Tanya Taylor: Founder & CEO of Tanya Taylor

Episode 410

Tanya Taylor, Founder and CEO of the women’s clothing brand also called Tanya Taylor, is here with us today to share more about the brand that she has created and her journey in scaling it. She shares what inspires her and more about the brand’s unique artful approach. Tanya has stayed true to the mission and the brand’s unique and refreshing approach to design, her backstory, as well as all the lessons that she has gained in building her fabulous company. This episode is super inspiring and you don’t want to miss it! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m so excited to have my next guest here. Her name is Tanya Taylor. And if you have not seen her incredible brand, you need to stop living under that rock because it is absolutely beautiful, beautiful, beautiful products that you really, really need to look at. Not right now because first you’re going to hear from Tanya herself. And she’s going to tell you a lot more about this women’s clothing brand. That is her own name Tonya Taylor. But she’s here with us today to share more about the brand that she created and her journey and creating it. And I love the beautiful designs the very artful designs artful approach, I should say. And I truly can’t wait to learn more about how she thought about this and, and really her vision overall for for developing it. And what prompted that to happen. So plus, I feel like with every great entrepreneur that we have on the podcast, you learn all kinds of insights into some of the lessons that they’ve learned along the way and gaining their wisdom. So anyway, without further ado, welcome, Tanya.

Tanya Taylor 1:58
Oh, thank you so much for having me.

Kara Goldin 2:00
Absolutely. So before we get into hearing about your clothing brand, Tanya Taylor, I’d love for you to share a little bit about your journey. And just so that we could get a taste for what helps you decide to start this company?

Tanya Taylor 2:16
Yeah. Okay, so I grew up in Toronto. And Toronto does not have a fashion industry. So I had no idea that what fashion looked like or what a career in fashion was. But I did have a mom that was incredibly creative and incredibly business oriented. So she did both things. She ran a public company of 5000 men in the oil and gas industry. And by day, that was her job. And then at night, she was helping me paint on walls do paper mache super, super hands on. So I thought it could be both things, which I’m so happy to have had that example. And it led me to go to McGill University and study finance. And while I was studying finance, I loved the tools and the skills I was learning but I didn’t have a creative outlet to apply them to. So it allowed me to think about okay, what could I do that is creative. I ended up going to Parsons after graduating, and I did the AAS program in fashion design. And that was when I kind of had that aha moment of oh, wait. New York is one my favorite city very cool. And I had never been I didn’t know anyone. And that there was a career that existed that you could kind of combine both sides of thinking. And it really just let me feel like I could kind of flex all of my muscles every day. And so I had my first job with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. And they were starting Elizabeth and James, which was a contemporary brand that really appealed to me at that time. I was 24 years old, and they were 24 years old. So it was really cool. Because I was working with women that were my age, we were designing for a customer who was our age, and I understood the power of following a personal instinct and design and a personal instinct and business. And so I very much on a bad Friday at work had an instinct to leave. And I did. And I was quickly told because I’m Canadian, I needed to have a reason to work in the United States. So I decided to start a company. And I would say that that is a little bit of the way I operate. I I am not the best planner, but I do follow my gut and I really I lead with a lot of passion. So I think I passionately put myself into building a business plan. Thank goodness having some skills and doing that from school in the past. And then I started with one employee and now we are about 40 of us you New York at Union Square. And it’s been such a journey. It’s been 10 years.

Kara Goldin 5:06
I was gonna say, how, how many years ago was that? 10 years? Yeah,

Tanya Taylor 5:10
a long time ago.

Kara Goldin 5:11
That’s why I’ll so you know, it’s interesting, I was just speaking to another entrepreneur earlier, and who hadn’t actually worked in a company where there were founders there. And I’ve always believed that, you know, the founder energy, the soul, you know, the creativity, the, there is so much to learn there. And, you know, for me, I had worked for multiple founders, I never joined those companies, because they were founder LED. But I think in many ways, looking back, my one of my first jobs was at CNN, when it was a start up, and Ted Turner running around, and nobody thought CNN was gonna make it, it was 40% of households. And, you know, anytime that Ted walked into the building, you knew he was in the, in the building, like, you could feel it, right. Like, there was just a, you know, you wanted to grab his ear, you wanted to kind of hear, speak about things, and but in hindsight, I think that that also allowed me kind of the courage to know that I didn’t have to have it all figured out, in order to go and create.

