, then I’ll feel better about how maybe I treated my black neighbor five years ago. Or I can ignore what's happening right on my Instagram feed. I can ignore it, I can pause it, I can mute it.
And so, unfortunately, because of the ShopBlack hashtag, which yes, did help, it did grow businesses at a crazy rate, it was (I hope) created with good intention, it somehow can become almost like a blanket. Like this blanket that you can just use and hide. Because of that, what I did was (to my best ability) if someone were to come in the store and ask me a question about what was happening or why we were upset, or if I were to do an interview and someone would ask, what do you want for black creators within this space? My answer will always be, I just want it to go beyond where we're at now, I'm hoping for consistency. It can almost feel and look like black business is a trend and that was off the backs of George Floyd. And that's also not why we do what we do. We do what we do because we're looking to be a part of this industry, or varying industries, and someone that looks like me is murdered by a police officer on my screen. Like I'm hurting and I'm selling at the same time.
And that's what I mean by this double sword. You try to find a balance and then someone comes in and they swipe their card. This woman, and she was like, you probably saw my name on the POS system. And I'm like, no, I don't really look for that, I kind of just want a sale. And so she's like, well, my name is Karen but I'm not a Karen. And then we'll laugh and make a joke. What? And if that's why you're here, please don't return. We know that joke isn’t funny, that joke hurts people, and even that term Karen is rooted far beyond. I think you can even understand or imagine so. It becomes that. It becomes just this weird double-edged sword. Of course, you want the exposure, and you want to be seen and there's not a lot of black ownership, especially within the fashion space. But then there's also this level of ignorance that people just feel very comfortable showing.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. Something else I heard from a lot of business owners was, there was this uptick in sales, which then maybe delayed shipping or delayed production. And then there was all this customer service backlash, right? And so it's like, yeah, you want to support black business but you don't then want to give them the grace of being able to scale in such a short amount of time.
Telsha: Exactly. And then it's also the grace that we're moving at the pace that we can move because of the resources that are given to us. And wanting to support us but then not wanting to align with those resources. Or wanting to show us off on Juneteenth, but not wanting to talk to us the month after. Like, what is that? It was a lot. It was a lot, I was always often the only black girl in a lot of the places I worked. Not that I'm used to the ignorance, but it wasn't as shocking until I opened the store and it was like so blatant. Before, you know, people could hide behind the email or hide behind a colleague, or whatever the case may be. But when you're the owner of the store and you're checking someone out, and it's just all this… I didn’t know what to call it. It was just insane. I don't know. It's crazy. I mean, it's what led me to therapy, so it was a lot.
Dr. Joy: What are some of the other hurdles you feel like you've experienced opening your shop as a young black woman?
Telsha: That's a good question. I think COVID and opening and operating around the murder of George Floyd was my biggest. I think the other ones I have faced are just the constant... I don't want to call it a need, but they're constant. I get ignored a lot, let me just say that. I have to almost metaphorically scream louder to be heard, whether that be in meetings, whether that be over emails. I often have to like have my third eye on everything to make sure I'm not being taken advantage of because I'm new within the space or young within the space. It's a lot of self-protecting I had to learn how to do from a business standpoint. And also kind of breaking the barrier down of taking a lot of things personally. I think that's been my biggest hurdle so far. I'm sure I'll have more, but so far, I think that's been the biggest one. Just being taken seriously, being heard, and being heard on a consistent level. Like, okay, you heard me back in March 2020; hear me now. I'm still a part of this space, I'm not going to go away because certain things aren’t being shown on Instagram anymore because they figured out an algorithm to hide it. Like I'm still amongst the voices that are in this space. Hear me roar. I think that's been one of my biggest hurdles. And also like internal battles. Again, I mentioned not taking things personally and trying to still operate from a level of integrity even if integrity is not shown towards me.
Dr. Joy: That feels important. And you mentioned therapy. Entrepreneurship and dealing with everything during the pandemic is what led you to therapy. And I've heard that from other entrepreneurs. Even though therapy can be great for lots of people, it does feel like there's something about opening a business that really kicks up all of this stuff that then leads people to feel like they need to talk with someone. Can you talk a little bit more about how therapy has helped you to be successful with entrepreneurship?
