Meet Taja B Design Studio - our Autumn vendor! We spoke to Taja about her artwork, Black Lives Matter and advice for Black creatives. Check out our Q&A below.
How did Taja B Design Studio come to be?
I've always been creative and I wound up studying Fashion Design at university. For almost every project you submitted you had to include an illustration of your work. When I had graduated and began working as a designer, illustrating was something I really missed so began doing it again as a hobby. At first it started as just something to do, and then I began selling on Society6. After a string of unfulfilling jobs, I began to resent giving my creativity to these companies that didn't really care about me, so I decided to take myself and my creativity more seriously and work on setting up my own thing.
What is the inspiration behind your artwork? What is the creative process for you?
Oh so many things! Not trying to sound vain but at first I found myself being a big inspiration. There's so many wonderful illustrators out there but at one point, I didn't feel represented in art - and representation is so important, especially in times like these. You can ask anyone who knows me, my happy place is at home, half dressed surrounded by my plants; but when I'd look at art with that vibe, it just wasn't me. I wanted to see the girl with tattoos and hoop earrings. Black women are so multi faceted that we don't need to just fit into this one box.
On a broader scale, I'm a visual sponge! I love looking at Instagram for travel inspiration or for fashion or different content creators. I save everything! Pinterest is great. Films and TV shows are great too - I'm a self described nerd - if it has magic or space in then I've probably watched it!
My creative process usually starts with a concept; whether its seasonal or does it have a theme? What pose do I want them in? I then move on to colour. Colours are such an important tool and the way they work together can make or break an illustration in my eyes.
What was the inspiration behind this specific print - Black Girl Magic?
I made this print during the first lockdown, at the height of the protests. I live with someone high risk so I didn't feel comfortable going to a protest and I know personally I would find that situation very overwhelming - so I sat home and felt a bit powerless. I saw so many artists creating work in response to what was going on and I wanted to contribute but I also wanted to stay true to myself. I believe my work to be joyful and happy and that's what I wanted people to remember. We weren't simply "Angry Black People." Yes we were/are angry; but we're also kind, loving, soft and fierce. My illustration wasn't going to change the world, but it offered me peace and a way to offer my support.
You mentioned that sales from this print go to charity. Can you explain more and which charities that you target?
Because the catalyst for the illustration was such a tough subject for me and so many others, it didn't make sense or even occur to me to use it for profit. I was in a much safer position then some people, I had a full time job I was furloughed from so money wasn't a problem. I had housing and could afford to live comfortably during the lockdown and I knew that wasn't the case for so many so if my donations could help even in the slightest, why wouldn't I?
When it comes to donations, I usually do it case by case. So when I first made the print, I donated to bail funds in the US and organizations on the ground helping with supplies. I use @funsd4caregivers on Instagram a lot at the moment. It allows me to send funds direct to individuals to help; be that with living costs or to help with a food shop for their families. I'll alternate between those I find online and organizations in my local community - like food banks. I'm not a massive business yet so it's not world changing amounts but it helps.
What makes Taja B Design Studio different from other art brands and studios?
Good question. And one I don't really have the answer to. The one think I do think that sets me apart, is that about 90% of my illustrations can come in different skin tones. I've always strived to be inclusive and I have more work to do on that front but I do whole heartedly believe that you should be able to find someone that looks like you in art. I'm not really in the space to open up for original commissions right now but I have been toying with the idea of allowing people to choose one of my pieces and have it changed to look more like them. I never want to be the brand that people feel is not for them or not represented in.
Greatest accomplishments and challenges as a business so far?
Honestly, I would have to say my first sale on Etsy. And not just because it was my first order but because I couldn't have asked for a nicer customer. At first I panicked at little because she was asking for my email, like she really wanted to talk to me. And in my head I was like "Oh here we go, she hates it...I charged her too much! She's going to say she doesn't like my work!" But I read the email, and it was the nicest thing anyone has said about my work. It was literally an essay of why she liked my work so much and that she'd noticed that I had just started out, and she gave me so many tips and things to try and where she thought I should put my work - even down to naming it so its easier for people like her to find. And just the fact that my artwork had led a stranger to take the time out to help me like that, I couldn't have asked for more.
As far as challenges go, I would have to say the fact that it's MY business. I don't have anyone checking in on me, I don't have a team of people strategizing and planning with me. The buck starts and ends with me; and learning to trust my decisions and not feel like an imposter is something I never considered I'd have to face when starting.
What does it mean to you to be Black owned business?
I'm going to use my favourite buzzword again, but it's about representation. One of my favourite quotes is from Diane Von Furstenberg. In her book she said that "she didn't know what she wanted to do, but she knew the woman she wanted to be" And it resonates with me a lot - what kind of woman do I want to be, am I going to believe in myself and my business or let others dictate my future?
Being a black owned business is about owning your autonomy, about knowing that the system may not always work in your favour. There's so many statistics about the lack of funding for black owned businesses, it's actually appalling but I feel like now there's more community support around them. Customers are looking for them, the market is definitely out there - it's just about taking the chance and putting yourself out there too. For me it's about leveling the playing field, especially as a creative business, showing that we all deserve to be here.
How are you adapting your business to COVID-19 environment?
Honestly there's not much adapting for me to do. When the pandemic first peaked, I extended my processing time as the printers I use had slowed down production. I work a full time job along side Taja B Design Studio but now with Lockdown 2.0, I've been furloughed again. I can't physically do my job from home so the silver lining for me is that I do get this time to myself to work on some creative projects, at my own speed.
Any advice for Black creatives or entrepreneurs?
Take your time and trust your instincts. We live in the age of the algorithm and its easy to fall into the trap of not feeling adequate because you're not posting or creating constantly or having this super high engagement like all these other creators we're shown. At the end of the day you have to remember why you started this journey in the first place, if all you do with your time is chase new followers and likes, what work will you have to show them? It's definitely a balancing act but you just have to find the right balance that works for you.