Telsha Anderson Didn't Find Success, She Made It

Opening a new business at a time when many businesses are at best struggling to hang on and at worst closing up shop might seem like an ill-fated conceit, but not for 27-year-old Telsha Anderson who took an “if not now, when?” approach to opening her clothing boutique t.a. back in July of 2020.

Originally set to open in March 2020, Anderson had to postpone that launch after New York City’s first shutdown. She returned home to Princeton, NJ and with the help of her sister, launched an e-commerce site. The site hastily gained a word of mouth following and was supported by many shoppers and media outlets alike, who sought to prioritize supporting and boosting Black-owned businesses in the wake of a newly ignited racial reckoning spurred by the murder of George Floyd on May 25. Has that support remained steadfast? More on that in a bit.

By July, in conjunction with New York City’s Phase III reopening, Anderson was finally able to open the shop (just around the corner from The Standard, High Line), she’d set up months earlier, welcoming customers, many of whom had been introduced to a digitized version of the brand in the Spring. Since then, sales have skyrocketed since t.a. has established itself as a must visit for the style famished. Below, Anderson reflects on opening t.a. nearly one year later, plus talks about triumphs and trials, the importance of positivity and advice for prospective designers trying to get on her radar.

What made you decide to pull the trigger and open in a business at a time when so many other businesses were struggling to hang or shuddering?
It wasn’t my intent when I opened t.a. to open during a pandemic. I was planning to open during March, when everybody would be out and about and emerging from their wintertime hibernation. And I still moved forward with opening in March by opening online and releasing ten items per week. And I was seeing a lot of immediate success. There was a lot of support for Black businesses and support for boutiques in general. I wanted to open because the store had already been built out and you plan for years to get something like this off the ground and when you’ve been in groove and grind mode you kind-of have to move forward regardless of what is happening and hope that the right people will still show up and support.

Were you still optimistic of the eventual brick and mortar opening despite the stay at home order?
It was scary because we were quarantined and there was no date in regard to when we would be released from quarantine. I thought it would be two weeks and I was [laughs] very mistaken. It was my hope that if people aren’t going outside and aren’t shopping then they will at least want to acquire intentional pieces for their wardrobe. And I think that’s what set t.a. apart from other retailers — and still does. We have a very intentional buy with brands from all over the world; brands that aren’t often in NYC. So I think the excitement of that is also what encouraged people to want to shop and want to move forward. And with the success of the digital presence and NYC moving into Phase III we decided to open the store in July and see what happens and it ended up going well.

To say the least. You mention that support for Black businesses at the outset and I’m wondering if you feel that that support has sustained?
Yeah I do. I mean, I’ve seen — and not just with me, but in my community in general — different Black photographers have a chance to shoot for major magazines or for Black designers who have been around for years to be featured on the cover of those magazines. There’s been digital consistency in the support and also online consistency. It’s interesting because we are now in Black History Month, so of course my community, and me having already been in social work and PR, are used to a spike in the support in February. But I’d like to say that I’ve seen it be consistent even into this month. Of course this month is heightened because why wouldn’t it be? But there has been a consistent general support that I still see. I hope it continues beyond us being in quarantine because I think a lot of businesses because they are at home and because there are more eyes on their digital or more eyes on their campaigns or branding, they are being held more accountable and called on quicker. So I hope that when we do get out of whatever it is we’re currently in — cause I don’t want to label it and I don’t know how long — and the world goes back to quote unquote normal that it continues.

It's certain that COVID has made business more difficult, but I'm wondering if there are any upsides to opening when you did and launching your business now?
The biggest one for me is that I wasn’t expecting to grow t.a.’s platform or even my personal platform as quickly as I did. I was expecting that maybe 10K followers would come in two years and that we would have worked with certain influencers a year from our opening. This was giving myself a cushion to grow slowly. And because we were at home and because the hashtag popped when it did we grew quickly. It’s sad that #SupportBlackBusiness and #ShopBlack started on the backs of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor passing away. That was really unfortunate. And it’s interesting because as negative as it was, it did produce a level of positivity that often isn’t seen when we’re killed in the streets. I did feel support. Different media sites that I had written down in my dream journal that I wished I could work with eventually came around in the pandemic so I was able to do lives and to interact with different media sites that I don’t believe would have been interested had these hashtags boomed as much as they did. As grateful as I am, there’s a reality to it. But I was excited to be able to show my platform in a quicker way for sure.

