Tina Tangalakis, Founder of Della
Della is a Los Angeles based fashion line, which is helping to change the way people shop. They are a women owned and woman run business, running a socially responsible fashion line and working directly with a community in Ghana, West Africa, providing jobs, education and skills training for all of their employees. Della is driven by awareness of the need for a global market that provides socially responsible, quality products and believe in responsibility, not charity.
Tina Tangalakis is the founder of the brand, born and bred in Los Angeles, she has always sought to combine her love of art and humanitarian work. As a student she studied costume design at California Institute of the Arts and later went on to working as a wardrobe stylist for film and television. In September 2009 Tina participated in a volunteer programme abroad, which landed her in Hohoe, Ghana. Whilst there she quickly fell in love with the culture and warm hearts of the friends she made, with her background in business and design, Tina teamed up with a local entrepreneur to begin Della.
The passionate talented women and men who create the pieces are given an opportunity to build a foundation for a better life. Every dollar earned at Della goes towards providing employment, education and financial stability for women and men in Ghana. Employees receive a steady fair income and are empowered through education via micro-financing, savings and entrepreneur classes. They run programmes weekly, including weekly literacy classes, which Della employees participate in twice a week. Half of the women currently read at primary school level, whilst the other half tested are at year 7 and 8 grade levels. Della’s goal is to work with women to obtain a year 9 grade reading level. Upon successful completion of their literacy certificates, Della hope to develop a one-year study programme, so that their employees can obtain their secondary school degree.
As well as literacy classes, every Wednesday is their savings-training meeting, the women work in pairs to record their weekly spending. Tracking spending has allowed many of the women to see how they can save money. Della have also organised a Della savings account to further encourage employees to save their funds. Employees can elect to contribute money every month or week to this account. Della pays 10% interest on each contribution, with each savings cycle ending in December, those who participated will get their savings back and celebrate their success. In the future they hope to work with their employees to save for larger items, such as annual rent payments or even a home.
Della also ran three more programmes with them, another is running the Hohoe women’s volley ball league, who meet every Sunday after church. The league is open to any woman who wishes to play and about 20 members go regularly. Della believe that playing a sport is a great opportunity for women to get of the house, meet new friends, develop leadership skills and work some exercise into their weeks. Happy Kids is another programme; Della employees lead a sewing skills class twice a week at Happy Kids orphanage. Through this programme, children learn to build their math, motor and sewing abilities and Della employees develop their leadership skills. Although Della do not have the space at their current facilities for childcare, they hope to incorporate an after school childcare programme into their new production centre. Several of the women have young children and have difficulty managing this with their work schedules. Additionally, Della provides help with national social security and national health care benefits.
Tina came up with the brand name Della, after the first person she met in Ghana. He was the driver for the volunteer organisation she travelled with and he greeted her when she arrived at the airport with a warm, happy smile. The welcoming, caring person that Della is acts as the reflection of what she wants the business to be. Tina was already involved in the fashion industry, when setting up Della. She had freelanced with a company that manufactured accessories in China and distributed all over the US. Upon working with local seamstresses in Ghana, the idea hit her, why not manufacture in Africa. Local seamstresses were in the need of work and Tina wanted a career in design on her own terms, with a conscience Della was a way of combining both.
After a lot of research and debating if she should set up Della as a non-profit or a pro-profit business she opted for pro-profit, for the following reasons. Technically, Della does qualify for the non-profit status due to the programmes and good will incentives offered to their employees and to the community. However, these programmes for Tina are just an extension of human-decency and the way the business should be run. She wanted to take a stand and show the western world, especially the fashion world, that business can be both responsible and profitable. She wanted to prove that high-quality, fashionable products can come from Africa and be sold in the US market. Secondly after her research, it was clear that there were two things needed in order to have a lasting effect on a developing community; education and commerce, Della does both.
Between Ghana and the US about 60 people are involved with Della, with the team and operations manager and cofounder of Della, alongside two US employees, managing the overseas team in Ghana. This includes production, sourcing, product development, quality control and distribution. There are currently 35 full time, and between 10 and 25-part time employees working for Della in the Hohoe community, these numbers change depending on the production demand. Tina is in constant daily contact with the team overseas through emails, skype and phone calls, and she travels to Ghana on a regular basis to help manage and maintain a solid relationship with the team. In the US there is a modest team of three, with dedicated interns who work alongside them. Tina has expressed before that it can be challenging to manage a business across two continents, but key to success is finding solid employees who believe in your vision and are willing to work hard in order to make it happen.