Tanya Taylor 6:31
There’s a vulnerability when there’s a founder, because that founder, if they’re willing to share the highs and the lows, it kind of allows I think teams and employees to feel like they can do and I think when I first started the company, I thought that was a weakness to show concern or fear. And I’m really don’t feel that at all anymore. And it’s, it’s interesting, because I’ve never thought of it that way. But I don’t think I could ever work. I could never work anywhere that’s not founder led, because the the values and the direction coming from a person is so meaningful. And like my grandfather started a company. And when he passed away, we were trying to consider where to have his funeral. And we had it in his office. And that was like the most founder led finale, we could have. But it was because his team was his family. And it was where he put his heart and soul.

Kara Goldin 7:35
Yeah, I think it’s it’s such an amazing experience for people. And it’s truly different than you know, the experience that maybe some of your colleagues, who were even at Parsons with you that if they went inside of a company that was no longer founder led, it’s not that they’re not going to learn a lot. It’s just that a very, very different culture, experience, whatever it was, but I think what I see is that the best entrepreneurs, especially if they’ve, if they’ve been inside of a company where that was founder led, they understand exactly what I’m talking about. Yeah, for sure. For sure. So I told a friend that I was interviewing you, by the way, and she lives in New York, and she was like, Oh, my gosh, I love her stuff. It’s so great. And yeah, so anyway, I told her that I would share. So how did how have you? I mean, 10 years is a long time, but 10 years isn’t a long time in comparison to other brands that are out there. How have you generated so much awareness.

Tanya Taylor 8:41
Um, I’ve always done things a little bit differently, that maybe caught people’s attention, probably in marketing, specifically, like when we started, I remember, I really didn’t know anyone, but someone that was helping me with PR said, Okay, if you want to break into fashion, and you want to catch people’s attention, you need to do things that feel personal and that feel outside of the box. And he said, Where’s your favorite place in New York City? As like the moment I love the mailman, because I love art. He’s like, great, you have your fashion show at the MoMA? And I was like, how, like, are you gonna help me like, how do I do that? And he’s like, No, but I trust you’ll figure it out. And so I called the restaurant of the moment because that’s how little access to the mobile I had. And they thought I was crazy. Like, yes, you can have dinner but you can’t have a show. And I persistently followed up with every corporate sponsor of the moment for months and finally had my first show there. So it was through JP Morgan, they gave me the space and for two seasons in a row. So that helped get some brand awareness. It helps people see that I was here to be different. And I think I’ve just followed an instinct like we Launched extended sizing six years ago, that was really before. It was, you know, a trend, it was, for me an important responsibility. And I’ve just throughout the time, really felt that my my company is kind of my playbox for my sandbox play box, I don’t know. And I am here to live in New York to be curious and to be experimental, and to test things. And I think that that has been a good recipe for us to have some bold initiatives and really grow.

Kara Goldin 10:37
So you touched on the inclusive sizing decision, Ken, I’d love to dig into that a little bit. Like what made you think, obviously, you’re just starting out? It’s a little scary, because you’re not exactly sure what sizes you should be creating. How did you make that big decision? And I mean, it is something that I think you’ve gained PR and marketing from as well.

Tanya Taylor 11:09
Yeah. I mean, it really came from, again, that responsibility of talking to a customer and making a customer happy that I felt wasn’t being made happy through fashion. So I, my mom was a size 18 As I was growing up, and I really saw a shift in her confidence and her mood between weekends where she could wear stretchy pants, and Monday mornings where she had to wear tailored suits. And she just became nervous. Like I think standing up in a board room, and not having the right fitting clothes that represent your personality is hard. And so I really felt that growing up. And I never intentionally started offering extended sizing because really a marketing reason it was because I wanted my mom to wear our clothes. And I really wanted women that I knew that were really fun, and fashion loving women in their 20s to wear clothes. And I just felt like we were too narrow in our definition of fashion. And you know, coming from Toronto, I think I’ve always thought the brand needs to be approachable, and it needs to be inviting and be energizing. Because I felt like an outsider coming from a city that had never really, you know, coming to New York is scary. So I always am trying to break down the scary barriers of fashion. And I think extended sizing and offering that it’s just one of the ways we do it.

