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Life and Work with Tameshia Rudd-Ridge

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tameshia Rudd-Ridge.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve always enjoyed making things, however, growing up, I never dreamed of becoming a designer. I was interested in history, cultures, languages, and politics. An episode of ‘The Cosby Show’ featuring South African singer Miriam Makeba as well as growing up in a culturally-diverse community spurred my love of learning about other cultures around the globe. This led me to pursue degrees in International Relations and African-American Studies with minors in Latin American Studies and Spanish with the goal of becoming a diplomat.

In my last semester of college, I studied abroad in Rwanda and interned at the First Lady of Rwanda’s Office and Foundation. While there, I got a first-hand look at the strategies public and private sector organizations were deploying in order to transform Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. During this time, I came to the profound realization that artisan craft production was the backbone of most emerging economies and had the potential to create sustainable job opportunities. Spending a year in Rwanda changed the trajectory of my life in all the best ways possible.

I’ve now spent the last seven years, living, working and traveling extensively throughout the African continent. It started with a grad school fellowship on youth development and new media in Ghana. After a year, I dropped out of grad school to join the founding team of a travel app startup focused on helping travelers find the coolest experiences to have across Africa. Eventually, I left the startup to freelance and work towards turning my side hustle into a fully-fledged business.

When I’m not working, you can find me exploring whatever city I’m in at the moment, spending quality time with friends and family, and researching my family’s genealogy.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
My journey has been anything but smooth. It’s been more like a roller coaster – thrilling but scary at the same time.

I’ve faced challenges in building my businesses that almost left me broke and ruined some of my personal relationships. At the time, they seemed insurmountable. In hindsight, I grew stronger personally and professionally. For that, I’m eternally grateful. Through these moments, I learned that taking risks seldom comes without challenges.

I don’t have advice to help others just starting out but I’d like to suggest a mindset shift and share what worked for me.

What has helped me most is developing a personal resilience toolbox that’s full of strategies to get through tough moments. Some of these things are as simple as taking a nap or watching a funny episode of ‘Living Single’ or ‘Golden Girls’. Or, on harder days… I talk with a therapist whose neutral and has the bandwidth to help me work through situations. My fave resources for finding therapists are: Maven App, Open Path Collective, and ‘Therapy for Black Girls’.

Equally important is betting on yourself and developing a deep knowing that “you got this”. This comes by having the guts and gumption to go after your wildest desires and developing self-mastery. I look at self-mastery like a sport. You learn through experimenting, making mistakes, and practicing! “You’ll miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So, go for it and don’t be tied to the outcome. Learning and improving is the goal. “Everything is figureoutable!”

Please tell us about Cool & Collected Africa.
At Cool & Collected Africa, I partner with master artisans to design ridiculously stylish contemporary fashion and home accessories. Through each handcrafted design, we’re providing sustainable job opportunities for local artisans while simultaneously preserving time-honored craft traditions of the African Diaspora.

These traditions are at risk of dying out due to globalization, resort development, appropriation, and much more. Additionally, African Diaspora cultures have always honored nature and given things like waste and scraps new life. I’m super excited to continue these traditions by thoughtfully sourcing earth-friendly materials for my handbag designs.

What sets me apart is that I’m positioning my brand as premium and my collections are inspired by my travels. The goal is to become a global lifestyle brand. Think B.Smith meets Anthony Bourdain. To do so, I’m working towards changing the perception of crafts made by the African Diaspora. Right now, many folks associate African Diaspora handicrafts with charity and conflict. This is because “fair trade” marketing historically has relied on pity to drive purchases. My plan is to elevate the crafts to the likes of “Fine China” and “Made in Italy.”

I’m proud that providing customers with ridiculously stylish accessories allows me to create sustainable work for artisans and preserve their craft traditions for generations to come. Through this, the artisans have greater income which allows them to meaningfully invest in transforming their lives, their families, and their communities.

I’m also excited that I have the opportunity to bridge cultures through travel and design when a lot of the current civic discourse is divisive.

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that a lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
Whether it’s mentoring or networking, don’t force it — especially not on the first interaction.

With networking, I’d suggest checking out the ‘TMAY Method’ by Holley Murchison. It’s super helpful in making interactions less awkward and more fun.

In terms of mentoring, what’s worked best for me is getting clear on what I want or need from a mentor in order to make a specific ask. This helps them help me. I also think about how I can contribute or help them too so that the relationship is mutually beneficial and fulfilling.

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Tameshia Rudd-Ridge

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