2018 has seen all sorts of interesting and (occasionally) exciting developments on the Now/It's front. Whether you've kept up with the site from it's inception or you've only just come to know it, Now/It's is always grateful to any and all who take the time to interface with the site. Nashville is a community of which we believe deserves distinct and unadulterated coverage, interaction, and continued cultivation, across all fronts. The wellspring of incredible and inspiring people and groups within our fair city deserve to be championed, and Now/It's always strives to do just that, all the while welcoming outsiders into the city with open arms, especially when their views and convictions align with our own. One such company that fits the aforementioned credible "outsider" criteria is Bumble. Most famously known as the dating app that empowers women, Bumble has pivoted and expanded in the most intuitive of ways. While the dating feature is still a key component of the company's m.o., they've taken to community building, and further ingratiating themselves into the communities of which they operate. But Bumble's headquarters is in Austin, so how could they ingratiate themselves in Nashville? Through people; people like this week's feature interview, Tiana Lewis. Originally from Omaha by way of Dallas/Fort Worth, Tiana Lewis is Bumble Nashville's "Queen Bee," their liaison to Nashville and coordinator of community outreach. She's an incredibly perceptive and altruistic person, and the ideal individual to help spearhead Bumble's Nashville initiatives, on top of her own personal outlook and intentions.
Now/It's is proud to announce it's partnership with Bumble, which will see the site providing event coverage for various Bumble led functions and gatherings in 2018. Now/It's met with Tiana Lewis at Frothy Monkey in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville.
Tiana - Hi!
N/I - Hey Tiana!
Tiana - How are you?
N/I - I’m doing well. How are you?
Tiana - I’m good, thanks. It’s so nice out today!
N/I - Yes! Abnormally nice.
Tiana - It’s gorgeous. I’ve been sick of the rain.
[A dog barks]
Tiana - He’s so cute.
N/I - He’s a big puppy.
Tiana - He is!
N/I - Anyway, what have you been up to today?
Tiana - Not too much, today. Just answering emails - I don’t go into the office on Fridays or Mondays - so it’s just my day to do Bumble, take any of the meetings I have to do. But today has actually been pretty chill.
N/I - Nice! Had some work stuff this morning. Otherwise, just finishing up the interview for this week (Lyon Porter), and then come here to meet with you!
Tiana - Awesome!
N/I - So did you have a photo shoot with Coveteur?
Tiana - Yes! Well, I didn’t.
N/I - Right. James [Kicinski-McCoy] did, technically.
Tiana - That would have been cool, but yeah, James had a photoshoot with Coveteur yesterday. It was really cool, because they were doing a closet tour for her. So basically, she changed three times, and then the assistant editor styled a bunch of her clothing pieces throughout the house, and then they took little photo vignettes of all sorts of things. It was cool to see their process - especially because they’re so big - and how they do things as far as shoots go. Because hopefully, one day, [Mother Magazine] will be doing that too.
N/I - Right. That would be the hope. So how did you and James get….
Tiana - Hooked up?
N/I - Hooked up. Connected. Because for as long as I’ve known you, I’ve never really asked about that stuff.
Tiana - I know! That’s so weird. It’s not weird that you didn’t ask, it’s just weird that it never came up.
N/I - Right.
Tiana - So I met…. Well, of course, I knew who James was. When blogging was at its prime, she was one of the top “Mommy” bloggers.
N/I - Now, when you say “at its prime” you mean what? Before everyone had a blog?
Tiana - Before the market became so saturated.
N/I - Okay. That’s fair.
Tiana - Exactly. So, I knew who she was, and I knew she lived here when I moved to Nashville, and I wound up going to the Reese Witherspoon… Draper James opening…. And I didn’t really know what to expect out of that event at all. I didn’t know what Draper James was, I didn’t know it was attached to Reese Witherspoon….
N/I - But you were invited to it?
Tiana - I was! Which was weird, because I’m really small as far as “influencers” or whatever, goes. So I went, and actually met [James] there, and we got to talking - it was super casual - but then she reached out to me via Instagram, and was saying that she was doing a story in Mother about “beauty at every age” and she needed somebody in their twenties, but I couldn’t go. I had already taken off work to go to the Reese Witherspoon thing, so I couldn’t take off work again to go shoot, but I said “Oh, that’s okay. But if anything ever comes up for stories, or for work, just let me know. I’d love to contribute.” And then a few months later, I had left my job at Warby [Parker], and was working for Annie, but my contract with her was going to end soon.
