Hello everyone! My name is Teanna Willis. I am the Founder of Our Noir. I am happy to detail how Our Noir was started and to share some of my work experience. The head-shot was taken by Nadia Batchelor, a DMV photographer.
In 2016, two of my friends and I created Our Noir. Since then my friends have gone on to start The Harlem Dress Collective. "The Harlem Dress Collective is a non-profit organization that works towards the development of lower-income high school-aged students and their families living in Harlem, by providing support in the form of free prom dresses, shoes, and accessories" (Facebook).
Our Noir has evolved in many ways before the control was in the hands of one person, me. The website started solely as a brand that would sell accessories to women of color. The idea came from the possibility of becoming a millionaire by flipping wholesale items and making a profit.
As a YouTuber, many brands would solicit my help to sell wholesale products at profitable rate. However, I wanted to do it for myself. I was getting tired of foreign brands making money off of content creators of color and I did not want to be used. My audience is primarily Black women, so I care even more about what I am asking them to consume. Many of the time I would be asked to promote a product that was clearly a gimmick for a pretty penny. I knew that I could create a business without exploitation and reasonable prices.
During this time, I had a group chat with my friends, and I could not just work on this project without asking for collaboration. Together we brained stormed names and vendors to make Our Noir happen. I believe it took about a year until lunch. I remember long nights during my sophomore year in college and multiple attempts taking product shots. It was very hard running this business because not only were we inexperienced; there was no accountability of roles and I did not have guidance or a motivator to keep going when things were stagnate. I would ship the products, price them, promote them, and photograph them primary by myself. The work almost led me into a depression. I use mine and my parents money to sustain it till this day. I needed help, but the kind of help I did not have to socialite or spearhead myself.
I started to realize that it's okay to control the conversation, demand collaboration, and follow up in a timely manner. However, in order to get those things I need to create "buy-in". People have to feel like they have a stake in my dreams as much as I do.
I would not change this experience at all. I think now that I can be introspective and look back; there were things I could have done better, but now I can give those things to myself and my business. If I did not start Our Noir back then. I would not have been able to sell wigs, clothes, and cool products that have produced products to get me through hard times. I want to continue to lay this foundation, so that I can reap the benefits when the time is right.
Right now I want Our Noir to be a resource for people and to help guide them in the best directions. I want people to be empathetic and authentic. I think this site shows that in how it grows and gets better day by day.
Outside of Our Noir, I have had many different jobs and internships that have made me who I am today. Here is a brief timeline of my work experience.
I attended American University in Washington, DC from August 2015 to May 2019. I graduated a C.L.E.G (Communications, Law, Economic, Government) major with a minor in Political Science.
My Professional Experience
In January 2019 to August 2019, I was a State Fiscal Policy intern for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. While I was there I supported the State Fiscal Project Campaigns team by conducting research, tracking our advocacy efforts for both state and federal legislation. I collaborated with state partner organizations across the country to strengthen the federal safety net, promote racial equity, and provide states with the strategy to impact federal policy. I presented campaign updates for the campaigns team and facilitated discussions around data analytics to strengthen our outreach.
In May 2018 to December 2018, I was a Student Coordinator for the Alternative Break office at American University. I facilitated weekly workshops for student leaders on developing leadership and intercultural competencies. This was important because the leaders would be taking students into communities with distinct histories and people did not make a collective decision to welcome them in. Prior to becoming a coordinator I led a program to San Francisco, CA to study the prison industrial complex in this "progressive" area. When planning an alternative break one must contact community organizations, recruit participants and create a budget that would define the cost of the program. This takes a lot of logistical work, flexibility, and effective communication.
In May 2018 to August 2018, I was an Industry & Association Affairs intern for NCTA. I compiled and maintained major players in the industry indicated by daily news articles. I created scripts that have produced the public affairs team’s monthly content to educate parents on new laws and the best practices for navigating telecommunication advances. I have executed the department’s archival project by contacting cost effective media production companies to provide a vast catalogue of the company’s cable show videos dating back to the 1980s.
In March 2017, I started Interning for Impact Silver Spring. I learned about building networks within the neighborhood to foster economic and cultural growth. I helped produce three videos to share at networking events with public officials and community to publicize narratives of minorities. During this time, I also funded this unpaid internship by applying to multiple grants afford by my university.
My Campus and Community Engagement
In February 2018 to April 2019, I tutored at Youthbuild Charter School in Washington, DC. I engaged with students from 17-24 from similar background to mine. Those who have also fallen victim to the criminal justice system. I created a fundraising plan, including grant writing, to raise over 500 dollars to decorate classrooms to create a better learning environment. Many of my ideas were not able to come to fruition, but the school was able to utilize many supplies.
Out of many influential courses, I was a part of the Public Advocacy Institute that was ran by the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in May 2018. I participated in an intensive exploration into the art and craft of lobbying on the federal level. I practiced the strategies, tactics, methods, techniques, regulations, and ethics of those who advocate public policy options to elected officials. I also communicated with faculty, academics, professional lobbyist, public officials, and journalists, who bring applied and theoretical approaches to their subjects. This class was 9-5 for two weeks and at the end of the program we put together a group 30 page assignment and presentation to demonstrate our knowledge.
That's all for now folks! Thanks for reading and I hope to add more information here!