What made you want to go with independent designers and vintage picks?
Our big ethos is that we’re not here to create your closet, we’re here to add to it. And I knew going into it that the target audience I wanted to attack already had a solidified style. Women and men who come into t.a. are dressed to the nines. They already know what they like. They know what fits. They know their sizes, what brands there are, etc. So I wanted to find brands to add to what people were already developing in their closets at home. I specifically wanted to find brands of color that were often not represented in larger boutiques or in smaller boutiques even in the city and I wanted to tackle brands that were new, new to me at least. A lot of the building of t.a. was discovery. A lot of the brands I thought were going to be in the store I ended up going in an opposite direction. I think there are maybe two brands here that I planned on and we have 15 in total, so a lot of the stuff I kinda stumbled upon in Paris or through Instagram or through recommendations. When I told close friends what I was doing I would always be met with “have you heard about this brand?” I wanted to be as opposite as possible but still relatable. I didn’t want it to be too far left quirky or too far right to what everyone had already seen. I wanted to find my balance in the middle. I think I’m still figuring it out.

What are some things that you didn't know at the jump that now, a year later, you feel more sure of or totally sure of?
Your administrative costs are always going to be more than your inventory quote unquote creative costs. I knew that and I definitely expected it. I mean, I had the business plan and the financial plan all written out. But [laughs] it’s funny to see the stuff that actually costs you money is often not the stuff that you love about a business. And so you have to get over those humps to get to what it is that will work for you and for your business and what will work to keep you inspired, and so I have to constantly find new things to excite me when I’m going to pay a Con Edison bill.

How do you maintain optimism? I’m sure there are times that life tries you in ways that might seek to temper that optimism.
[Laughs] Every day. I think the energy that someone brings to the table or to a business or to a conversation is the greatest asset you can have. Your energy and your aura is what people grab on to even if they don’t recognize that they’re doing it. And so I try to go through every day with a smile on my face. It’s really hard, especially when there’s a blizzard or it’s cold or I’m hangry. It’s not an easy journey, but I just believe in treating people nicely. I believe in giving people an experience not only in the store, but on digital, even if that’s jumping on an Instagram live when I’ve barely slept the night before. I want people to feel warmth when they step into the store and when they find us on digital I want people to feel like I’m relatable. I feel like what I did was rare and random but it doesn’t set me apart from too many people. There are beautiful entrepreneurs all over the world. I try to be happy, to enter a room and just smile and push through. Of course there are days when I can’t do that at the moment and need to keep to myself but energy and attitude and optimism are definitely transferred and interactions, especially through language. And there’s not too many things in this world that we as people can control — like, we’re in a pandemic — but if I can control my attitude then I am quote unquote controlling what’s around me and I think that’s how I approach stuff.

What do you think it is about the in person shopping experience that for you will always make it superior to buying online?
It’s the textures for me, honestly. Being able to walk into a store and see it and touch it and feel it and try it on, the interaction between a clothing item and a person, is indescribable. There’s stuff I buy online because there’s just not a ton of brick and mortar, but that feeling I mentioned is one people really do hold onto. There’s also something about going out, making a purchase, and walking out immediately with that item. Instant gratification is 100% underrated and I’m an instant gratification girl. And I don’t think it’s going anywhere. It’s definitely shifting and changing and altering but ultimately it’s here to stay.

What role does social media play in the store's success — particularly in the DMs and how you are able to be in constant conversation with your customers, even prospective customers?
I try to respond to every DM. I definitely believe that being a personable brand, one where people can not only relate to the clothing but to the people behind the screen, is really important. And for me, it brings people into the store. People will message me saying “I’m in Brooklyn and I really want to try these pants on.” And I’ll tell them “Okay, we’ll put these on hold for you for two days, trust me, try them on.” I even send pictures of myself in stuff to show them this is how it looks and how it fits. It’s a community driver, but it’s also a really good tool to encourage people to interact with you beyond the now. It’s a communication method that’s definitely underrated. I think there’s something about responding to people and building a digital relationship that really does and did help my sales for sure.

What are some of your plans for the store in a post-COVID world?
I’m interested in expanding, so whether that be through pop-ups, whether that be in different cities or different locations throughout NYC. I think that’s what’s next for us. I think the biggest thing for me also is maintaining. I want to maintain what I’ve done and continue to be consistent.

What advice do you have for a designer hoping to get on your radar?
Again, consistency. I do get a lot of emails from brands, but I usually go after the brands that don’t reach out. That’s just because I think I like discovering it myself. There’s some joy in that. I have a lot of people too that DM me about brands and that’s exciting too. I think to be on my radar just be consistent in what you do. I don’t always go to Vogue to find stuff. I rarely do that, really. I don’t go to the latest, hottest list. I’m really big on editorials because the line sheets don’t bring stuff to life, especially now since we’ve been digital. So if you have a good editorial — like, I love a sick editorial — and you send it to me, that’s exciting for me. I like out of the box editorials and staying true to the culture you are in or a part of. Also, respecting yourself as a brand. But you know what? I’ll find the brand. If it’s meant to be, I’ll find you.

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New York, NY 10014

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