Senior Technical Designer
New York City
The LOUD Girl Movement encourages women to speak their truth but often times – we don’t think people truly understand what it means – as Black women – to speak our truth and how it affects our lives.
It’s so important for people to understand that when Black women stand up, we don’t just stand up for ourselves – we are always standing up with others in mind. The change that is ignited from speaking our truth has a track record of helping all of humanity. So, when we clap back, or just tell the truth in spaces where we exist, or when we are just doing our jobs, just trying to be, trying to live – it really has a direct effect on our livelihoods.
For our Summer LOUD Girl Style feature, we caught up with Tiffany Cole-Allen. She’s a Senior Technical Designer in the fashion industry, with more than a decade of experience in making fashion concepts – reality.
Check out her interview about her personal style and experience as a LOUD Girl, in interview below.
LOUD Girl Movement (LGM): What does your style mean to you?
Tiffany: My style represents my individuality. There has been plenty of times when I have been in the same room with someone wearing the same thing, and I don’t feel a certain way about it because my style and the way I rock it is always different enough that I still stand out. It’s my way of being creative.
LGM: How does your style reflect your voice?
Tiffany: I think it’s hard because I feel like on one hand, I wear the clothes, they don’t wear me, so whether I am wearing a t-shirt and jeans, or all dressed up in an evening gown, or I’m going to work – whatever I have on is a reflection of what I believe and know within myself as a Black woman. We just have an aura about us that commands attention no matter what we’re wearing or what we’re doing. And on the other hand, I know and love fashion and style; so my style is the way I let the world know that I’m here. When I walk in the room somebody will always notice because I’m present in my style.
I think a lot of that comes from working in the fashion industry and a lot of times being the only Black person in the room – and trying not to fade into the background. In the industry it’s very easy to get pushed to the background because your opinions aren’t valued as much. So, in a sense, my look and my style is the way I let people know that I have something to say and it’s worth listening to.
LGM: Why is your style important to you?
Tiffany: The main reason my style is important to me is because it’s an exhibition of my individuality. It allows me to speak, feel and think the way I choose.
It is also important to me because it allows me to show the world that, yes, Black girls do know style, fashion, and fashion brands. There are people with the misconception that Black people only gravitate to flashy clothing or clothing marked with labels, but there are Black people who know how to make fashion work without it screaming Louis Vuitton, Gucci, or Supreme. So my style is a way to show that we know fashion, we do belong in the fashion industry, our dollars matter, and that the industry should be listening to us when it comes to this fashion thing because we know what we’re doing.
LGM: As a Black woman, who is also an expert in the fashion industry, how do your peers react to your thoughts and ideas?
Tiffany: It has really been a journey in getting people to hear me. In this industry in general, we are very underrepresented and when we are represented, it’s not on the level of a leadership position. So, people aren’t used to Black people giving direction, being in charge, having an opinion, or saying, “yes, this will work,” or “no, this won’t work.” So, it’s been a challenge just to be heard. This isn’t just from a racial standpoint but also from a generational standpoint. A significant amount of decision makers in the fashion industry, who hold positions to make an impact have been in those positions for 20 to 40 years; and it’s a feeling that they just don’t believe that young people have much to say – especially, a young Black person. I’ve had to prove myself over and over and over again – that I know what I’m doing, and that I have something of value to say. I mean, I wouldn’t be in a leadership position if my thoughts and ideas weren’t valuable.
Even in a leadership position, I still face challenges because I’m the only Black person in the company, and the only Black person that’s specifically in a leadership position. So, I still come into rooms and face people that’s like, “she doesn’t know more than me.” Even whey they couldn’t answer questions, and I was able to answer them with factual information, there are people who still act like you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s as if they just can’t believe that you know something they don’t know because you’re Black, or because you’re young and Black.
LGM: Is it a lot to have to work in that type of space – where, instead of you just being able to work, you are also fighting just to be there?
