Deepa Shanbhag is a graphic designer, educator and founder of her business TCTLE, dedicated to supporting creative womxn of color. In her design career, she’s worked for fashion brands like LOFT, White House Black Market, Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria’s Secret and J. Crew to name a few.
We caught up with Deepa to learn more about TCTLE and how it was born from a direct reaction to what she didn’t like about the fashion retail industry (from lack of diversity in the C-Suite to cultural appropriation). She shared her inspiration for the business, partnership opportunities and the WOC creative global directory. We’re excited for Deepa to launch the shop as an in-person experience in the future and serving as a space for people to craft and learn from makers of color. Read on to learn more!
Can you tell us about your journey as a creative and establishing your side hustle?
I’ve always dabbled in creative mediums other than graphic design—mostly knitting, crocheting and photography. I have my BFA in Communication Design, which led to a career in retail marketing, but the side hustle was mostly inspired as a way to exercise creativity outside of my job.
Apart from being a designer and educator, you also started your company TCTLE 4.5 years ago. The brand is dedicated to supporting creative womxn of color. For your brand, you do it all, from the product to the marketing, packaging and photography. Since you have a background working for fashion brands and marketing their collections, it’s no surprise you started this business with your experience. Can you talk some more about what inspired you to build TCTLE?
TCTLE is born from a direct reaction to what I don’t like about the fashion retail industry, mostly on the marketing side. Not particular to my experiences, but what I’ve observed over the years as well.
The lack of diversity in the C-Suite, the blatant cultural appropriation that can happen in everything from product to copywriting, to the insensitive treatment I’ve heard about or witnessed of those that work behind the scenes.
While I aim to make change as I advance in my design career, I also didn’t want to wait for those opportunities in order to create the spaces that I feel are needed now.
You partner with other WOC business owners and sell some of their goods through your online store. Plus, you donate 10% of every purchase to an organization that benefits POC. How can other business owners get involved with your store to sell their products?
Currently, I partner with small, WOC run businesses based in the US. I look for makers in the home goods (throw pillows, table decor, stationary, etc) and accessories space and I accept partnerships on a rolling basis. There is a short, but simple application process (free) but anyone interested can send their name and a shop link or images of their product to email@example.com to start the conversation.
Can you talk a bit about the free global directory of WOC in creative professions and how can others get added to this list? This is a wonderful resource for companies looking to hire talent too!
I love recommending people for paid opportunities. I have a running list of people I know personally that I refer to when asked if I know of any available designer or copywriter. The directory is kind of like that, except on a bigger scale.
Part of the reason there is lack of diversity on creative teams stems from issues like gatekeeping during the hiring process and unsupportive work environments.
One thing I can definitely change personally though, is putting names and portfolios of talent in front of hiring managers—in effort to eliminate “I don’t know anyone” as an excuse. Access and participation are both free and interested parties can either view or sign up to be added via tctle.com/directory.
Can you offer some tips to other creatives to launch their own online shop?
Stop waiting for something to be perfect before you launch it, because it’s never going to be perfect and then the world is never going to see it.
Be open to evolving. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And ultimately, do it because it’s fun to do and not because you want to make a quick buck. The money is rarely going to come as fast as you want it to (if at all) but keeping it fun does inspire the potential money making ideas.
What are your plans for TCTLE?
Oh, I have so many! As I build, my focus will forever be trying to get more WOC paid for their craft. Long term, I hope to extend to an in-person experience one day. A whole spot where it’s a mix of a store and also a place for people to craft or learn to craft from makers of color.
I think it’s good for kids and adults to see representations of successful creatives (and the definition of success here extends beyond financial security). Short term I aim to partner with more makers and start to have conversations on the TCTLE platform about experiences in the creative industry. Not conversations about diversity, but conversations with other working creative womxn of color about their talent and careers.
What creatives are inspiring you at the moment?
Recently I’m very much into storytelling, content strategy and leading with authenticity.
All three relate deeply to each other, but my inspiration is derived from different sources of each. Michaela Coel is my favorite authentic storyteller. Regardless of the vibe of her content (comedic or dramatic or just matter of fact), it’s grounded in honesty, which makes it relatable.
Years ago she shared a script of an episode of Chewing Gum to help empower aspiring TV scriptwriters. I found it in some Twitter thread and saved it for a rainy day. In regards to content strategy, Will Smith and Brittani Warrick. The former has cultivated a team that consistently creates engaging and viral content relevant to a global audience. The latter used her skills to turn a living legend (Dionne Warwick) into a Twitter icon. I think as ingrained as social media is in our lives, not enough people understand how to wield its power to catapult them to greater heights. Those two do.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
We all have the opportunity to improve as human beings all the time, and should take every advantage to do so.
Huge thanks to Deepa for chatting with us and for sharing so much of his wonderful experience and knowledge with us. Make sure to check out her TCTLE shop and follow her work.
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