At 23 years old, Tizita Balemlay, is already a mogul in the making. From developing a clothing brand that has been featured on greats like Rihanna and Drake to recognition from mainstream fashion publications, the young CEO and designer has been on a never ending winning streak in meshing the elements of street and chic. But Tizita's success transcends more than fashion; as CEO of a budding brand she has taken the next steps to becoming a fully fledged entrepreneur, recently launching her own sweatshop-free, 1,400 square foot factory space with over 20 employees — all of whom are paid above minimum wage. PAPER caught up with the young designer to chat more about her latest venture, Plugged Studios, its ethical mission and the impact it's having on the young fashion community.
Take us back to the first moment you knew you wanted to create Plugged Studio.
I was sitting at my previous manufacturer in garment district and looking at the guy run his factory and had a epiphany, 'I could be doing this.' Why am I paying this guy for about two years now to manufacture my clothes, when I fully know how to run a factory myself?
How does Plugged Studio help young black and brown creatives who may not have access to certain equipment and funding?
When I was manufacturing my clothes in the city, their minimum requirement would be like 100 quantity, or $5,000 spent to start project. It was impossible for me to get started, no one was understanding, no one saw my end vision or believed in my small brand. I made Plugged Studios to give new designers an opportunity to create at their budget and quantity.
You've been fully booked up for the month of August. Tell us about some of the work Plugged Studio has done so far.
We've had a lot of emerging brands come through and start projects. I was so shocked when we filled up our first month of bookings in literally 72 hours. We had to turn off the booking for a week because we had so many appointments. We have had some brands make up to 2,000 quantity and some make for quantity of 2, so it all depends on what you want.
What kinds of day to day activities take place at the studio?
Plugged Studio is a one stop shop where people can manufacture clothes (cut and sew, printing, etcetera) and also a place where we provide services like a photography studio, brand marketing and more.
Creating your own studio at such a young age is a difficult feat. How did you overcome any challenges that were thrown your way?
It's honestly one of the most stressful things to ever do. With no investors, starting something so big with so little is hard but these will be the hard times that are looked back on and smiled on.
Do you ever feel discouraged?
Yes, I always do. I get depressed multiple times a week because I know how amazing I can make things and get so frustrated because we are in our beginning stages. There is so much work to do, and it can be a bit overwhelming at times and frustrating. It's not like I have a mentor also, so everything is trial and error and me doing my research and trying to teach myself from scratch.
What's been the most rewarding aspect?
Helping other designers and brands and seeing the look on their faces when we give them a great price. Some look at us so confused like, "That's it?" I'm just like, "Yes, simple, let me know when you're ready to pay and start." Being able to make it easier for my peers brings me joy.
Is it hard balancing a business (two in your case) and your personal life?
Yes, it is so hard being a young entrepreneur and balancing going out, your love life, education. It can get a bit overwhelming. When you have a business it comes first, so you might miss out on family trips or movie night with bae because you're to busy doing your collection and making sure now the other brands that want to get manufactured at your factory are also all in order.
Photo by Patrick Neree
What's your long term goal as a designer and entrepreneur?
My goal is to truly fulfill my purpose here on earth and help in anyway I can. When I feel I have excelled in a field, then I think about how I can share that with the world, how I can share my knowledge and my insights with others. Whether it's by creating a manufacturing studio or a clothing brand to make women feel good about their figures, I want to expand ways on to help others once I feel I've mastered the knowledge of something.
What can we expect from Plugged Studio in the future?
You will see some of your favorite social media brands being manufactured out of Plugged. Our in-house brand PLUGGEDNYC, will also be having pop ups all this year, so look out for dates in a city near you!
Photos by Allen's Eyes