Diversity Matters: In Conversation with Karen Okonkwo, co-founder of TONL
“Be open to mentorship. You will always need allies to get you ahead.”
Karen Okonkwo and co-founder Josh Kissi created TONL because she found stock photography lacking in cultural diversity. We connected with Karen to discuss TONL’s points of difference, female representation in the industry, and the future of TONL stock as a function of storytelling.
Beyond being diverse, the images TONL stocks have a fresh look and feel. How is TONL stock different than traditional stock companies? Our imagery is different than others in the sense that it can be used across all social media platforms to be integrated into people’s curated feed. A lot of stock photos out there have really outdated images that wouldn’t fit into the landscape of social media (unless of course it’s a meme).
Generally speaking, women and people of color are underrepresented in the photography industry, so not only is there a paucity of diversity in stock content, but in coverage of the people behind the camera as well. Can you talk about diversity in the photographers behind TONL’S content? We always preach that in order to tell accurate stories of subjects, it would lend itself well if the people shooting them identified with that culture. To that point, TONL has brought on a diverse set of photographers from women to people who identify as Taiwanese, Thai/American, Greek/Black, Ghanaian and Nigerian. This has allowed for an expansive and authentic gallery of images from these particular cultures.
The photography space is predominantly male. Do you find it challenging to work as a female in a male-dominated industry? Do you have advice for female founders looking to launch in predominantly male industries? Since I focus on the business aspect of our stock photography business I will speak from that lens (no pun intended). I don’t have many challenges navigating in the business space, though I’m well aware of the male dominance. For women maneuvering in this space, I would encourage being two steps ahead in all business meetings. When a lot of males are able to occupy space, it can cause them to ask a lot of those high level questions. Be prepared for the different angles that these meetings can take. Also, BE YOURSELF.
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently in promoting TONL? I honestly loved the way we rolled out TONL, however, I would have done a better job of understanding our site infrastructure before we marketed our launch day. Our site was delayed a day, but we advertised it to launch a day earlier which was a little awkward, haha! Luckily, our followers were unfazed.
The collections on TONL feel very intentional. Can you describe TONL ‘s curation process?We wanted to do a play on “T” words so we chose to name our collections to match that. We studied the types of images we saw on other platforms and also launched two new ones (Trend and Technology) based on our customer’s feedback.
Can you share a recent image from TONL and talk about why you love it?
image courtesy of TONL
Does TONL accept submitted work, or do you have a set group of photographers that you work with? Currently, TONL has a set of photographers that contribute imagery. We will have a portal for image submissions from various photographers in 2019.
Advice to young and aspiring female photographers? Be open to mentorship. You will always need allies to get you ahead. Pay attention to programs that will amplify women. Be careful too on how you price your work. Have various tiers so you are getting compensated correctly given the type of work.
What does now through 2020 hold for TONL? What can we look forward to? People can look forward to our new site launching in April of 2019. We will also be expanding our reach as it pertains to TONL. Narratives to tell more stories and amplify small and big businesses.
Learn about TONL and Karen here.
Mar 21, 2019 · 4 min read