Tiffany: It is a daily struggle. I always have to be conscious of what I’m wearing, how I speak, and what’s going on with my hair. When I go into meetings, I have to be doubly prepared because people question me just to make me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing just based on how I look.
Thankfully, the stars have aligned and the gods have opened up doors for me to make it to where I am. There have been plenty of times I could’ve just said, I can’t do this, or given up because I felt defeated, because there were people who didn’t know me at all. They just knew that I was a young Black woman, who knew what I was talking about, and that – for some reason – made them feel threatened. There’s been times when I literally had to fight for my position because someone – who I didn’t even work with on a day to day basis – was concerned that I just may be coming to take their spot, or that I just may knew more than them.
LGM: Has there been a time – at work, or otherwise – when you knew you could add value with an expression of an idea but decided not to?
Tiffany: Yes. There have been plenty of times. I have learned to pick and choose my battles in this industry because everybody is not going to see it [the value]. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but for whatever reason people just don’t want to see it because it’s coming from you, or because they are close-minded in general.
Of course, I fight for the things that matter to my name as a professional because at the end of the day, I want my work to precede me. The last three or four positions I’ve had have been based off of recommendations – people recommending me to other people – not me looking for jobs. That alone is a testament to my work and I never want to lose that because I hope that when people are recommending me it isn’t based on my skin color. I hope that it’s just about my work and my character and how I am as an employee. That for me is non-negotiable.
I love my job and my work, but my ultimate goal is to be able to open the floodgates for young women and men, who – like me – are coming from somewhere without the resources, or people with a background in this industry to be able to help them get further. So sometimes I do take a step back, breathe and figure out if it’s worth fighting the battle.
There have been times when I’ve been looked over for positions that I am over-qualified for, that were given to people less than qualified. I know what’s going on but people use “business reasons” as an excuse, when it’s just because they feel more comfortable having a white person in that position than a Black person.
LGM: Based on those types of experiences, do you feel as though you’re being silenced at work? How do you feel about those types of experiences? How do those experiences change how you express yourself?
Tiffany: When I have faced those situations in the past, like I said, sometimes it’s a struggle for me personally. Every move requires strategy when you come to work and you’re trying to do your best job; you are trying to make sure your reputation remains in tact; and you’re approaching crucial conversations in a way that is very different than if you were having it with somebody out in the streets. [LAUGHS]
So, when I’m in the office, I approach such conversations a lot differently, so people understand that this is nothing personal, it’s just business and we have to be able to come to a solution so that we can move forward and successfully get the job done. But when you’re in the zone, you can be blindsided by someone who feels threatened or who feels like you may have challenged them because you didn’t agree with their point of view. Or, just threatened that you had an opinion in general. Some people just feel like you’re supposed to be quiet, period. It’s hard for them to comprehend when you speak up or you call out something. Being blind-sided that way, when in your mind all you’re thinking is, “I’m just trying to do a good job,” is very hurtful. It’s hurtful to be judged in that way, or to just have somebody try to sabotage you. It makes you ask, “What did I do to you?”
I’ve had those experiences and they have sometimes affected me. But, at the end of the day, I had to grow stronger because if I’m going to open the door for others to come after me, I can’t fold. I have to be the change.
While going through those experiences in the moment they felt hurtful, but as I came out of them with my reputation in tact, no one could say that I was the angry Black woman in the office.
At the end of the day, my reputation still stands and the people who tried those things have bad reputations because the truth came to light about the type of person that were. This especially when I wasn’t checking for them anyway, but because they came for me I addressed it and moved on. So, I always have to remind myself that, no matter what, the truth will come to light. That usually helps me to get grounded and focused on my work, and cancel out all of the other noise. I had to grow through those situations in order for me to get to this mindset. I can’t let anybody get me off-track because that’s not conducive to my plan, nor those whom I’m trying to bring with me.
