12 Oct

Hello,  I must admit, I’m rather new at this whole social networking thing, so forgive me if it takes a few tries to get things right.

My name is Tina Tangalakis.  Two years ago I took a journey to Ghana that unknowingly would change my life.  I am a native of Los Angeles and designer by trade, my first love being costume design and the intricate history behind the sociology & psychology of fashion.  I guess that’s what makes it so exciting to be a part of this time in history where our social decisions are affecting the way we shop.

Quality time in the workshop

I have decided to begin this blog to give an inside look at the the inner working, struggles and successes of running a social enterprise.  Although I may appear to do it gracefully, everyday has challenges, and I can think of no better way than to record it through this thing we call “blogging.”

Hmm, where should I start?  Perhaps at the beginning…

In 2009 I decided to embark upon a journey to Ghana that would quite literally change my life.  Having grown up at Catholic school, giving back had become second nature.  In high school I was required to volunteer 25 hours per year, however, that number quickly quadrupled after finding passion in weekend trips to Mexico where we would build schools and teach in orphanages.  As a young adult I found my way into the world of wardrobe styling and costume design, yet even while working in the infamous “industry” I found time to volunteer at the Venice Family Clinic on a weekly basis.

Then time passed and I began to approach 30.  I found regular design work to border more on the mundane and the love I had for design had disappeared into hours of shopping and renting costumes.  Freelance design work was fun, yet something was missing.  For a couple years leading up to this point, I realized that I wanted to find a way combine my love of art and humanitarian work, yet I had no idea what it looked like.

Then it happened, I decided to go to Ghana.  Why?   Frankly, I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s a feeling I had, an urge I felt.  This need to do something different at at time where many of my peers were settling down and starting families.  Perhaps it was that longing inside of me that wanted to find a way to bridge art and humanitarianism.  So I signed up to go on a month long volunteer trip.

Just another day in Hohoe, Ghana

The trip abroad was amazing.   Instantly I was enamored with the landscape, the people, the way of life.  Everything I saw was a world unlike that I have ever seen.  As a volunteer I worked at Happy Kids Orphanage where I taught a class of 6-12 year olds in an outdoor classroom.  Most of the children I met on this trip have affected me greatly, and I continue to form bonding, life-long relationships with them.

Happy Kids Orphanage 2009, children learn under an outdoor classroom held together by bamboo and palm leaves

In Ghana I was smitten, especially with the colorful, illustrated West African textiles.  Walking down the dusty roads I would get distracted by vendors selling yards of colorful fabrics.  It was as if I had died and gone to textile heaven.

Within the first few days I had decided that I wanted to bring a special souvenir home for my friends and family.  Now my sisters are more traditional than I when it comes to style, so I knew that brining them a typical African satchel would not be well received, so I decided to design my own.  Something fashionable by U.S. standards, yet local to Ghana.  I went to the outdoor market, purchased 4 yards of fabric and brought them to Beatrice, a local seamstress who was a favorite of the volunteers.

Shopping for fabrics in the Hohoe Market

Together Beatrice & I worked on a design, and within 48 hours my world would change forever.  Once Beatrice completed the bags I was in awe.  The design, quality, fabric, everything about it was perfect for the Western market.  Then it hit me.

I had done freelance design work for a company that manufactured out of China.  I was close with the family who had partnerships with every major department store across the United States.  I had seen how the inner workings of a company like that worked.   If the Adler family from Oregon could do it, it can’t be that hard, right?

Instantly I realized that I could manufacture in Ghana.  I could show the world that Africa is a valuable resource for high-quality, fashionable products.  Rather than manufacturing in Asia, I could produce in Ghana, a place where they need jobs, skills training and an education in money management.  I could create the type of business I want to be: ethical, responsible, fashionable.

From that point on I was on a mission.  While other volunteers went to local bars at night, I would stay home and work on my business plan.  I took all the money I had access to, went back to the local market and purchased 50 yards of fabric.  By the end of the trip Beatrice had made over 50 bags for me.

Making traditional Batik fabric with Beatrice

I laugh to myself at how ridiculous I must have appeared to the other volunteers, having all these colorful bags everywhere.  I don’t think anyone quite imagined what I had in mind…

Within my first two weeks back in America, I had sold all 50 bags.

The rest is history in the making, going strong on two years of an adventure that will be documented, reflected upon and illustrated in this brand new blog.


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