A rising star
When the likes of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Billie Eilish have worn your designs, you know things are going well. And that's exactly the position Tianah (25) has found herself in since launching her eyewear brand CHRISTIANAHJONES. But getting to this point hasn’t been easy.
Tianah, who has a severe hearing loss and wears hearing aids, started selling her sunglasses on shopping app Depop, but the brand has taken off since those early days and she was recently listed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Retail and Ecommerce.
“To make it such a success has been my dream since I started the business,” says Tianah. “When I found out about Forbes, it was like I’d finally made it. But it changed nothing, there was still work to do!”
"Deaf education is one thing that could change all our lives."
Tianah’s hearing loss was discovered at two years old, after her older sister was diagnosed. She attended a mainstream school with a specialist deaf unit until 14 years old, then she moved to a deaf specialist school. “I was much more sociable in the deaf unit and at my deaf school. My home and church friends and my neighbours were my closest friends growing up and I didn’t really mention my deafness to them. I didn’t wear hearing aids either. At deaf school, it was my time to discover my identity and understand who I really was.”
After leaving school, Tianah had a great time at university, making friends and even meeting her future husband. But she wasn’t yet sure what she wanted to do next.
“I wanted be a lot of things,” she explains. “Pathologist, forensic anthropologist, counsellor, then suddenly an actor, but never to work in fashion!
“I got into thrifting and car boot sales and started reselling clothing on eBay, then I discovered Depop. I quickly became a top seller and started making money. “From there I discovered my passion for collecting and selling vintage sunglasses, which led me to design my own.”
Tianah, who recently gave birth to her first child, hasn’t always worked in the fashion industry, and she’s faced difficulties with accessibility in previous jobs, struggling particularly with concentration fatigue. “When I know I’m tired, I time out then check back in,” Tianah says. “I give myself two or three hours in an environment where I know I’ll hit my peak before tumbling back down. But hydrating, sleeping well and eating healthily makes all the difference.
"It actually empowers me being deaf and black."
“My first job was as a recruitment consultant where I had to be on the phone eight hours a day. No adaptations were made and I once spent so long on the phone I developed an ear infection, couldn’t hear anything and had to take unpaid sick leave.
“I later joined another company as a data analyst. We had five to six meetings a day and I got ill so often because I had no energy. Meetings were held in brightly lit rooms which meant people’s faces were in the shadows and I couldn’t lip-read.”
Working in the fashion industry and for herself is more accessible, but now Tianah faces different challenges. “Networking is a nightmare because you’re having to constantly connect with important people, which is a lot of work and pressure when you’re deaf.”
Tianah is now Social Lead at Vinterior and works on her brand in the evenings. She’s even had showrooms at London and Paris Fashion Week. “There are so few role models with hearing losses or disabilities,” she says. “There’s a lack of understanding and accessibility in the fashion industry that doesn't allow us to fit in when we should. My deafness doesn’t get in the way, it actually makes me do more.”
Identity is important to all deaf young people. But as a young black deaf woman, Tianah explains this year has been an emotionally frustrating time, not just personally but for the whole community.
“The Black Lives Matter issues that have arisen this year were already an issue so it’s not new. It’s what we’re always talking about, it’s just that the world suddenly cares and this is all down to the internet. We’ve been chanting Black Lives Matter and fighting for justice since before I was even born – we’re simply, and unfortunately, continuing that same fight.
“I haven't experienced racism and discrimination at the same time but separately it’s mentally exhausting. Luckily, growing up, my mother made it very clear to me that I should appreciate my culture and the colour of my skin. “It actually empowers me being deaf and black.”
Tianah believes making change is all about education. “There are inaccurate perceptions of disability,” she says. “Deaf people should be present in all movements, but I believe we also need to do the teaching if we want the change.
“Deaf education is one thing that could change all our lives. If we could simply educate those around us, access and knowledge would improve. Change won’t come if we wait or sit back.”
Tianah certainly isn't sitting back and waiting for others to do the work; she's started an online series called EarMeOut, which showcases and highlights the lives and journeys of deaf individuals in creative industries where hearing people are dominant.
She’s already made a name for herself, but she's still got big plans for the future. “I’d love a few shops of my own in different cities or to be stocked in the top shopping centres globally.
“I want to create a brand which is known worldwide, as well as developing a community of Deaf creatives consistently sharing stories and experiences.”
Tianah is still looking to work with more deaf creatives so if you’re interested, please email [email protected]. com to find out how you can get involved.