LGM: Your work has graced big runways – like the Victoria’s Secret Holiday show. What does it mean for you to see your expression or your work on a runway?
Tiffany: For me, it’s nostalgic. At first, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in fashion. I had ideas, but never in a million years thought technical design. I didn’t even know what tech design was until a professor, who was a technical designer introduced me to it and helped me get my first position in tech design at the GAP. Thankfully.
By the time I got to the level of having my work appear on an international platform like that, it was kind of nostalgic. I was just never one of those people who thought things like, “I’m going to have my stuff walking down the runway one day.” I just didn’t have those dreams. I just knew I wanted to be a part of fashion because I loved it.
When you’re made to feel like you aren’t enough; that you don’t know or aren’t experienced enough – you get so caught up in the grind of it all, and trying to prove that you’re worthy and that you know, and the only thing that you’re basically rewarded with is more work. It’s never more money, or a better position.
So, to get to the point of seeing your stuff walking the runway and generating the amount of money it’s generating for a business – it’s like, wait a minute, “I do know a little something.” [LAUGHS].
My work on that runway is being at a place where I don’t need anyone to say, “good job.” The work spoke for itself. I can now say that I have that notch on my belt [VS Holiday Show] three years in a row. That’s something that no one will ever be able to take away from me.
LGM: As a Senior Technical designer, do you often see your work in magazines, and public spaces?
Tiffany: Yes. I see it in the store all the time, in catalogues and online, but that runway show was another level. Women’s Wear Daily is THE fashion publication for the fashion industry and to scroll on social media and see a WWD article about the VS Fashion Show, with every picture featuring my work – it’s like, yes, a Black girl did that!
To add, I have many of my peers who are also Black, who have faced these same types of situations and experiences while working in fashion, and I’m thankful but also saddened that I am not alone in this.
There is still so much work to be done in this industry. People of color are largely underrepresented in fashion even though we are the biggest supporters of it financially. Ideologically, trends are taken from our culture all the time, yet our faces are not present in the design studios or the conference rooms. But I can see the tide turning for people of color in a sense that we are no longer looking for acceptance or to be appreciated, but instead we are creating our own opportunities and celebrating ourselves, and freely expressing our creativity outside of the box that’s been placed around us. I want to be a name that is mentioned when the tide, finally, fully turns. I want people to say I was someone who opened doors for the future and changed minds about what we as people of color can do for the fashion industry!
LGM: If you could tell your younger self something about your voice and your style, what would it be?
Tiffany: I would definitely tell my younger self to speak your mind, but in a way that people will hear you. That’s something I had to learn on this journey. Speak your mind. Sometimes in getting your point across, you have to cross the line, and that’s okay. Each situation, you have to have discernment.
When it comes to my style, I would tell myself that it’s okay if you can’t wear the same things that other people are wearing. Looking back, when I was younger, I thought that I was much bigger than I was. I didn’t feel comfortable wearing a lot of the things girls my age were wearing or could wear, and I was self-conscious in that way.
Now that I look back, that’s the smallest I have been my whole entire life. I could’ve been wearing anything [LAUGHS]; and I didn’t even know it because I was so self-conscious.
So I would tell myself that it’s okay if you can’t wear what other people are wearing, but you also can wear some things that you think.
I do feel like I kind of played it safe. And too, because of my parents, my Mother wasn’t allowing me to wear a whole lot of craziness. That too, had me on restriction but I think I would’ve probably taken a little more risk fashion-wise if I had the confidence level that I have now.
Tiffany’s journey as a Black woman and real LOUD Girl, is phenomenal! She really is blazing a trail in the fashion industry. She has created the Fashioning Focus Initiative, a program that gives Black girls from the city of Flint (Tiffany’s hometown), the opportunity to take free Summer courses at her alma mater – the Fashion Institute of Technology – with free room and board. The girls also take trips to businesses within the fashion industry to speak with professionals about their work and experience.