This Female Founder Is Making Space for Underrepresented DesignersCOVID-19 #SmallBizSpotlight | You probably won’t recognize most of the labels at this new retail concept — and that’s the whole point. Published: August 03, 2021
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The pieces in my closet that I cherish most all tell a story. There’s the 25-year-old silk dress that my mom bought after she lost the baby weight (that baby was me); the denim skirt I found at a downtown vintage store, right after interviewing the owner for my very first journalism assignment at NYU; the blue satin flats I got married in, which I only recently discovered are excruciatingly uncomfortable when wedding day adrenaline isn’t coursing through my veins. I remember the experience of finding these items with fluorescent clarity: what the weather was like; how I ended up in the store; what I felt before, during, and after (except for the silk dress, but my mom’s told me the story so many times that I can imagine it like I was there).
I also remember the people who helped me in each store, and the stories they shared about curating the pieces. This week, I spoke with Telsha Anderson, the visionary behind T.A., a retail concept shop in the Meatpacking District where every item is sourced with purpose and care. Launched at the height of the pandemic, T.A. forefronts emerging designers from around the world, making space for sartorially curious New Yorkers to discover underrepresented labels. Keep reading for my conversation with Telsha on working with indie designers, dressing with intention, and the pandemic’s unexpected silver linings.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What led you to high-end indie retail?
I've actually had a very funny trajectory ... I was a Communication and Rhetorical Studies major and my minors were Retail Management and African-American Studies. When I graduated [from Syracuse University] in 2015, I wanted to be a [retail] buyer, but there weren't any available entry-level positions, so I started working at a company that sold park guides to the 13 national parks. I sold the guides, I did their social media, I was the administrative girl, I got coffee. I was kind of everything. That was hilarious. Afterwards, I started working at Food and Wine as a social media manager. After that I went to Hypebeast to do social media for one of their verticals which is no longer, Hypekids. And then I started freelancing at Atlantic Records, doing social for one of their up-and-coming artists at the time. During that, I was also the influencer manager at a fashion PR firm. This past May, I graduated with my Master’s in Brand Management from NYU. Halfway through [the program], I had the idea of opening T.A. I utilized the course to guide me along the process of opening the store. And of course the plan was not to open during a pandemic, but it is what it is.
You launched online early in the pandemic; why then?
When everything shut down, I had all this inventory that was just in boxes. From a business standpoint, there was no other option. You have thousands of dollars worth of inventory and the only thing you really can do is sell and hope that it catches on.
I never wanted to have a website or a crazy Instagram, which is funny because that's exactly what we ended up doing, which my forte in social really helped. I ended up launching like 10 items online throughout the pandemic. I started reaching out to designers and showrooms to do Instagram Lives, just to introduce them to our platform. It started to blow up around the time that #ShopBlack happened. And we got a lot of support from media outlets, which was great. Outlets that normally wouldn't even be working with us yet, just because of how the industry goes.
I'm assuming the name of the store is your initials, right?
It's my initials, my mom's initials, and my sister's. It's an ode to them and their style and how they've inspired me. And then of course, an ode to my style and how I want to present what I love to the world.
You opened the brick-and-mortar shop in July 2020; what did that feel like?
It was like, Oh my God, I get to show the world what it is that we have here. This is crazy. It was exciting, too, because New York was in phase 3 [of reopening], so people were slowly making their way outside, the conversation around COVID was shifting in a positive direction, or as positive as it could have been. There were a lot of emotions at one time because you also want to be sensitive to what's going on with everyone else ... While we're open, someone else might not be.
Tell me about the brands you work with.
A lot of the brands I work with are smaller ... We work with [a mix of] up-and-coming and established brands, but we started with very small brands based all over the world, and the goal is to bring them to the forefront of New York City. They're taking a risk on me, just like I'm taking a risk on them.
How did the backdrop of the pandemic inflect your burgeoning relationships with designers and showrooms?
It created a space for everyone to be more transparent about what they were going through. So instead of not answering an email because you couldn't make a payment or because you couldn't ship something on time, everyone was as honest as possible, which for me personally created a deeper understanding of what was going on. Additionally, the rapport that developed was just on a more intimate and personal level because everyone went through something together. As sucky as it was in a lot of different instances, you weren't alone.
Inside T.A. / Photography by Justin Boone
I'm sure that you saw all those style opinion pieces in peak pandemic proclaiming the “end” of dressing up and the reign of athleisure. Did those claims worry you?
It was nerve-wracking for me, because I didn't know what to expect. There were articles like, “Throw out your closet and buy tons of sweats.” And I'm like, No, please don't do that! But once we opened our doors, people continued to buy, which was beautiful to see. The people that shop here definitely didn't throw away their closet. They continue to show up and support in any way that they can.
How have the events of the last year and a half impacted your personal style?
I am definitely more intentional about what I buy and what I wear and what it represents. I'm always wearing something from T.A., and if I'm not, it's from another small designer or Black designer. I still get excited to get dressed up to come to the store or go out to eat. So it hasn't shifted too much, it's just more targeted than it was before. I'm not just going online to buy a t-shirt — the t-shirt I'm buying is from X, Y, or Z small brand, and I'm super excited to wear it and tell everyone about it.
Who's on your team right now?
Just me. We had a social girl, but she's moving to graphics only. I'm looking forward to bringing on new people, but that'll happen when it’s the right timing. I don't want to rush it. I don't want to bring just anyone on because I need help; I do need help, but I'm excited about finding the right person for that and being open to them finding me.
You recently started crowdfunding; what are your goals for that money?
That money is going to go towards hiring a person and also our pop-up in LA in 2023. It's not going as great as I would have hoped. I think people are still going through COVID, but we've had amazing support regardless.
To what extent did the pandemic force you to make hard calls that ultimately helped define or propel T.A.?
It forced a stronger digital presence, and I think that's helped tremendously. I have been able to connect with thousands of people online. I respond to every single DM. I am excited about meeting new people online and going from there. I’m also excited to sustain and maintain what it is that we've done. That's very important to me.
How to help:
- Visit the Manhattan storefront at 332 W 13th Street, Unit B (Tues-Sun, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. )
- Shop online
- Support the crowdfund
- Follow on IG
Until next time,