Below, we spoke with Gottlieb-Graham and Anderson about their trajectories to owning their respective businesses, working through a tumultuous year, and how they continue to expand and evolve.
Hannah Gottlieb-GrahamFounder & Director, ALMA Communications
Your work background is very dynamic.
How did that trajectory lead to you starting your own business?
I studied art history and photography and held jobs at galleries, publications and PR firms. When I turned 17, I moved to New York and began interning. I haven’t stopped working since. I graduated college with 10 internships under my belt and learned something valuable from each role.
One of my most memorable positions was as Elisabeth Biondi’s assistant, the former Visuals Editor at The New Yorker. She identified a skill in communications that I didn’t know I had, and suggested I work as a publicist. So I bounced around a few different art PR firms – each more toxic than the next – questioning Elisabeth’s advice. She told me I was a creative thinker and a strong writer and that I could communicate my thoughts beautifully. But none of those qualities seemed to matter sitting at a desk next to ten other girls with majors in marketing, a rolodex of industry contacts and a trust fund. I was so out of my league. I think what ultimately set me apart is that artists gravitated towards me – almost as if we spoke a secret language. I became friends with artists I admired and in time I developed my confidence and my own set of contacts.
I found my way to an in-house position as the publicist at The Aperture Foundation, where the last project I worked on before leaving was Antwaun Sargent’s book, The New Black Vanguard, which has become an anthem for Black image makers globally, and it opened the floodgates in terms of hiring and celebrating Black creatives whose work we’ve historically ignored. Antwaun became my first client, along with performance artist Miles Greenberg and collector Bernard Lumpkin. The three of them entrusted me with their careers and we built ALMA together.
New York is all about cultivating
and maintaining relationships. How did you establish and build some of your
most important connections?
Relationships are everything and your reputation always precedes you. Most of my clients are also my friends, and they’re friends with each other as well, so we collaborate often. It feels like an extension of my actual family. The business is named after my mother, who’s the hardest working person I know. She taught me to live life ambitiously, compassionately and through the lens of intersectional feminism. I named my business after her for a reason. She’s my most important connection. Everything I’ve built is because of her.
You have an incredibly rich and diverse portfolio. How would you
describe your client base? How do you hope to grow it?
I like to say that my work operates at the intersection of contemporary art, fashion, beauty and social justice, and I hope to continue on this path. What’s most important to me is that I sustain my client relationships for years on end – I’m interested in long term support and growth.
Speaking on that intersection, how did you and your clients respond to a year
especially reactionary to social justice and activism?
I appreciate this question. In 2020 the Western World woke up to systemic racism, while many of the folks I work with have been living with this reality for generations. I took to the streets to fight for the people most important to me and I gave my clients space to experience the depth of their emotions. I worked on an impactful project with my nonprofit client, worthless studios, distributing hundreds of rolls of free film to photographers around the world who were documenting the fight for racial justice-- the images that came back were powerful and heavy. I cried a lot. I was angry a lot. In June and July I donated 50% of every penny I made to social justice organizations.
What came out of last summer was an explosion of white guilt, and I spent many months investigating performative allyship and responding to the thousands of emails my clients received from brands, organizations and publications hoping to win back their trust. Our universe has a dark history of racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, xenophobia and transphobia, and I’m interested in confronting all of this head-on.
Telsha AndersonOwner & Buyer, t.a.
New York, NY
What led you to an interest in style, fashion and design? Did you have
major style influences growing up?
I’ve always been interested in style, fashion, design, and the retail landscape. When I was younger, my parents gifted me a matching vest and bucket hat from Coach I didn’t take it off for weeks. I’ve always been attracted to textures, fabrics, colors and how all three of those things can form together in making an item that an individual attaches themselves to. Growing up some of my biggest styling influences include, my mother, Diana Ross, the character Whitley Gilbert from Different World, and other Black women featured on or off the screen.
t.a. is all about independent designers and vintage pieces. How did you
t.a. focuses on bringing contemporary designers from all over the world to a central location of which is our e-commerce platform and brick and mortar. All the brands at t.a. have been personally sourced by me through research, international showrooms, random findings on Instagram, and some brands have reached out to me personally. There’s a lot that goes into sourcing a brand but the most important part of my job is developing a relationship with each brand, designer, and showroom.
How did you land in the Meatpacking District? For others interested in
opening their own shop, walk us through the process of scouting and
Originally, I wanted to open a store in Soho but there wasn’t a space that would allow me to fully execute my vision, and the realtor I was working with at the time suggested the space I’m in now. Leasing a space, or the process of leasing a space, is different each time. That being said, what works or worked for me might not work for the next person. The biggest tip I can give anyone looking to dive into the brick and mortar space is to do their due diligence – actively look into the area, who your potential landlords could be, and the businesses to the right and left of your space. You can never do enough research in the commercial real-estate business.
We all take inspiration from street style in New York. What catches your
eye when you’re on the subway or walking around?
I always start by looking at someone’s shoes when I’m out and about. I think that’s because I get dressed from the bottom up. Meaning, I pick what shoes I’d like to wear for the day prior to picking out my outfit. I’m also inspired by the colors someone’s wearing or the different textures they’d morphed together.
How did you two meet? What has it been like working together in a
professional sense as good friends?
