If you have been watching GSN’s new design series ‘Window Warriors‘ you will no doubt be familiar with Tai Beauchamp, who is a judge on the show she describes as ‘Project Runway’ meets ‘Shark Tank’. It’s the show where art really DOES meet commerce, as it focuses on an aspect of retail that is the difference between customers walking in, or walking by – the window dressing.
‘Window Warriors’ is a visual merchandising competition that sees the country’s most talented window designers compete to see who can create the most elaborate display, win the judges’ approval, and be able to show the world that their art means business.
Tai stars alongside hosts Garcelle Beauvais and Carson Kressley, as well as fellow judge Douglas Little. The show premiered on November 15 and has been feeding up America’s obsession with style and design reality competition shows for the past few weeks. There are a couple more episodes left of Season 1 (so if you haven’t got on board the ‘Window Warriors’ train, now’s your chance!) and we had the chance to chat exclusively with judge Tai and learned some badass things about this mogul.
She made history as the magazine’s youngest and first African-American Beauty and Fitness Director at Seventeen Magazine. She has partnered with and served as content producer, ambassador, expert, event producer and host for companies including Procter & Gamble, InStyle, The Sundance Channel, Target, Universal Records, and the United Nations. After leaving the media world, Tai created, “The Tai Life” a website destination that encourages women to live their most empowered lives with style.
Tai has delivered inspiring messages on a range of topics at The Clinton Foundation, Harvard Business School, Spelman College, Columbia and Howard University and at the WIE Conference in Lagos, Nigeria. She contributes on the boards of The WIE Network, Harlem’s Fashion Row, Glam4Good, and The New Jersey Performance Arts Center Women’s Board of Trustees. In 2015, she co-founded She Who Dares, a live event and experiential platform to engage and encourage women to live full authentic lives. Is there anything this woman can’t do?!?
What can fans expect to see throughout the series of Window Warriors and how will you as a judge be using your expertise to help contestants?
It’s been a very different experience for me, being a judge. But a welcome one. Throughout the series, fans can expect to see extremely talented window designers and visual merchandisers put their creative talents to the test. There is drama because it is a real competition. Designers are competing for $100K, an annual contract with General Growth Properties, and the chance to create a window for Macy’s Herald Square during the holidays.
The stakes are high! The show really opens up the viewers and the world’s eyes to an industry that is not widely known. The designers are really the focus. Think of it as a ‘Project Runway’ meets a hint of ‘Shark Tank’ and a small bit of ‘Big Brother’ for window dressing. It’s where art, commerce, style, design, and branding intersect.
You have an extensive media and TV background, how did this career path begin?
I began my career in publishing as a magazine editor and assistant. I actually began as both a fashion and beauty assistant. (Yes, two departments. It was a startup called O, The Oprah Magazine.) Before that, I interned at other women’s magazine titles such as Good Housekeeping and Harper’s Bazaar.
However, my career path certainly wasn’t linear. I was really fortunate to be acknowledged and promoted in publishing while at O, and then later at the title that became Suede. That was the beginning. But I left publishing for what I thought would be a “sabbatical” of sorts in philanthropy and ended up loving the work. I worked with young people in my birth/home city of Newark, New Jersey which ultimately helped me further discover my purpose.
You are passionate about promoting beauty from within as well as on the outside. What is your message for women and girls right now, living in a world where there is so much focus on the external beauty?
All I can say is that I’ve met externally attractive people with unwelcoming energy or personality and thought, “wow, that beauty is a waste.” On the flip, whenever I meet someone with an amazing, warm, connected and wholesome spirit, their external or physical presence is an added charm.
What I know to be true is that I know everyone has something special about them, but only the most beautiful people connect to it, tap into it, and share it with the world. A lipstick or flawless skin alone doesn’t feel special, but when the person wearing it is special and has a je ne sais quoi, you are drawn in. For that reason, I believe a unique beauty lies in everyone.
You made history as the first African-American and youngest beauty and fitness director at Seventeen magazine. What was it like to become a barrier breaker in this industry?