Kara Goldin 12:46
So when you launched your company, you had one employee, what was kind of the hardest part like remember that day you you had an Did you have an office? Or did you do it out of your home initially,

Tanya Taylor 12:59
we had our first meeting at Starbucks, our first day was at Starbucks at the corner of spring and Mercer or Crosby. And I remember looking at him and saying, I will manage getting a phone and an office, you manage setting up an email and fabric appointments. And I had known him when I worked at Elizabeth and James and he was the perfect liaison between me and factories like I could come up with creative ideas and think about what I wanted the collection to be. And he was the perfect person to actually make the collection. And so I knew he’d be a great partner. It was scary. I think that time didn’t exist. I feel like we had, you know, fittings at 11pm. And I don’t even think I had Google Calendar. Like I don’t it was just he and I kind of running alongside each other. And it was the only two it was only the two of us for the first two and a half years. And then we really slowly grew like I think we were still only seven people, like five years. And it’s really grown since but it’s it was such a special time in my life. And he is he his name is Willie MacLeod He’s incredible. And I just think that it was a partnership that really allowed me to, you know, kind of dream big. I had no injuries I had no people to manage. Like when you’re starting out and you’re an entrepreneur, it’s kind of an incredible time to to dream big and just kind of feel that naive, naive net like being naive with confidence, I think is like the greatest max at the beginning.

Kara Goldin 14:41
It’s fun. It’s funny when I think back on those early days of producing hint, it’s people have asked me over the years like how do you find people and I’m like, you know you think about this and there’s like no reason why. Well McLeod should have Like, banked on you, right? Like, you’re you didn’t have a phone you didn’t have, you know, like, I mean, we had, we had people like, well, McLeod to where you look back on it. And it’s like, I mean, you look for people that are going to do hopefully, a pretty good job, right? Yeah. And you got lucky that you found somebody really great, but you try. And, you know, probably the hardest thing is making those decisions that those people are not right for the company, they’re not going to help get you through next week, or whatever. And you’ve got to make those decisions along the way. But, but it’s a pretty scary time. And I think like anybody who joins a company early on there, you know, and is willing to make a bet on you, you didn’t have what you have today. Right? You didn’t have a lot of experience, you’ve never started a company. So there’s, there’s a lot to be grateful for right? Along with those, you know, you’re just sort of like, Oh, my God, I sort of bullshitted my way in to, you know, getting this getting him to believe, but it’s, that’s pretty awesome.

Tanya Taylor 16:08
And I think if I knew now what I knew, then I’m like, if I could have started it, like, right, you do start things, because you want to fix something, or you want to express something, and you don’t necessarily see all the barriers and boundaries. Because if you haven’t worked that long, or started your own company, those those fearful things just pop up along the way. And I think that I really am grateful for the perseverance that he brought to me. Like he supported me, my family supported me through this. And it was, there was never a time that failure felt like it was big enough to stop. And that that’s an important like, but that comes from people around you.

Kara Goldin 16:59
Where did you get like your motivation? Because obviously, I would imagine, you had things like a pattern wasn’t cut correctly, or something fabric was, was a total bust? Or I don’t know, something along the way that was a mistake or a failure. But where did you ultimately get the energy to kind of get back up again?

Tanya Taylor 17:28
I think maybe two ways. I feel like I always was thinking about what’s best for the customer from the day I started this. So if there was a mistake, I was fighting for someone else, right? So it kind of makes you not like, Let all your self doubt come into your decision making. You’re really thinking about who you’re making things for and why you’re working hard for that person. So that helped. That helped me stick to making things high quality and pushing the company forward and growing the team. And then I think I don’t know, probably my mom and my husband are just the best cheerleaders ever. And even the other night I came home and I was kind of feeling down. It’s hard like you have a resignation, you have a sales week, that’s not good. And you come home and you’re kind of like, oh my gosh, I just you know, I’m Why am I doing this or like, and I just find as soon as I talk to them, they are just so they’re so good at saying, like, not just platitudes of You’re doing great, but really digging into the why you’re doing it and how to refine the feeling of purpose and satisfaction.

Kara Goldin 18:46
Yeah, well, and I think also just finding that the ray of hope. Right. And I think if you’ve got to surround yourself being a founders, it can be very lonely. And and I think, you know, as I’ve said many times on this podcast might one of my favorite videos is Steve Jobs talking about how, you know, no one told them that you’ve got to being a founder of any company, you know, is is hard because you’ve got to do all the other stuff and he launches into this whole discussion about you’ve got to make sure that the coffeemaker works and when it breaks it’s like it’s all on Tanya right? Why don’t you have a Why don’t you have this type of insurance or this and this and this and it’s like wait, we’re we’re making clothes here.

Tanya Taylor 19:43
Much more like than the mornings I wake up and I panic about whether the AC is going to break in our office with a printer isn’t working really properly and how I’m disappointing people like I think, my personality. The risk I have in as being an entrepreneur is that I am I’m very worried about disappointing people. And it’s it’s been something over 10 years, I’ve had to not let paralyze me. Because as your team grows, you kind of have more people you could disappoint, and poor people. And it can be a really big mental play that this doesn’t allow you to be allow you to shine or allow you to like continue on your day job. And I now feel better in the separation I have from those those feelings, and it’s allowed me to lead better.