Telsha: It's given me the tools to kind of look inward first. For disclaimer, my mother's a therapist so love that for me. When we opened the store, she's like, Telsha, I think we're gonna have to go outside of me. Because she's my mama so of course, she's like Mama Bear mode always. But I think just using the tools to look outside of myself, trying to see situations from another person's perspective, not feeling like the pressure is only on me, not feeling like I have to perform, and I think fashion is a lot of performing. I think one of the good things that came out of the pandemic was, I'm not sure if you remember, but that moment where everyone was talking about their experiences within the fashion space, and their experiences, from a negative standpoint. Like what was happening to them behind closed doors. And so I think for me, a lot of what I was used to prior to was performing. Like being an entrepreneur is great, it's easy and it's glamorous, and all these things, and finally coming to grips with, okay, it's not always the best and it's okay to share that. And it's okay to tell your story and have a real level of transparency with your audience, should you choose to want to do that.
And so I think for me it was, okay, I am going to 100% show up in this space, I'm going to show up as Telsha Anderson-Boone. I'm not going to show up as how you all expect me to show up. So if on Tuesday, that means I’m glamorous and happy and excited, then that’s the entrepreneur I am. And then if on Wednesday I'm something different or I'm battling with DHL trying to get a package out of customs, then that's how I'm showing up. I think that's how therapy helped. I think for me, I went to therapy when I had a really great press run and that was kind of just in everything and I started to feel very repetitive in how I showed up and in what I was saying. And so when I recognized that, I was like, yeah, this is cool girl, but like who are you really? Then I was in therapy. I also got married around the same time I opened the store and that's a whole nother level of everything. I just wanted to show up as myself, as a businessperson, as a businesswoman, as a wife, and as a daughter, sister, friend, all those things. You know, I love my business, but I'm not gonna let it consume me. And it's a small reflection of who I am; it's not the only reflection of who I am.
Dr. Joy: In addition to therapy, are there other practices or any mantras or affirmations that you use to kind of support yourself?
Telsha: Yes. I'm a believer, so I am strong in my faith. I try to read daily, I pray a lot, I pray all day long. And my mantra? The Bible says you have to forgive 77 times seven times a day, so I think that's my biggest thing. Forgiving someone for stepping on my foot on the train and forgiving someone talking crazy to me in the email. It kind of just all balances out. So yeah, like I said, I pray a lot. I'm a believer, my husband's a believer. All the members of my family are, so I also lean to them as well for advice or for wisdom when I just don't have it. I'm still new in my faith. I've been a believer since I was a baby, but obviously adult level is different so I'm new in that and I'm learning. And then just being open to learning, being open to what's new.
Dr. Joy: Do you have people who work in the store with you? Has that been an additional challenge, like figuring out how to manage people now?
Telsha: I have sales associates. And so now I'm transitioning to bring someone on that can help me a bit more directly. It is difficult, I think because I operate from sometimes an overly compassionate level. It's like, oh, you were 30 minutes late; oh, it's okay, I understand. So I'm trying to manage that. And I think when you manage people, the idea of needing to be liked is for some, and for me, I want them to like me. I want them to say they had a good experience with me because I've had terrible experiences with others. And realizing that's not something that I can control is my new thing. So I am kind, yes, I am direct, yes, and hopefully, that will help your experience within the fashion space. I do not have to be someone's best friend in order for them to do a good job at the store. I'm learning that.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, lots of growing pains and transitions, it sounds like, happening all at once.
Telsha: Lots! It’s a lot but we're still here.
Dr. Joy: Indeed. So there's been a lot of like online chatter about “black girl luxury.” I'm sure you've seen this hashtag and like videos, and just lots of conversations. And I'm wondering, what does luxury mean to you and what does it look like? Or what could it look like for black women to incorporate luxury into their lives, whether that's big or small?