N/I - Who’s Annie?
Tiana - Annie Bany.
N/I - Oh, was she a singer? That name sounds familiar.
Tiana - Yes. I did a little bit of branding for her, but since that contract was going to end soon, I reached out to James, and she had an opening. It kind of fell into place.
N/I - That’s good timing. Somewhat serendipitous.
Tiana - Totally! So I’ve been working with her for almost a year and a half.
N/I - Well that’s nice!
Tiana - Yeah! She’s great. She’s cool….. Are we interviewing right now?
N/I - Technically, yes. I am recording. I usually try to come into the interview recording, just to avoid the whole awkward, “Well, should we start the interview?”
Tiana - You’re sneaky. I like it.
N/I - Well, “sneaky” sounds….
Tiana - You’re right. Not sneaky….
N/I - I like to think of it as sort of making things more….
Tiana - Comfortable.
N/I - Right! Let’s go with that! So anyway, let’s talk about how you came to Nashville.
Tiana - Sure!
N/I - I know how you came to Nashville, but, you came…. Actually, how long was it between when you graduated from TCU (Texas Christian University) to actually moving to Nashville?
Tiana - Like how long was the time in between?
N/I - Yeah. I don’t even remember if you went back to Omaha or anything like that. Did you go back for a bit?
Tiana - No. So, my boyfriend Sam [Gidley] actually flew down to Fort Worth, I want to say - well, he actually didn’t come to my graduation because [his alma mater] Belmont and TCU graduated at the same time - but I want to say that he flew down a few days after. And I had packed up a lot of my apartment, but he helped me pack up the rest, and then we just drove it all to Nashville. I want to say it was maybe a week or two after I graduated that all of that happened. It all happened so smoothly - I had always known I wanted to be in Nashville when I originally looked at school in high school. I visited Nashville, and loved the city, but I just didn’t love Belmont.
N/I - Nothing wrong with that.
Tiana - I just felt like for what I wanted to do, I wouldn’t get the most out of my experience there. So I felt really called to TCU, but it took me a while to fully commit to the idea of coming to Nashville after.
N/I - Why is that?
Tiana - I think because at the time, when I was thinking of moving here, I didn’t have a job secured here yet, and honestly, I didn’t want people to think that I was just following my boyfriend. I’m independent, and I wanted people to know that I had my own thoughts and aspirations. I guess I was just a little bit stubborn.
N/I - I think that’s fair. That’s totally justified - nobody wants to be discounted in their own existence. That displays an awareness that you’re able to tell that one situation could potentially be viewed in a different, sometimes detrimental, lens. Especially with what you do, being a lifestyle personality, or tastemaker….
Tiana - Thank you.
N/I - Sometimes that can be easily misconstrued, mostly because it’s something people don’t take the time to understand it fully.
Tiana - Exactly. And not even just that, but also, my relationship with Sam - we’ve been dating since we were fifteen years old - so we’ve already had the odds stacked against us, statistically. But more than that, I think people were expecting us to fail, as a relationship. Because when you’re fifteen, you really don’t know who you are - I still don’t know totally who I am….
N/I - Well sure, we could go off on some huge tangential conversation about whether or not someone ever fully comes to know who they are as a person.
Tiana - Totally. Totally. We could get super weird and existential about it.
N/I - Plenty of material to play wax poetic with, but anyway….
Tiana - So I just had a hard time admitting to both myself and to other people that [Nashville] is the city I want to be in. I always had that inkling in my heart that this was where I wanted to be, and then I finally came to and told myself to be honest with myself, and I moved here, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
N/I - You’ve been doing your website L’esthetique since you were in college, but were you doing it in college, too?
Tiana - No. I started it in college - I want to say it was my sophomore year. Again, well before the blogging community was so saturated. I think blogging has really changed since then. Realistically, it’s changed so much in the past year, as well.
N/I - Right. There are quintuple the platforms of which you need to be on, and manage. It was at one point conceivable to just do a WordPress site and people would actually flock to it.
Tiana - Totally.
