THE ARTISAN : DELLA
Della products are handcrafted by a community in Ghana, West Africa. All profit goes toward providing employment, education, and financial stability for women and men in Ghana. The artisans earn a steady and fair income and are empowered through education in micro-financing, savings, and entrepreneurship classes. Every product is handcrafted with textiles from the Volta Region. Through Della, the passionate and talented women who create the pieces are given an opportunity to build a foundation for a better life.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Della
Combining beautiful and unique products with an ambitious vision for change, Della is making a difference in the lives of countless individuals in Ghana, Africa. At The Little Market, we carry Della's gorgeous tie-dye backpacks, laptop, and iPad cases. We talked with Tina Tangalakis, founder of Della, to find out more about the origins of the company and how it's making a difference for its artisans.
QUESTION:What inspired you to start Della?
ANSWER: My background is in design. I went to school for costume design and was fortune enough to get some jobs early on working in the entertainment industry doing costume design and wardrobe styling. I absolutely loved it, but at the same time after a few years, I was starting to get a little burnt out on the industry. There were certain things that I felt it was lacking and I wanted to find a way to use my talents to do something more. I ended up stopping doing all the wardrobe styling, and I saved my money to go volunteer in Ghana. In the meantime, I actually was doing freelance design work for a company that manufactured accessories in China and then distributed them all over the U.S. so I started to get that kind of experience with a company that manufactured and then distributed. When I went to Ghana, my sole intention was to volunteer with children, but naturally having the design background, I fell in love with the fabric, I fell in love with the people there, and I designed a bag that I had sewn by a seamstress that I was going to bring home as a souvenir for my sisters. However, once I saw this bag made, it all kind of clicked in my head, it was a bag that I could easily see being sold at big stores in America, and I thought, “Wait – I work for a company that manufactures out of China, why don’t people manufacture out of Africa?” Everyone here is talented, you can pay them very fairly, and the majority of people are really looking for steady work. So, I kind of went for it, and I commissioned that seamstress at the time to make 50 bags, I brought them back to Los Angeles, and sold them all within 2 weeks store to store. So I just got the whole idea, it all made perfect sense with my background, and I just went for it.
QUESTION: That’s so cool. It sounds like you really saw the opportunity and it worked out.
ANSWER: Exactly. I was really fortunate. It just really took a lot of hard work. The first three years I like to joke that I didn’t sleep. It’s amazing. I love all the people we work with and what we’re actually able to do.
QUESTION: Could you talk about the mission you have at Della?
ANSWER: When I started Della, it came from having this design background, but wanting to find more of a balance between actually doing good in the world and using my artistic talents. So Della definitely bridged both of those. What I sought out to do immediately was to work with women, provide their wages, and provide education. So what we do is not only do we provide steady income to our team, but also social security benefits, healthcare benefits, literacy courses twice a week, and money management training once a week. We also do other programs and sponsor a program with an orphanage – basically, being in the fashion design world, I wanted to be able to show people that fashion could be relevant; fashionable, but also have a heart and do good at the same time.
QUESTION: What would you say is your favorite part about working and being involved in the lives of the artisans you’re working with?
ANSWER: I think it’s having the personal relationship with them. More than half of the women who have worked with us have worked with us for over 3 years. And to me, that’s a huge success. It means that we’re making progress. It’s actually working, what we do. I think it’s the personal interaction, the camaraderie that goes with us both working towards the same goal of trying to get our own financial independence and supporting each other while doing that. One of our ladies just recently starting WhatsApping (instant message app) me, which really surprised me because normally I don’t communicate with them unless I’m in Ghana. And it’s just really sweet to have these people who mean so much to me being able to talk to me from the other side of the world. I love that.
QUESTION: We love your tie-dye products that we carry at The Little Market. What is your process for creating your unique products?
ANSWER: All of our products are not only hand sewn, but hand dyed. With the process of tie dying, they hand dye it, every yard is individually dyed and molded to make that design. It’s hand dyed, dried in the sun, and then our ladies cut and sew every piece individually.
QUESTION: What is the greatest take-away you have learned since starting Della?
ANSWER: In life and business, never give up and just be persistent. Those are accomplishments with really being able to set up a full functioning productive facility in Ghana took a…there were a lot of roadblocks along the way. But it took a lot of hard work and a lot of persistence and we were able to get there. And the same thing goes with building a business here in the states. Without a lot of perseverance, we wouldn’t have the partnerships or success that we have. So I would suggest to implement that in every area of life of just never giving up and really believing in what you do.