Telsha Anderson: I met Hannah because she stopped in the store a few times and was just wonderful to talk to. From there, she mentioned representing Antwaun Sargent, along with a few others, and the conversation organically found its way into me talking about my future goals for the store. We had coffee a few weeks later, and after our discussion, it was a no brainier on my end that we’d make a good fit both personally and professionally.
Hannah Gottlieb-Graham: I was sweating so much – it was one of those miserably hot days. I kept thinking, “This girl is going to be so cool and I’m going to be so damn sweaty for this meeting” and both of those things turned out to be true. We just really clicked. We’re both very social, warm women but we’re also blunt and opinionated. I think we knew right away that we wanted to work together and that we’d end up being friends.
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #ChooseToChallenge, which has a twofold approach I’d like to hear both your sides of. What have been, or are, some of your biggest challenges as entrepreneurial women? How do you work through them?
TA: The biggest challenge as a Black entrepreneurial woman is often being heard. Lucky for me, there are platforms (such as this) that are now interested in hearing my story which helps my business grow and helps whoever is reading jump towards their goals.
HGG: It’s no secret that the wage gap is real and that women aren’t paid as much as men. One of my biggest challenges has been advocating for myself and knowing my worth. I’ve taught myself to value my time and be confident in what I bring to the table, and thankfully I’ve developed a mutual respect and understanding with my clients.
You’re both young business owners, which unfairly can require an extra effort and energy to prove yourselves. How do you overcome this, show you should be taken very seriously, and you are not 👏 the 👏 one 👏 to be played with!
TA: I try not to overcome or prove myself to anyone but myself. I do that by keeping my blinders on a focusing on what’s in front of me rather than what’s to my right tor my left. It’s hard, especially with social media, but focusing on me and my goals versus the goals of others has been my greatest asset in the industry I’m in.
HGG: This is a great question. I find that we live in a pretty youth-obsessed world, but when it comes to actually hiring a young woman, the question always becomes “How old are you? How long have you done this?” I built a business that functions as the antithesis to tradition - so yes, I’m young, but I represent the new guard. Change is only possible if new, young voices are given the opportunity to be seen and heard.
What are a few of the most valuable things you’ve learned as independent business owners?
TA: The biggest thing I’ve learned, and am still learning, is to adapt to what’s happening around you.
HGG: Our basic virtues are what’s important: honesty, kindness, loyalty and most importantly, trust. My clients trust me on so many levels – to communicate their interests and projects, to secure press and partnerships that align with their visions and to negotiate their rates. I represent them in every sense of the word, and it’s important to me that we build a baseline together founded on those principles.
Lightning round! Who are your top three lady musicians right now?
HGG: Jazmine Sullivan, Sabrina Claudio
and Saleka. I’m an R&B girl.
TA: H.E.R., Lucky Daye, Maverick City Music
What’s your room service order when you stay in a hotel? (with us, obviously)
HGG: I have a weakness for french fries and sparkling water. I also have a tremendous sweet tooth. If there’s a dark chocolate dessert on the menu, I’m having it.
TA: The Standard BLT with a glass of Coke is everything!
What’s your coffee or tea order?
HGG: An oat milk flat white.
TA: I love Honey Hibiscus Tea from Starbucks.
Name four favorite places in NYC for 1) Date night 2) Cocktails 3) Pizza 4) Pandemic outdoor dining.
HGG: For date night, Colonie in Brooklyn Heights. Everything on the menu is divine – especially the saffron cavatelli. Cocktails: I don’t really drink, but my boyfriend has been having a big orange wine moment. The folks at Brooklyn Wine Exchange are really knowledgeable and we’ve enjoyed some great bottles. For pizza, Lucali’s in Brooklyn – it doesn’t get any better. I had an incredible pandemic dining experience in an indoor/outdoor private greenhouse at Celestine, a great Mediterranean restaurant in Dumbo. Otherwise, my man and I do date nights at home. He’s an excellent chef.
TA: For pizza, Scarr's. For date night, home! For pandemic outdoor dining and cocktails, Soho House.
What's a fave power, boss lady, big business lewk? Kindly drop links so we can copy you.
HGG: I really love everything Nanushka makes – I wear these vegan leather pants all the time, paired with one of my blazers. I have an embarrassingly large collection of blazers. Generally I love Acne, Ganni, Isabel Marant, Rachel Comey and Celine for modern workwear.
TA: Private Policy maxi skirt dress, double-breasted suit jacket, silk wool suit pant.
What are your Zodiac signs? Is that a thing you’re into / do you identify with yours?
TA: I'm a Leo! I'm not into Zodiac signs but I identify with being the top of the food chain of the jungle.
HGG: I’m a double Aries, which explains my fiery energy.
What’s next? Anything you
want to plug or promo?
TA: Our SS21 collection at t.a. is on the way!
HGG: This spring I’ll be running the communications for Nicola Vassell’s new gallery. She’s the definition of a female force in the art world. worthless studios, the nonprofit I mentioned earlier, is installing five public artworks across each borough of New York, all made of plywood collected from vacant storefronts amidst the pandemic. Antwaun is now a director at Gagosian and his first show is debuting this summer, which I know will be a knockout. I have so much to be grateful for and so much to look forward to. I count my blessings every day.