Kara Goldin 20:35
Yeah, no, definitely, I totally know what you’re talking about. So let’s talk about the Tanya Taylor brand. So as you were creating the incredible brand that you have, and obviously we talked about the inclusive sizing and all the things that what it is, and you love arts and and all of this, but how did you decide like which pieces were going to be the pieces that you were going to be creating, and like what you were really going to shine, doing.

Tanya Taylor 21:10
I think it went back to me loving to paint and being I was always a storyteller through making things like even as a kid, if I wanted to tell you that you are my best friend, I would make you a paper mache bear, and I would give it to you. And that was like my love language. So when I started the brand, I knew I needed to, like embed myself into what was going to be distinctive about us. And to me, that’s painting our friends. So our paints are our prints are all painted, I tried to get my hands on as many as I can. And it’s a process that I just like love. And I think it’s become a part of our storytelling every season is why we love such saturated colors, or why I think you know, watercolor effect to a print is romantic, like we’re able to kind of create a mood through the art that we we make. And I think it gives a woman a feeling of that she is wearing art and that there is a story behind what she’s wearing. And there’s a thoughtfulness to the process. And we really tried to share that on social media. And I think it’s helped us stand out, it feels like we’re not just trying to make things like be super fast about it. We’re really trying to think about styling and what’s flattering, are very aware of lifestyle we are I spend so much time in change rooms with women like it’s, it’s like a second job of standing there and hearing their body issues and where you know, they’re going in things so that the brand feels like it’s grounded. Like it has this reality to how I want people to wear things. But it’s also then have has this like fantasy of the art that’s in it.

Kara Goldin 23:00
I love that. So your collections have been worn by women such as former First Lady Michelle Obama and Tracy Ls are Tracee Ellis Ross set as Beyonce to name. Just a few. How does it make you feel when you know that they’re wearing your product? So proudly, I mean, it’s just like, you’re this girl from Toronto, right? That’s painting. And it’s your paper mache bears away like this is not supposed to be this way, right? Like, it’s just I mean, it’s just, oh, when you make people, you’re making a product that people are choosing right to, which is amazing. But tell me sort of what that feeling is.

Tanya Taylor 23:46
It’s pinch me imposters, Trump to the max happens. But I just I feel so grateful. I think seeing first of all, a lot of people were us right when I started the brand. And that was the most exciting and really, biggest honor because it was the best way that we could grow at the beginning. And what I love is the diversity of women that whereas like we have all ages, all body types, all races and it’s just this I love thinking of the the through line, like what is similar about all these women, and it’s that they express themselves through color through fashion through using fashion in a happy way. And that’s what I’ve really seen whether it’s you know, Taylor Swift or Beyonce or Michelle Obama wearing even the exact same dress that is really interesting from a, you know, from a designer perspective, and then they’re just like the coolest women ever, like I got to take my mom to the White House to meet Michelle Obama and I don’t think I can really, I don’t know offer a better moment. Like it was the greatest thing that I I’ll ever do

Kara Goldin 25:01
well. And I think that the experiences to that, I mean, just building hint for the last 17 years, I mean, I say the same thing, like, there’s so many experiences, we actually, I got to know Michelle, a little bit through the drink cup initiative and a million years never thought that, you know, I’d be working on a program with the White House to be able to, to, you know, change health and get people to drink water like that, that to me was just, you know, made me pinch myself to like, you know, still to the stave and talking about it. So I think like the opportunities, going back to the Steve Jobs idea, it’s not just about building a company, it’s actually, you know, there’s so many opportunities that will come along along the way, like your ability to actually change people’s minds or lead an effort around inclusive sizing, for example, how many people are going to be watching you and, and seeing that you’re making these choices, and then they’re going to do that as well. It’s, it’s a pretty powerful position.

Tanya Taylor 26:11
And it’s not when you intentionally probably you ever thought when you started hint that would happen. So it’s like, you always think I think, as an entrepreneur, I always felt I have a voice, I want to use it, it doesn’t mean anyone’s going to hear it, it doesn’t mean anyone is going to make it louder, or help spread it. And so as your company grows, and you see people find extensions of making it, you know, incredibly, you get to work with the White House on Water Initiative. Like, it’s, I think the biggest thing for me through the 10 years has been to see how other people can bring what I do to a beautiful platform of change, or, you know, their own kind of personal expression. And so it’s, it’s kind of cool. It’s almost like a spontaneous combustion of like your idea become so much more through others. No, definitely.

