Tamia Stinson: Cincinnati Style

Start a fashion blog before it was mainstream hip? Check. Co-launch Over-the-Rhine’s super popular Second Sunday on Main and one of its first pop-up shops? Check. Land a coveted magazine stylist position? Check. Run your own podcast? Check. Win a prestigious grant to work on a project you’ve dreamed about for years? Check. Be an all-around badass cool cat? Check.

And the list goes on. Tamia Stinson is a creative pioneer in Cincinnati. Let’s dive in to our conversation, which took place at Iris BookCafe in Over-the-Rhine.

Interview by Heather Churchman. Photography by Chelsie Walter

How did you know what to do when you first began your blog, The Style Sample?

Make it up as you go. Which is how I do a lot of things. That’s the best way to learn. It’s also a really great way to make a lot of mistakes, but you learn from those mistakes. It’s a balancing act. How much can I learn? Am I doing the right thing? How much can I learn by doing the “Whoops! Shouldn’t have done that!” thing. A lot.


What’s one of your “whoops” things?

You can ask about pretty much anything within the past 24 hours. [Laughs.] Every time I have a meeting or something scheduled and I tell myself, “You know what, I should send a follow up to make sure that we’re still on,” and I don’t, and the meeting doesn’t happen. Every single time that happens, I’m like whoops! Still learning. I should have confirmed because I know better. I’ve learned this lesson before; why am I doing it again? Having to relearn the same thing over and over? That’s a big whoops for me. I don’t like that.

Tell us about the journey to Tether Cincinnati, your Haile Fellowship project.

Years ago, I did a co-op/internship at Central Saint Martins in London. I took a fashion journalism class and I did a co-op at a magazine there. When I got back to Cincinnati, I was like, “You know what? If I have to live in Cincinnati, I’m going to live downtown.”

I was living here downtown and working at this construction/development company and I was the receptionist. I was doing a little bit of the marketing stuff and getting more into that because that was my major, but I was bored. I was like, “Well, I’m wearing all these cute outfits every day and no one appreciates it.” So I started a blog and I had my boyfriend at the time take pictures of me and I posted them on the internet because that was all we had! [Laughs.]

I’m not going to just submit my info and sit back and hope for the best.

Bringing people together has always been big for me. I was raised as an only child, so we don’t have built-in playmates. You gotta work for it. You know what I mean? You gotta reach out; you gotta try to bring people together somehow, so you have something to do! Somebody to talk to. I was always really into bringing people together and creating something that other people would want to be a part of.

I was working from home for a little bit, then I got a job as a project manager for a marketing promotions firm. While I was there, I got a call from Cincinnati Magazine. While I was doing some freelance blogger stuff, I had done a couple of jobs for A-Line magazine, which was CityBeat’s women-focused publication. They had seen my blog [and A-Line] and asked me to style a couple of photoshoots and I was like, “Yeah! I can do that.” I didn’t 100 percent know what I was doing, but I had an idea, and was just kinda figuring it out. Then they reached out again: They needed to replace their stylist and asked if I was interested in auditioning for the job. I’m like, “Absolutely!”

It just so happened that I had an article coming out in CityBeat – I think it was the cover – the week after I had sent in my application. So I sent that article to the design director. Because I was like, “You know, this is something I really want. I’m going to go after this job. I’m not going to just submit my info and sit back and hope for the best. No. I’m going to push for it.” I sent her a blog post, and then when the CityBeat article came out, I sent that. So it worked. I got the job.

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Talk about something most women have a hard time doing: saying, “Look at this great thing I did!”

I still struggle with that. I have to tell myself that it’s okay to talk about the good things you’ve done. You should. People want to know about that stuff. People want you to share your story.

I was there for a little over three years, and I worked with super smart writers and extremely talented designers and a lot of really cool creative people. I had already met some people previously, photographers and fellow stylists and hair stylists and makeup artists. Because I was in a position where my name was on the masthead on a regular basis, a lot of times people would come to me like, “Hey! I just moved here from Atlanta and I’m a photographer. What do y’all do here?” or “I’ve been working for The Limited in Columbus for years and I just moved here… How do I get my foot in the door? Who do I need to contact?” I mean, LinkedIn and stuff like that was around, but I think it’s more valuable for people to make a personal connection. You get more out of it, both personally and professionally. I think that’s what people were looking for. A face to face. Sure, I can see this list of people and I can follow them on Instagram, but how do I really make a connection? So that was in the back of my mind also.

