Guest Contributor, Ashley Andrews
SOUTH FLORIDA – As Caribbean-American Heritage Month 2015 comes to a close, we take this opportunity to recognize our final achiever, International Interior Designer, Taj Hunter Waite, a graduate from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, BA and a MBA from Nova Southeastern University.
Taj shares her secrets to her success with the South Florida Caribbean News Team with the hopes of inspiring other female entrepreneurs.
Q: How did you get started in your interior designing career?
TW: I always had a creative spirit. In high school, I wanted to pursue a career in fashion merchandising but my family didn’t allow that at the time. They saw it as a hobby and not a viable profession. I received a bachelor’s in business at Florida International University. After receiving my degree, I still wanted to work around creative people. I got started working with the marketing team at an architectural design firm back in 1994.
Truthfully at the time, I didn’t know interior design was a profession. Through my tenure at the firm, I learned a lot about the business. It was a small-medium sized firm and in those types of firms, you do your job and a whole bunch of other stuff. The principal of the firm recognized my creative intuition and started to involve me on more detailed jobs. Before I knew it, I was enrolled in the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale for interior design.
Q: How did you get started with All Things Taj?
TW: I started All Things Taj because there were a number of things I wanted to do creatively that working a typical 9-5 work day at a firm did not allow. My time was constricted. During my tenure at the firm, we handled a lot of sourcing of handmade art around the globe with an emphasis on African art. I got exposed to highly skilled women focusing on African and Indian handmade crafts. It became a passion of mine because it became a mirror of my life because I’ve had heavy influence from strong-willed women.
When I was 8 years old, my mother passed from breast cancer. Since then, my aunts and grandmother have been the ones who have kept me strong. When I see the cooperatives of women in regions where we are considered second class citizens, we are still the ones that are producing and becoming entrepreneurs in spite of the sexism we face. I decided to work with some of these organizations by providing grant assistance, resources of developing business, marketing and IT skills.
I wanted to write about it and have the freedom of time to participate with the groups. It has given me the creative outlet to express my activism for that creative art that goes so unannounced. I studied handmade versus mass production art. The beauty of the flaws in handmade art adds a lot of character to the pieces. They all have a meaningful story to tell. I started to incorporate that into my interior design projects.
Q: What obstacles have you had to overcome being a female entrepreneur?
TW: The most pressing thing is that you don’t always get the opportunity to do the bigger jobs. I still feel as a female entrepreneur, you’re only trusted with so much. Even when you complete a smaller or mid-size job and you’ve shown it’s not an issue to handle those types of jobs, you’re still given the smaller jobs. That is still a ceiling to be broken. There are many female interior designers but female interior designers of color are limited. I don’t see them as competition. I feel like we are more powerful together. It mirrors that in other professions as well.
Q: What aspect of Jamaican culture do you love the most and how do you incorporate it in your business?
TW: I was raised here in South Florida and went through the U.S. school system. Despite that, my Jamaican roots and culture are very strong and it comes from family. If your family doesn’t practice those traditions, then it’s lost. You don’t know them. Whether it’s the patois you speak, the food you cook, or your customs of Sunday dinner, you learn all these traditions from family.
If the family doesn’t push it on you and I don’t push it on my family, then it is lost. It’s second nature to me. I don’t know what else I would be because it’s a part of my fabric. I don’t consciously incorporate Jamaican culture into my practice but people always wonder where I am from due to my traditions and mannerisms.
Q: What advice would you give aspiring female entrepreneurs looking to break the glass ceiling?
TW: I think now is a better time than any for female entrepreneurs. Technology has been essential in leveling the playing field. We are very intelligent and know the tools to rise above the ceiling. Don’t be fearful. Be forceful. Just keep pushing because there are no limits.