When Naeemah LaFond released her guide for brands and businesses on hiring Black talent, Black creatives everywhere gave a collective figurative applause. So did Tekoa Hash and Yannize Joshua, the two women behind The Teknique Agency, one of the few Black-owned creative talent agencies in the country.
This boutique agency has represented (and still represents) some of the best makeup artists, hairstylists and other beauty industry professionals we’ve come to know, including Mila Thomas (Nicki Minaj), Keita “Kilprity” Moore (Eva Marcille, Iman), and others whose work we stan.
It all started at MAC, which at the time was the birthplace of many Black makeup artists due to their highly pigmented formulas that show up vibrantly on melanin-rich skin. Hash was doing makeup at a MAC store while trying to convince her parents that it was a lucrative side hustle that would pay the bills while she worked towards other career ventures.
One day Hash was asked to do an industry gig, and with the help of a coworker (she didn’t have her own makeup kit at the time so she needed to borrow one), she had made more money than she had ever previously made in a week at the store. Makeup artistry was no longer a side hustle, it became her full-time gig. And after working for Bobbi Brown and doing makeup for Fox’s series Ambush Makeover, Hash began to realize that she could offer more than her treasured hands.
“Makeup artists were taught that you are to be seen and not heard,” she says. “Anytime I would listen to the conversations on set, I knew I had more to offer, but I also knew that I had to stay in my position. I would always think, I know the perfect person that they’re looking for and they’re discussing. And I found so much joy in connecting people and giving them opportunities when I would hear about them or see them. So after years of doing that I realized I could turn it into a business. I got a lot of people a lot of work.”
But before seeing any real long-term success, Hash underwent the first iteration of Teknique Agency and eventually lost everything. With two professional athletes who were also childhood friends as clients, she put down her brushes and worked instead on their marketing. She thought she’d made it and soon had nothing. She was humbled, but also eager to start all over.
Enter VH1’s Love & Hip Hop and its tenacious creator Mona Scott-Young. She was so taken with Hash, she remembered, that she wanted her on all her projects. And to know Scott-Young is to know that she has her hands on so many business ventures. Understanding that she couldn’t be at five places at one time, but also knowing the power of saying yes, Hash asked for the opportunity to staff the different jobs for Scott-Young, and the second iteration of the agency was born.
This time Hash was older and understood the importance of working for longevity. She asked Joshua to come on board first as her marketing director and eventually as her business partner.
But once on board, Joshua said, she realized that there was no real business structure and the two had to build it all from the ground up. But that wasn’t before the business suffered serious losses—clients, artists, money (at one point the business had negative $43.75 in the bank). Coming from hair extension company Indique where she had helped build a million-dollar brand from nothing, Joshua decided that it was where she wanted to be.
“I’m not a gambler, but I knew it was a good bet!” she said cheerfully.
Eventually the business grew and by the next year it had its first seven-figure earning year. Teknique now has headquarters in Atlanta and New York and represents more than 75 Black creatives across several industries.
But as a Black-owned creative talent agency representing mostly Black artists, they still have their struggles. While the Love & Hip Hop franchise opened doors for Hash, Joshua and their artists, biases towards Black shows of its kind also created roadblocks.
“We’re changing the narrative and I don’t want those parameters to prevent us from continuing to grow and be in certain arenas and in certain spaces,” Hash explained. “Because our heart is for the people and the artists, and we put everything into supporting them and giving them the best opportunities that we possibly can.”
Critics are quick to point out what they consider problematic behavior highlighted on the show rather than focus on the actual work that The Teknique Agency artists provide. It’s an issue, Hash said, that’s prevalent in the industry and continues to pigeonhole Black creative talent. Even artists who work with big names still experience micro-aggressions and pay disparities on jobs.
And COVID-19 has affected their business as it has with Black creatives around the world, said Joshua. Fortunately, they knew how to pivot to avoid the pitfalls that can happen when business is slow, or in the case of coronavirus, non-existent. But instead of letting it be a hinderance, the ladies have taken it as an opportunity to support Black creatives across the country—even those not signed to their roster.
Along with the Bonnti App and the Beauty Relief Fund, The Teknique Agency has provided short term financial relief funds to Black hairstylists and makeup artists in need. So far they’ve provided approximately $15,000 to help professionals that were left out of federal COVID-19 relief programs and who still haven’t gotten approved for unemployment.
“Even if it’s just a grocery bill or phone bill or a light bill, just to alleviate some of the burden, it shows that we care,” Hash said.
But beyond COVID-19 relief, the ladies are tirelessly working to get Black creative talent their worth in pay and help them get into the unions and in circles where they are eligible for the same work as their white counterparts.
They’ve also started the Black Beauty Roster so that brands and producers have one directory to find Black artists. Black creatives, including makeup artists, hairstylists, barbers, nail technicians and more, can add themselves to the list by filling out a brief form. Teknique wants to hold companies accountable to their pledges to diversify their teams with more Black artists.
“That’s one of the things that we have to do as two Black women,” finished Joshua. “We go in there and we fight every day for our artists. We go in there and fight for fair wages. We fight for their right to administer their art. That has always been our calling card. So, it is rewarding for us to be able to sit at the helm of this company that is literally for us by us.”