Published November 30, 2021.
A snapshot from one of my favorite campaigns.
I moved back to my hometown of Asheville, NC from New York City in 2017 with very little money, a mountain of debt, and an ill-informed belief that being in a “smaller pond” was going to be easier for my career. I've always been ambitious and wanted to be able to have a career I could be proud of. New York was full of opportunity but I learned quickly that the world responds better to success than it does to potential. With that in mind, I moved back hoping I could make a splash in my hometown and scale that success into a global career, or at least a national one.
I know people think that the youth are arrogant because we want things on our own terms, but I think we're just hopeful. To tell the truth, I think I was more naive. I thought that everyone wanted what I wanted - life and in business and that we were all on the same page. We were not. I didn't have a full appreciation for how different business (and life) in a normal would be in comparison to the corporate/industrial and very much siloed experience I'd had experienced so far. Here I was, trying to produce Vogue ads for people who advertised in dying local newspaper. That's not a knock on my city, it's a realization that everyday business doesn't require $100K ads. Most businesses in America don't operate on a national or even regional level. Moreover, many don't want to. I was trying to force my aspirations on other people. Not my monkeys. Not my circus. Not my place.
Due to that disconnect, I spent my first two years broke. Living at home, building my agency during the day, and working in the kitchen of a local grocery store overnight for $9/hr. My first contract client offered me $6K a year and paid me in three-month installments.
After my first contract, work started to pick up here and there, and over the next three years, I experienced all the challenges that come with starting a business. I learned the market, found an angle, and figured out how to give people what they wanted. We continued to grow, and by the Summer of 2021, we were a team of 6, with two offices, an international list of clients, and a storefront in downtown Asheville (revenue diversification). But I was unhappy. I’d always billed myself as a "rare breed" of creative. One who offered an intersectional perspective, creative capabilities, and a passion for data and strategy. but that's not what I was doing. I'd become more of a social media/digital marketing agency than a creative one.
I was so determined to make my choices (up until that point) work and eager to establish myself as a business person and because we grew so fast, I didn’t have the time to be creative, read data, or find clients who appreciated what I wanted to bring to the table. I was spending my time (and my youth) managing client expectations and staff output. Furthermore, our overhead required such a level of income that it forced us to work with people who we didn’t enjoy and some who couldn't begin to respect what we were trying to do. I'd found myself on a hamster wheel of capitalist burnout. We’d gone from a creative agency to a communications firm and that was simply not my plan.
It took some time and some therapy, but come the Fall, I had accepted that I could not put this genie back in its bottle and I was going to have to make a choice. Either stop running and regroup or ride my little hamster wheel right into hell - excuse the mixed metaphors.
So I got off. I had to accept that this version of success came at a cost that I could no longer pay. I've been a professional in this industry since I was 16 years old. First as a stylist, then a publicist, and now as a creative consultant. I started my company to bring something new to the conversation and to change the way the consumer-goods industry operates. I’ve always been the youngest person in the room and usually the only person of color. Even though Black people and millennials/Gen-Z are two of the biggest and most loyal consumer groups on the planet, we are never represented. I realized that there was a need for someone who could hold space and nuance. Someone from the South who understood how big cities and markets worked, and someone from a different perspective who could speak the language of business. Somewhere along the way, I lost that. I don’t know if it was my naivete, the pandemic, or just us as a business growing too fast. Either way, it happened. And to continue down that path would’ve been dishonest to who I am and how I want to show up in this world. So I closed it.
I fell in love with marketing and business the first time I picked up a Vogue. When I realized that commerce, capitalism, and all the things that take up space and take our money, could give us something in return. That the dollars we spend at the mall could tell our stories, create beauty, and even fund dreams. So I'm here to reclaim mine.
When I started in fashion, they told us that fashion was art meets commerce. When I worked with nonprofits and politicians, I was told that effective communication placed a monetary value on a priceless story. So what happens if we bring the fullness of humanity back into business? What will the world make of a queer Black man who is equally as passionate about Dior as he is about data? One who writes recipes as well as he writes reports. And who believes that the products and brands filling our homes are as much a part of our story as people within them. I can honestly tell you that I'm not sure yet and that I'm equally as terrified as I am eager, to I find out.