N/I - Whereas now, if you have just a WordPress site, you might be better off standing on the shore and screaming your opinions out into the ocean.
Tiana - Right. There are so many different elements that go into it - you can monetize your blog, you can monetize your instagram. I started blogging because I wanted to create an outlet - and honestly, I wanted to create a portfolio - for when I was going out and looking for jobs in the real world, I wanted to show them I could….
N/I - You could do photo editing, copywriting….
Tiana - Yes! Exactly. And I just wanted to have a space on the Internet that was entirely my own. There was no compromising who I was for whatever reason.
N/I - So when you were moving to Nashville, did you have a moment where you considered the fact that you were doing the blog in Fort Worth - that had grown to where more than just the people in Texas were paying attention - was there any moment of confusion? Or any thoughts of whether or not the brand would struggle to translate to a Nashville aesthetic?
Tiana - You know, it’s been such an interesting process with my blog. Because I haven’t “blogged” in a really long time. I never really thought about whether or not it would translate well in Nashville, because I always did it for me. Honestly Sean, I never really wanted to be an influencer.
N/I - Interesting.
Tiana - And I don’t even think I really am! I thought about what if it grew to a point where I could live off of it. I thought about those things because I think anyone doing something will stop and consider the long term future of it all.
N/I - Well especially when it’s something so closely aligned to oneself.
Tiana - Right. As an extension to you. Exactly. But I never did it for that purpose. I always just did it for me. And I think that was both a - I don’t want to say “a blessing and a curse” - but a shortcoming and something that inhibited me from growing….
N/I - It gave some extra space to operate…. Let’s say it’s a rope tied around your ankle: there’s some slack, but you don’t know how much until it pulls completely tight, and all of a sudden, you’ve reached your limit.
Tiana - And I think the sacrifices that a lot of bloggers today and then were willing to make, I wasn’t ready to just sell people stuff. I wasn’t ready to compromise the things I wanted to talk about. So I think those kinds of decisions that I made were ones that inhibited me from growing to what many would consider a larger “space.”
N/I - I think that’s a very realistic and aware, mature way to look at the blogging world. Because I think a lot of people will look at something like a blogger, lifestyle personality, or even someone who does what I’m doing with Now/It’s - there are two ways of doing things. You either start from scratch and build a brand, you establish your voice, you cement your importance in the community to a point that one day, if you’re lucky, other brands within said community will want to be associated. The other way is to start from scratch, and immediately show up on Frothy Monkey or Las Paletas’ front doorstep, asking for some cash, because you promise to “shout them out” on your blog. That instantaneously waters down the overall message. So if the message is an extension of yourself, you’re not going to walk down the street hawking Starbucks and who knows what else. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that your perspective makes sense.
Tiana - And it’s nice talking to somebody who’s not necessarily in the same situation, but at least you get it. Your integrity really is integral.
N/I - It’s interesting. I don’t know if you find yourself talking to kids, but sometimes I will, and if you ask a kid fourteen or younger what they want to be when they grow up, the majority of them would say they want to be a YouTuber. And then the next question I typically ask is what about being a YouTuber appeals to them. The responses aren’t the most thought provoking - it’s a lot of wanting to get paid to “live” their lives, so to speak. But if you or I were to watch some YouTube personality, you would realize that they’re selling something 24/7, be it the clothes they’re wearing, which will be blatantly branded….
Tiana - Or it’s some sort of amazing experience, or the food they’re eating….
N/I - Right! It’s a lot of subconscious selling - “Hey! We’re visiting San Francisco and we just happen to be staying at this particular hotel that seems so great and fun and awesome….”
Tiana - Right. But I don’t look down on anybody that does that, I understand that people who choose to do it full-time, they have to make a living by doing that.
N/I - Absolutely.
Tiana - That is paid placement, after all. I’m not going to say that if someone came to me with a lot of money to support a product that I really liked that I wouldn’t do it, but I guess that was just never the end goal for me. I just wanted to do something creative, and because I liked so many different facets - photography, copy writing, styling - I could never really bring myself to strictly pick on lane. And a blog gave me the capability to do a lot of those different things.
N/I - And again, with the changing arena of online media, that can be - if you decide you want to get into something like vlogging - you can do that. You already have an avenue of credibility where you can believably do it, as opposed to just working in an office and one deciding to quit your job and start vlogging. You have to either be the most naturally interesting person ever, or you need that credibility built up.