Kara Goldin 27:05
So funding accompany is often really tough for first time entrepreneurs, especially women, diverse, women, diverse individuals. Can you share any advice, when you look at finding a company, whether it’s your own company, or you know, obviously, other entrepreneurs that are out there? What do you think is kind of the big thing that you need to do in order to be able to get the funding you need?

Tanya Taylor 27:37
I mean, to me, whether it’s that I’m being funded, or at I am funding, it’s all about a trusting relationship with the founder, and an understanding of how much they believe in their business and what they know about their business. So when I started my company, I had friends and family invest. And it was really important to me that on paper, I could build a three year plan that was based on what other fashion brands have done in New York, that shows what I was good at, versus what I was going to hire that other people were good at. And there was a realism about it. And then when I’m thinking about funding businesses, it’s really about the person. And so it’s interesting how some people forget about how much they matter in their pitches or how much they think it’s the product that is going to shine. And it’s really like we all know, there’s gonna be product problems and the product might fail. But if you believe in the person and the way that they’re gonna bounce back and kind of pivot, I think there’s so much value in developing great communication skills of your vision and just who you are.

Kara Goldin 28:53
Yeah, definitely. When you close your eyes and you think about your brand, what are you most proud of? I don’t think we get to do that enough as founders but it’s

Tanya Taylor 29:07
I feel like I close my eyes. Up and 90 things that are on my to do list. What am I most proud of? I think seeing people happy that are wearing our clothes i to the point of like Michelle Obama wearing as I am just as happy going on the subway and seeing a girl wear us and knowing she’s going to her first job and she chose us to wear and it is giving her confidence. So it’s it’s it’s really the it’s really the amount of people that I think we can touch is what probably gives me the most like warm and fuzzies.

Kara Goldin 29:43
i You reminded me I was in Martha’s Vineyard last summer and we were on a ferry and I was sat down on the ferry. And there were these two women who were drinking hint and, and I was sitting right next to them and I, I do this often actually, I said, Oh, what are you drinking? And they went on to, you know, they’re like, oh, what flavors that and you know, I’m like, Oh, that’s so cool. Like, where did you get it? And, and why did you choose it? And I do this all the time. And And now people are they’re like, then they’ll look, then they’ll like look at the founder as and then I’ll have people who out me like on, you know afterwards they’re like wait a minute wait.

Tanya Taylor 30:33
Yeah, it’s true.

Kara Goldin 30:35
Yeah, I do I do these focus groups all the time but I I’m always kind of blushing about it because it it’s really it makes people happy and they start smiling and they’re like, Oh, this is why I really like it. And, and, and I bet you could get the exact same response like how did you pick that jacket? Oh, well, it had, you know, the perfect shape for my body type or whatever, you know, and

Tanya Taylor 31:01
at least the listed a lot of feedback. But I’m nervous sometimes to go up to people that I see wearing our clothes. But my husband is not nervous. So he went up to a woman at a bar recently. I was like, I really like your jacket. Where did you get it? And she thought he was hitting on her. She was like, she’s like, I’m married. I don’t need to talk. It was awesome. He’s like, no, no, my wife designed it. Like, I’m just I’m just trying to ask you where you got it. And it was funny. I was like, you just got shut down by trying to do the focus group.

Kara Goldin 31:33
That is so funny. That’s hysterical. So last question. So what when do you know you’re successful?

Tanya Taylor 31:42
I don’t know. I don’t know. I think like, obviously, if I look at some like growth numbers, I can feel successful, but it has to be in your heart. Like, it’s, to me, it’s a feeling. It’s a feeling of freedom for me. Like I think I feel successful when I have shared ideas. And I feel I have inspired people and I feel my team feels inspired, and that the customer is happy. And it’s hard to track that. But there’s moments that you really feel it. And it’s and maybe this is the worst version of the answer I should give you. But I feel like it’s really when I don’t want to criticize and change things. Like I feel successful when something has happened. And I’m happy with how it happened. And then I don’t go in my mind and try to change it. It feels like it was really what was supposed to happen.

Kara Goldin 32:37
I love that. Tanya, I’m going to end on that. But thank you so much for coming on. And we’ll have all the info in the show notes. Tonya Taylor’s so nice to meet you and hear your story. And your brand is absolutely incredible. So congratulations.

Tanya Taylor 32:54
Thank you so much. I love being on here.

Kara Goldin 32:57
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week. And 2023 And goodbye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening