By Shavonne Taisha
Taja Lindley is one of the most dedicated designer I know.. and it’s not just because of her ability to design irreplaceable statement pieces. Her line boost the ego of colored girls on their hustle. I’ve spent months seeking a means to describe her, but the only adjective that can suffice is Indestructable. She makes hustling look phenomenal.
After shopping her line multiple times, and meeting for drinks or brunch i knew it was time to highlight this selfmade legend.
What inspired the creation of Colored Girls Hustle?
I started Colored Girls Hustle in 2011 when I was working a job that no longer served me. I was working at least 45 hours a week and commuting at least two hours a day round trip. It left little time for hobbies, self-care, and personal relationships. At the time I was noticing my frustration, I was also doing a deep dive into my creativity – drawing, painting, performing, and making jewelry. I was so invigorated by my creative processes and communities, I would sometimes forgo sleep to stay up long hours working on projects and exploring my self expression. I got so excited with making jewelry that I made a whole lot – I’m talking too much for me to wear. So I thought: why don’t I sell these? Ironically, my first customers were people I met through my job. And in 2012 I took a leap and tried my hand at vending. I applied to sell my earrings at Momma’s Hip Hop Kitchen and I was accepted! I knew I needed a name – I didn’t want to vend without one. That’s how I came up with Colored Girls Hustle. The name reflects who I am and what I value: being a woman of color working hard for her dreams, aligning with her passions, and fulfilling he purpose with rigor. Since its inception I’ve released several collections of adornment, co-created a mixtape, interviewed women and girls of color on their hustle, and launched the Colored Girls Hustle Marketplace.
Shavonne: What is your mission?
Taja: Colored Girls Hustle is a Black owned feminist small business adorning the bodies and honoring the lives and labor of women and girls of color. Our mission is to redefine hustle as passion-filled and purpose-driven work, and to inspire women and girls of color to live out loud. Through dynamic products and presentations, we are invigorating and nurturing bold self-expression, and encouraging people to be audacious, authentic, and creative.
Shavonne: How do you define the "hustle?"
Taja: Sometimes when we hear the word “hustle” feelings and thoughts of scarcity come to mind. Hustling to live, to survive, and just get by. For me, the hustle is about aligning what we do in the world with who we are and how we want to live. Historically, this has been a luxury few women of color could afford. Our labor has been exploited (see: slavery) and our work has not been valued (see: gender wage gap organized by race). We deserve to enjoy what we do, how we spend our time, and what we create. We deserve to lead satisfying lives. We deserve fulfilling and meaningful work. I have spent years cultivating this for myself, and I feel called to encourage others to do the same. My hope is that when people buy what I create that it motivates them to feel confident and move powerfully – from affirmation journals and intentionally designed earrings to sweatshirts with bold statements. I also feel called to support other women and girls of color who are also liberating their labor. The Colored Girls Hustle Marketplace is part of how I do that. It’s a curated shopping experience featuring all women of color artists and makers. This year I’ve been able to support 35 women of color owned brands!
But let’s get this straight – hustle ain’t just about work, it’s also a lifestyle. I’m not interested in working nine-to-five until I turn 65 or die. I’m not interested in saving my joy for weekends, holidays, and vacations. I desire a life where I can rest when I need to, take breaks when I want to, and still have time to nurture my relationship with myself and with other people. The “hustle” includes working in a way that is sustainable for the life you desire, and quite frankly, deserve.
Shavonne: How does your brand reflect your identity?
Taja : I am a Black woman on her hustle! Not only do I own this small business, I’m also a performing artist and I work as a consultant with community based organizations and government agencies. I do a lot! And I’m able to do it all because I feel invigorated by what I create, who I work with, and what I do. Truth be told: I probably work more hours than I did when I had a full time job. But when I’m doing what I love, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s purpose. And I have fun while doing it.
Also – everything I create and sell are things I wear and use. Colored Girls Hustle is an extension of my creativity and self expression.
Shavonne: What has representation meant for you and your business?
Taja: It’s important to see people who like me doing things I’d like to do. It makes it feel possible. This has been challenging for me because when I started Colored Girls Hustle, I wasn’t surrounded by too many people who were creative entrepreneurs with multiple passions and a human rights sensibility. Now it’s on trend to move through the world in that way, but it didn’t feel like that when I was starting out. So I doubted myself, questioned myself, and didn’t trust my process. I’ve since learned how to move forward and make choices without needing or wanting outside approval or permission. I hope that the way I walk my path and the products and presentations I create inspire people, especially women and girls of color, to live life on their own terms.
Additionally, as a company that promotes beauty and creativity, I am intentional about who models my work. I often have to model my products myself (see: hustle on a budget) but when I have the opportunity to hire someone or ask my friends, I make sure I choose folks on a spectrum of body shapes, sizes, and skin tones.
Shavonne: What is the average production timeline for each piece?
Taja: A long time! Haha! Seriously though, it depends on what part of the process we’re talking about. When I begin working on earrings, I first pull out drawings, collages and paintings I’ve created since 2014 to inspire the shapes and patterns I use. Then I go through a prototyping process: drafting designs, testing out ideas, assembling pieces, editing designs, and generating feedback through focus groups. Once I land on a collection, I begin to make a bunch of pieces to prepare for the launch. This is where I binge watch TV shows and podcasts because I’ll spend 8-14 hours a day gluing and assembling the finished products.
Shavonne: Where do you see your company in 6 months? In five years?
Taja: In 6 months I see a new collection of products: apparel, adornment and more.
In five years I see Colored Girls Hustle as a lucrative business making deep impact in community. When business becomes more profitable, I’d like to make some investments in feminist social movement organizations and artists, providing resources, space, and opportunities for women and girls of color on their hustle. I’d also like to see participating businesses in the Colored Girls Hustle Marketplace taking off and successfully achieving their potential. My goal is to have Colored Girls Hustle play a role in their pathway to success.
Shavonne: Who are you biggest influences?
Taja: So many people! But for the purposes of this article, I’ll leave it at one person: Audre Lorde. She taught me to accept nothing less than my internal sense of satisfaction.
On December 8th, 2019 the girls of MLNNNYC will be joining Taja at the Colored Girls Marketplace. If you’re looking for last minute gifts to bring in the holiday season, or to spoil yourself, join us here.