Telsha: The first thing I think that I've realized, and I do believe other women are realizing from like the hashtag and from the movement is that luxury doesn't always have to add up to a materialistic good and so luxury isn't always a $3,000 bag. I think luxury can be as small as giving yourself 30 minutes in a day, giving yourself a facial, taking yourself out to dinner, going to the movies. It could be as small and low scale as that. And then, yes, of course, it could also be these beautiful bags. I think for me, luxury really has just been selfcare. Having Telsha time, making sure that the days that I'm off are to myself—unless it's something that I genuinely want to be a part of—and that's just how the schedule works out. Luxury for me also has been just being like overly transparent with people in my space. If it's like, hey, I need an hour and I need everyone not to speak or I'm gonna go take myself out to lunch, that has also proven itself luxury. It’s the luxury of just being yourself, the luxury of being free, the luxury of being open. But I love the hashtag. I'm glad we’re as a collective finally realizing that luxury is for us, I think that’s great as well. And I'm excited to see how the hashtag continues and what it means. I bought myself a bottle of rosé at the pool the other day, and that was luxury. So there we go. Yeah, it just depends. It just depends, everyone's version is different. I think that's what got noticed with the movement. Everyone has a different idea of what luxury is to them.
Dr. Joy: Right, yeah, and I think that that is the important piece. That we all get to define that for ourselves.
Telsha: Yeah, exactly. I love it. Like I said, decondition day, that's luxury.
Dr. Joy: Since you are a trusted fashion girl, we wanted to play a little game with you. I have a couple of fictional TV characters and I would love to hear what designer you would suggest if they were shopping in t.a.
Telsha: Okay. Are these black? They’ve gotta be black because my TV skills only go so far. Okay, great. Let’s play.
Dr. Joy: What about Jodie from Daria?
Telsha: Oh, Telfar.
Dr. Joy: Telfar, okay, we love it. What about Raven Baxter from That’s So Raven?
Telsha: I loved her. What designer I'm gonna pair with her? Oh my god, I don't know if she gives me Vintage. Like she gives me thrift, she gives me like high luxury thrift. Raven post-college could totally be seen in like a Fire Kaftan from like 19— whatever. Like, who knows. But yeah, that's what I'm gonna do. She's a Vintage girl for sure because she used to wear those jeans. Those jean jackets with the fur around the collar and then the fur around the wrist as well. So yeah, I'm gonna just say Vintage.
Dr. Joy: Okay, what about Kim Parker from Moesha?
Telsha: I love Kim. Kim would always wear a lot of color so I'm gonna say Christopher John Rogers. She was big on color. And then also her mom used to match her, that was so cute.
Dr. Joy: One more. Toni Childs from Girlfriends.
Telsha: Fav. She's giving like Drea, she's giving Prada. She’d probably have that mean like little set that went viral. The little mini skirt.
Dr. Joy: I could definitely see her in that.
Telsha: That’s that.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, those are great suggestions. What experience do you hope that people take away from shopping in t.a.?
Telsha: t.a. is really about discovery so I really want someone to come in and discover something new. You can come to the store and be like, okay, I want to buy this Ottolinger top and then to the right of you could be something from MRZ or something from Bevza or Christopher Esber. Just the idea of discovery. It also doesn't have to be just clothes; we have boots that you can try to not buy, but you could totally browse. Take a photo by yourself. There’s a whole level of discovery. I just want someone to walk in and feel fresh, like they're walking into my brain and my closet or my living room at any given time. I hope that's the experience. And then you leave with a piece of like, wow, what a great shopping experience. I was able to talk to Telsha or I was able to feel like Telsha was there and we have this in common. And like, wow, there are black girls within this space, that's so cool. Like, I can aspire to do something like this or do something similar.
Dr. Joy: I like that. That sounds like a great experience. Where can we stay connected to you and the work? Where can we go shopping at t.a.? What's your website as well as any social media handles?
Telsha: Love it. Our website is www.shop-ta.com. My Instagram is @TelshaAnderson and the store Instagram is @T.A.NewYork. That’s where you can find us.
Dr. Joy: We'll be sure to include all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much for joining us today, Telsha, I really appreciate it.
Telsha: Thanks. Thanks for having me, Dr. Joy.
Dr. Joy: It's not every day you get to hear from two black women in an industry as fast paced and riveting as fashion. The TBG team thanks both Sherri and Telsha for being pioneers and an inspiration to so many aspiring business owners and fashionistas. If you're ever in Oakland or New York's Meatpacking district, make sure to visit McMullen Boutique and t.a. respectively. And be sure to text two of your girls to tell them to check out this episode right now.
If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory.
And if you want to continue this conversation or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis and editing and sound engineering was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.