On a recent November day, when the temperature in New York fell precariously close to freezing, and the downpour was relentless, Telsha Anderson had her hands full at T.A. — the clothing boutique she opened earlier this year in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. All afternoon, a steady stream of shoppers had been popping in to marvel at the vibrant interiors — think Memphis Group meets the set of a Solange video — and browse the racks of PH5, Simon Miller, Barragán, Gauntlett Cheng, and more. “I think people like to shop on rainy days,” Anderson mused, stepping away to offer styling advice to a woman considering a plaid Ottolinger dress. She made the sale.
During a less chaotic year, the 27-year-old’s successful storefront launch would have been plenty cause for celebration: The place veers away from fast-fashion, and towards independent designers and vintage picks that truly can’t be found anywhere else. It’s a one-of-a-kind venue with a thoroughly limited, ever-changing selection. But in 2020, with a pandemic to contend with alongside the economic, political, and racial reckonings that have erupted over the past eight months, Anderson’s accomplishments are near-miraculous.
Her first inkling that her original mid-March opening date wouldn’t come to pass occurred when some of the clothes she intended to display in the store got held up in Europe, where COVID-19 had ground operations to a halt. Those first few delays didn’t rattle her much, but by the time New York City announced its own shutdown, Anderson says, “I was kind of freaking out, obviously, as anyone would.”
Like countless other New Yorkers, Anderson packed a bag and went home to Princeton, New Jersey for what she thought would be a couple of weeks, but turned out to be several months. Unsure of how long the city would be shut down and unwilling to press pause on T.A. indefinitely, she worked with her sister (who works at Squarespace) to quickly launch an e-commerce site in April. “I really wanted to open online, because I just wanted to get the word out on what T.A. was,” Anderson says.
While the physical store had always been her top priority, during shelter in place, she poured herself into the website. She didn’t want to miss the boat on SS20 designers — so she proceeded to launch exactly ten items a week online in the hopes of building “hype” and drawing in return customers.
With summer’s widespread protests and unprecedented swell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement came a renewed focus on supporting Black-owned businesses, and thanks to the site, T.A. was already set up to welcome a wave of digital fans. “COVID was unexpected and really stressful, but at the same time, I was able to relax and do the administrative stuff properly, and also talk to people online,” Anderson says. “I answered every single DM — I think at one point there were almost 400.” At times, she would even drive into the city to photograph herself wearing merchandise just to help answer a sizing question.
T.A.’s eventual brick-and-mortar launch was pushed to July along with NYC’s Phase III reopening — and today, Anderson greets shoppers from behind a mask and diligently disinfects the dressing room after each use. A self-professed “clean freak,” she insists that this is only a notch or two more intense than how she would run the shop even if there weren’t a pandemic.
Speaking with Anderson about the countless obstacles she’s overcome to open T.A., her seemingly boundless optimism shines through — and it’s evident in every element of her venture, from the vibrantly colored decor to her bright approach to customer service. “I could be having a terrible day, but that doesn’t mean that whoever’s coming in here needs to know that,” she says. “The clothes are ever-changing, so if someone walks in and they don’t see anything they want, they’ll still remember their interactions with the people that work here, and the excitement in the air. That’ll bring them back.” It’s a sentiment that will be appreciated by anyone who’s ever left a store because of — or bought something they loved in spite of — a sales associate’s attitude.
Anderson has been an avid shopper for much of her life, tagging along as a child while her mother sought out independent boutiques both here and abroad. She knew early on that she wanted to work in fashion and even minored in retail management in college, but after graduation, she struggled to find entry-level roles as a retail buyer. Pivoting to social media, she went on to work for a number of brands in the fashion, food, and wine spaces before her mind began drifting toward the idea of creating a retail space of her own. Having honed her personal taste for years scouring Tumblr and Pinterest, she enrolled in the brand management program at NYU’s School of Professional Studies and used her assignments as opportunities to dive into the prospect of running a womenswear boutique.
Making the leap to start your own business is always a risky endeavor, but Anderson says she felt driven to overcome her anxieties nevertheless: “For me, it was definitely about having faith and going for what I felt like my purpose was — my calling,” she says. “I might not know everything about owning a store, but I’m figuring it out as I go. I could be 45 years old with 17 years of experience in the buying industry and still encounter the same battles, the same hiccups, and the same annoyances.”
Certainly, there’s no amount of know-how that could have prepared anyone for this year’s particular challenges, which Anderson continues to handle with aplomb. “It’s an election year. Black lives are being taken every day. There are so many things pulling at me,” she explains. “You just gotta take it one day at a time — which is so cliché, but it is the best for me. Honestly, it helps.”
Still, there are several plans that remain on hold for Anderson. “I wanted to do cocktails, I wanted to do designer meet-ups,” she says. “I’m right across from an all-girls school, so I also wanted to link with them for an afterschool program. Maybe that will happen, it’s just a matter of waiting.”
In the meantime, though, she’s focused on prioritizing her one-on-one connections with every customer that comes into the store — even while she currently can’t have more than five at a time — as well as diligently responding to DMs from fans around the world. She’s curating her shop in new and interesting ways: Rather than organizing clothes by designer or even garment, she designs her racks according to complementing items. In the store, you might see an Oxford shirt beside a jacket from a different designer, along with a pair of perfectly aligned slacks on the same meticulously spaced rack.
In addition to continuing to discover and spotlight up-and-coming designers, she’s eager to make T.A. a space where all feel welcome. “Not just my home, but everyone’s home,“ is how she describes it. And then, with her characteristic positivity and determination, she adds, “It’s unfortunate that that can’t happen at the moment, but I believe that it will happen eventually. And I’m really excited for when it does.”
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