Della is ethically made and responsibly sourced. With the fashion products consisting of dresses, tops, travel bags, headbands, hobo bags, iPad cases and MacBook cases. Tina’s main influences when designing are classic, vintage styles. Her love for design began when she fell in love with fashion history and how social trends reflect how people dress. She seeks to bridge modern design with classic style, while bringing traditional Ghanaian textiles into the mix, enriched with the culture and colours of Ghana’s Volta region, her bolder prints are used for handbags and shoes. The overall aesthetic is a laid back LA hipster style, mixed with beautiful Ghanaian batik. The results are unique, summery and carefree, with main selling points being that garments are fair trade, hand crafted and there is only a small scale production of each.
Della is sold in the following retailers Mod Cloth, Toms, Ruche, Vans, BC, Nordstrom, Apple and Orchid Boutique Bikinis, and has even created capsule collections with the likes of Urban Outfitters. The products in this collection are a marriage between traditional West African dutch wax cloth materials and modern day forms, like bomber jackets, track shorts and iPad cases. The materials used itself are 100% vegan and sustainable, and all of the proceeds from the collaboration goes back into the local Ghanaian community.
Della has also paired up with the shoe brand Vans to create a capsule collection which applies a bit of Ghana to casual footwear. Vans collaborated with Della to help raise awareness of the bran. The Vans x Della capsule collection consists of six different shoe styles for both men and women, with accessories offering to match, a large hobo bag and wristlet clutch. Della’s team of designers handcrafted each sheet of fabric used. A local batik technique lends a lively and radiant colour palette to the collection and carries inspiration drawn from the landscape. Vivid shades of blue, yellow, red and green mimic the riverbanks and tree lines found in Volta, while tri-tone heart print combines tints of pink, magenta and purple to reflect the heart and soul bound to the creation of the materials. The proceeds again like the other collection, with Urban Outfitters, will support Della’s efforts in offering programmes for jobs, education and skills training in the community.
Any major sales accomplishment for Tina with her brand Della, starts out like a courtship, and being able to create cases for Apple, came down to getting in touch with the correct person at Apple and pitching their products, and their story and then taking it from there. There were several meetings and a lot of correspondence that spanned almost one year until Della secured their first order with the company. The cases Della produce for Apple are custom fit for the 11”, 13” and 15” MacBook devices. They used authentic Ghanaian fabric to decorate the front and the protective inside lining is made from a Ghanaian-made high-density latex foam.
Working alongside such big names and huge companies based in the US, means that Della’s name and brand can reach out too many more potential consumers, than it would without them. Social media can have a huge impact for brands that may not be as well-known or as talked about. Facebook dominates the social landscape, along-side Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and Twitter with 18-29 year olds being the most active users on these sites. For smaller businesses such as Della, social media sites are a good way to communicate and connect with their consumers, on a more personal level, whether that is through liking their company page on Facebook, or following their page on Instagram, everyone is connected. The target market for Della, is in the 18-34-year old bracket, so for them being connected on social media sites is a must. Especially on sites such as Instagram which is being used by 74 million 18-29 year olds, so companies who use Instagram, get a higher percentage of views from younger users. This is where you will find young fashion bloggers, and companies who reach out to them to promote their brand if they have the same ideals, Della has been known to do this, with young vegans, who love the sustainable life.
Della’s company goal is to be competitive in the US market and for them to do so, the brand will need to hold to high expectations. Their long term goals include expanding the clothing line, continuing growth with their current retail partners, such as Apple, and expanding Ghana’s Volta region. 100% of the company’s profits go towards providing employment, education and financial stability for poverty stricken women in Ghana. Online on their blog is where you can witness how their lives are changing for the better. One of the women wouldn’t be able to put her children through school without this opportunity and another woman would still be working as a cleaner and making only a third of what she is making right now.
Della is a successful brand within the Niche brand category, with not being too specific on their target market, they are able to attract many consumers who are interested in what they offer. Over the years the brand has increased their consumers, with one of the main reasons being that of the capsule collections, made with bigger more well-known brands, but whilst keeping to their beliefs, and being a socially responsible fashion line. They want to carry change, and have shown that through the programmes they can help the Hohoe community. You can rely on their products to always be ethically made and responsibly sourced, and that they will always believe in responsibility, not charity.
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