Looking back, I recognize that it was certainly an accomplishment. I didn’t recognize that then. I was grateful to have a job and one where I thought I could impact the industry by serving as a catalyst to highlight the voices and experiences of all young women, especially women of color. I was too concerned about doing a good job to think about the fact that I was a barrier breaker.
But what I do think was somewhat groundbreaking at the time was that with the support of my then editor-in-chief, I put real girls on the pages of the magazine – girls of all skin tones, hair textures, body shapes, etc. And we did so alongside models and celebrities. This was before social media. So that was revolutionary.
And while I was the first at Seventeen, I was also acutely aware and connected to the other, I believe two, Black beauty editors at that time: Mikki Taylor (who is a beloved friend and mentor now) and Tia Williams, who I came up in the industry with and we continue to remain friends. There were few of us at larger titles but I think we knew we were there for a reason and moved with purpose. I’m grateful for that.
What kind of messages about beauty and value did you bring to your role at Seventeen, that were different from other past directors?
I just wanted the pages to be reflective. I read Seventeen as a teen and it didn’t really reflect images of girls like me. I wanted to change that, not just for African American girls (though, I obviously have an astute cultural sensitivity to our needs) but for all girls who are marginalized in media–curvy girls, girls that wear glasses, girls with textured hair, girls with disabilities, and so on. I just wanted girls to feel like they were seen, heard, and had a place.
You are also a sought-after speaker, having traveled the US and the world speaking for a number of institutions and conferences. What are some of the messages you share with female audiences about being empowered and entrepreneurial?
Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. I think we live during a time and space when people glamorize entrepreneurship. It’s a new buzz word. At the same time, I do know and believe that we all should figure out a way to awaken our entrepreneurial senses, even if it isn’t full-time. Entrepreneurship for me is a way to create, to build, to nurture, to promote, and to impact the community and the world. And that’s what women do naturally. I also think that the stability of world economics requires entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking.
There is no straight and narrow path to achieving impactful, profitable and sustainable entrepreneurship. But what I do know, is you must learn and understand not only your industry and market but finance! I really do believe women and our creative spirits ignite a major shift in the collective consciousness, enterprise and overall movement of mankind. Women do that. So I encourage women to lead, be fearless, be audacious and to, of course, be equipped.
As a woman of color and a public role model, how does this identity shape your responsibility to influence and impact young women watching you?
I’m acutely aware that women, especially young women are looking to me. I do my part that is all. I’m not perfect. But I’m honest, I’m vulnerable, I’m authentic, and I’m on a mission to serve God, serve others and serve or fulfill my purpose. All of that said, you won’t see me publicly kicking, screaming, or as my granddad said, “acting a fool”!
Tell us about some of your philanthropic endeavors and why they are important to you?
I think we have to redefine the term “philanthropy” for the 21st-century experience. And to be honest, it takes the word to its root meaning “love of humankind”. My philanthropic work is just that, love of humankind. And I believe that philanthropy can be demonstrated in many ways.
I host something called Tai Talks where I do speed mentoring and coaching sessions with the young people or individuals with aspirations of being entrepreneurs or in the media industry. And it’s like a one on one 10 min coaching session. But from a larger strategic and operational standpoint, I try to focus on a few areas: education and mentoring, Newark, NJ (my hometown), and women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship.
I sit on a few boards where I invest my time, through leadership, talents, as well as financial investments. A few of the organizations that I support closely include the New Jersey Performance Art’s Center Women’s Association and my high school alma mater, St. Vincent Academy. Both of them are based in Newark, NJ. Then there are the boards of WIE Network, Glam4Good, Harlem’s Fashion Row, Hip Hop Sisters and I’ve co-founded She Who Dares.
I’ve also invested in other women-owned businesses and serve as an advisor. I’ve traveled internationally and also worked with larger NGO’s focused on the MDGs and development. Here’s the thing about philanthropy that I believe wholeheartedly: if you see that something needs to be done and you have the means to do it, do it. It’s that simple. That’s what we are all called to do.
Finally, a question we like to ask all our interviewees: what makes you a powerful woman?
I believe in the power of others, especially women. I stand on the shoulders of great women including my mother, grandmother and the women who came before them. I’m a girl’s girl! I want to see all of us excel, and reaching our greatest potential while impacting others. I celebrate all women.