Telsha Anderson would not call herself “an outdoors girl.” And yet, her first job after graduating from Syracuse University (where she minored in retail management) was at a company selling national park brochures. “A friend of mine was leaving that job and I just sort of took over,” she tells me over the phone, just a few weeks before her Vogue-anointed wedding. “It was a small company and I ended up doing social media and administrative work for them, too.” Strangely enough, a most unlikely job gave Anderson the skills she uses today as a boutique owner.
That boutique is t.a.—a thriving spot in New York’s ever-hip Meatpacking District. The racks house up-and-coming indie labels like utilitarian-cool leather goods brand Ashya and ultra-minimal Ukrainian label Bevza, as well as more established New York darlings Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Brother Vellies.
But how does one go from social-media management to running a fashion boutique in one of the most competitive retail environments in the world?
“If I wasn’t going to get a seat at the table, I was going to build the building.”
After the park-brochure gig, Anderson took a social media course at Columbia University and wound up at HypeBeast, “I was working on the HypeKids vertical, and it was great to be in the space with individuals that were my age, and that looked like me.” From there, Anderson consulted for Atlantic Records and jumped into PR. Through all that, a path to fashion buying never cleared. “I knew that I would be great at it, if given the opportunity, but I can’t exactly say that in a job interview. People would think I was crazy.“ Instead of continuing the fashion-buyer job hut, Anderson made her own job, or in her words, “if I wasn’t going to get a seat at the table, I was going to build the building.”
Anderson is still a one-woman show and opened t.a. using her own savings and a crowd-funding campaign. “I didn’t know anyone in my industry who could give advice. There are not a lot of Black women in my space, there aren’t even that many boutique owners.” Anderson did a lot of personal research online, and got on Score, a platform that connects retired professionals with upstarts. Anderson wrote a business plan, and ran out to tour spaces on lunch breaks while at her PR job.
Then, a week after quitting her day job, Anderson flew to Paris to tour designer showrooms and woo brands into coming on board. “I was representing myself, I had to come up with different pitches to these brands.” The first pitch was the hardest. “I was lucky it was with a Black woman who was running the showroom, and she pulled me aside and said, ‘first of all, I believe in what you’re doing, but let’s fix some things about your pitch.’” Anderson secured 15 brands by the end of her Paris trip.
“Before I was a buyer, I was a consumer of luxury. I knew what was happening in the fashion space, I had a really strong vision.” Anderson’s decisiveness is part of why t.a. Has been a success. “Each brand has their own independent voice, and they complement each other very well. Because there’s no closet that I know of that’s only one brand and that’s what I wanted to present in the store as well.”
There was one issue with Anderson’s flawlessly executed plan: A pandemic that descended on New York (and the world) just a few days before she was set to open her doors. And although Anderson never wanted t.a.’s web presence to exceed its physical footprint, her PR and social media marketing skills suddenly became that much more useful. “We launched our website overnight, every week I launched 10 new items online, and started social. Around that time Shop-Black-owned started and we grew from that too.”
Even though the boutique launch didn’t go as Anderson had planned, it’s why she loves the industry in the first place (and why she’s working to disrupt it from the inside out). “My favourite thing about fashion is how fast it changes, and how there’s always something new. I love something today, but in four months, there’s going to be something new.”
Who are you inspired by?
“Naomi Campbell, Phoebe Philo, Sara Andelman, the owner of Colette (RIP Colette) and Tracee Ellis Ross, I think she holds a lot of weight in the fashion space and dictates a lot of trends.”
How do you unwind?
“I binge TV like crazy. I just finished three shows—I’m in the middle of Squid Game, I just watched The 100.”
How many unread emails do you have right now?
“40! I try to keep up.”
What do you look for in an employee?
“Positive attitude, knowledge of fashion and availability—you have to be able to be at the store when I need you.”
Best piece of advice you ever got?
“From my dad, ‘Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.’ Basically to stay even-keeled.”
Worst piece of advice you ever got?
“At a showroom, someone told me I was too young to be doing what I’m doing.”