Then Cincinnati Magazine eliminated my position in July 2016. I had already been trying to figure out my next step, because I go through this three-year cycle. I call it the “three-year itch,” where the first year, it’s ramping up, and you’re still learning, and you’re figuring everything out, and it’s exciting. The second year you’ve mastered everything and you’re already running on full cylinders. The third year, it’s like, “Okay… What’s next?” I was in my “what’s next?” phase anyway, so I collected all my unemployment [laughs], trying to figure out what was next for me. What makes sense given what I’ve done in the past, my experience, and what I’d like to do in the future, and what really makes me tick? And that is when the opportunity for the fellowship came up.

I had applied twice before because I have way too many ideas. I had different ideas the first times. I have another list of ideas. I’m like, “When can I submit again?” [Laughs.] 2019. I already got it on the calendar.

What does the Haile Fellowship entail?

The fellowship is a year-long opportunity to work on a project you think could improve Cincinnati for the better. It’s $100,000, so you have enough money to cover your living expenses, which means you don’t have to worry about trying to make money and do this thing simultaneously, which is hard. And it covers any expenses that may come up with the actual project.

I was like, okay, I want to do something with the image-making community, with the other stylists and the photographers and all the other talented people I meet. I see that the community itself is growing, but a lot of people aren’t connected. I had done a couple happy hours in the year before, just sending out an email bringing people together. I was trying to expand on that. How can we all get to know each other? How can we collaborate on something together that might be meaningful? How can we show the world what we can do – specifically, the world of agencies and brands here in Cincinnati? We got a lot of that. There’s a firm right across the street. But it’s hard bringing people together and it’s hard convincing brands and agencies that they should get that work done here. So that was my goal, to connect people to each other.

I’ve had people look at the book and say, “This was all done in Cincinnati?!”

The way we’ve done that is through events. Because again, people really like meeting face to face. As much as I love Instagram – and it’s a visual platform, which is right up my alley – it’s not quite the same commenting on somebody’s photo as it is to actually talk to them and look at the words coming out of their mouth as they say them. So we’ve done events, and we’ve got the online directory, the Tether Directory. It’s hard to find people when you need them. I wanted to make it easier to find people when they’re needed. And then we also have the Tether sourcebook, which is a print piece. Everybody came up with these amazing concepts. It came out at the end of December, and the book is basically a collection of work by local image-makers. I’ve had people look at the book and say, “This was all done in Cincinnati?!”


You talked about your three-year itch… This fellowship is only one year. What happens next for you and Tether?

That’s a great question. I’m still figuring out what I’m gonna do next because… Tamia gotta eat. I do like a good meal. And a drink. And so, I have to figure out how I’m gonna support myself.

I put aside some money so Tether can continue on at least for the next year. What I need to do is figure out how to make it sustainable. How can Tether generate the money that it needs to support itself? Even if I’m over in the corner doing something else, if this organization is going to continue, there has to be some sort of cost involved. Is there a membership fee? Is it almost like an agency, where I’m helping people find work and taking a cut of that? Is it something that comes from the people I’m connecting the talent with; do they pay a fee to have access to the talent? Kinda trying to figure out a couple of different ways this could work. Are there events we could do that we could charge for? Workshops? Conferences? That sort of thing. There are a couple of things on the table that I’m testing.

What are some of the things you still want to do? What’s your dream collaboration?

It changes on a regular basis. There are a couple of agencies, mostly New York-based, that do really cool creative work with brands like Coca-Cola and designers like Stella McCartney… I would love to work with a high-end fashion brand on something. I love fashion; it’s always been my thing, but just trying to figure out what that looks like in a way that makes sense. If I’m trying to combine all these different things that I like to do, what do you call that? That doesn’t really have a name. I mean, I can make something up, but how do I get other people to understand what that is and what that looks like? But ideally, it’s bringing people together and creating really cool, interesting projects for people to be part of. That’s the baseline.

Tell us about an influential woman in your life.

Everybody has to say their mom, but it’s true. She’s one of the most compassionate, supportive people I know, and I try to live up to that. My grandmother was the same way; she was extremely forgiving and loving and willing to take in people, whether or not she knew them.

And then there are so many other women who are out there doing inspiring things. When Oprah gave that speech at the Golden Globes, I watched that for three straight days. I just needed that hit of inspiration. It spoke to something I think everybody is looking for: the ability to be yourself and share your story and have it make an impact. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

And then all the other powerful women who are kicking ass in the business world. They are up and coming. I listen to way too many podcasts, so every time I hear something about everybody from Emily Weiss at Glossier to Ava Duvernay and what she’s doing in film and cinema world, I’m like, “Yes.” All the women who are being “traditionally feminine,” which means compassion, understanding where other people are coming from, which means reaching out and being emotionally available, as well as smart and attractive and all the other things that we’re expected to be – those are the people I look to for inspiration.

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Find Tamia on Instagram @thestylesample and @tethercincy, and listen to her Creative City podcast here.