Tiana - Or you have to do it on an absurdly consistent level. Vlogging is a whole different beast, in and of itself. But I think that’s really been a constant theme in my professional life. Right now, in particular. Something that I’m facing a lot…. I think people who have “creative” jobs, have a lot of room for discovery. You can do a lot of different things. But for me, I have to remind myself by asking, “Does this line up with my intentions? Why do I want to do these things?” The blogging/vlogging world is weird.
N/I - It is very strange.
Tiana - It is a weird world, and it’s changing so much.
N/I - Oh yeah. I think at this point, it’ll constantly be changing. So was L’esthetique the main thruline that would eventually lead to you getting involved with Bumble?
Tiana - I don’t think so.
N/I - So how did you even get involved with them, then?
Tiana - It’s kind of a funny story, because I’ve been dating Sam since I was fifteen and in high school, so I never used Bumble. I never had a need to use Bumble, especially when it first started out and was strictly a dating app. But my friend Kelsey - we didn’t go to college together, but we did live twenty minutes from each other when I was in college - she was always my creative collaborator.
N/I - A confidante?
Tiana - Confidante. She was the one person who I could always go to with a kind of crazy idea, and she’d be totally behind it, and run with it, after she had taken the idea and elevated it three notches higher.
N/I - That’s awesome.
Tiana - She’s just an amazing, creative, all around awesome human being. So we had done a lot of projects together in college. We actually worked together as influencers for this cosmetics company called Essence. Basically, they were an international brand trying rebrand….
N/I - Into the American market?
Tiana - Yep. So we worked together on that. She actually wound up working for the company in New York after that. Long story short - I don’t know how she got involved with Bumble - but they were looking for someone to fill her position in the Nashville market, and [Kelsey] recommended me, and she linked me up with Natalie from Bumble, and that was it!
N/I - And your official title for Bumble is “Queen Bee?”
Tiana - Queen Bee! I don’t know if that should be embarrassing or not.
N/I - Not at all. If anything, it’s just consistent branding. It makes sense in terms of all their other branding.
Tiana - Totally.
N/I - So what exactly does that entail? Because I only vaguely understand it.
Tiana - Sure. So I always tell people when I meet them that I do community outreach and event planning. My responsibilities have different tiers, if you want to call them that. I host two events a month, in collaboration with different brands and individuals in the greater Nashville area, and then I also secure local partnerships in Nashville. For example, if Frothy Monkey wanted to provide Bumble users ten percent off for the month of March when they show their Bumble app, I handle all that local partnership based stuff. And now, local press. It used to be a little different - I used to manage all of our “Local Bees” which are now our “City Reps,” but that was a lot.
N/I - So you’re the….
Tiana - The liaison!
N/I - Truly, the liaison, to the city and aligning with companies and brands that would fit nicely with Bumble.
Tiana - Exactly. Anything national that HQ gets that is specifically in the Nashville market, they’ll pass down to me, and it’s really fun. I feel really honored and humbled to be working with Bumble, because it’s just a really cool company. They’re doing a lot of really great things.
N/I - Sure. They’re very progressive, which is always nice to have, especially now…. So was this something that you ever would have seen yourself doing, in terms of community outreach and event planning?
Tiana - Actually, no. It’s a lot of public relations. In school, I majored in advertising and public relations, and then graphic design. I actually hated PR, in college.
N/I - Really?
Tiana - Yeah [laughs]. I hated it. The only class I ever got a B- in during college was in media writing and editing. I hated that class.
N/I - And what was that class about? Mostly writing press releases?
Tiana - Yes! And I was terrible at it! I don’t know why.
N/I - Well I could take a guess…. As someone who gets a lot of press releases, they can be pretty dang dry.
Tiana - Right! You don’t use a lot of adjectives. You’re just very to the point.
N/I - You, yourself - as the public relations specialist - cannot use the fancy writing, that’s where you pull quotes, using someone else’s words.
Tiana - Right! And it’s very structured, and very formulaic, and I just was never good at that. And I’m still not very good at it. So to answer the original question - no. I didn’t expect to find myself doing event planning and all that. There was a moment during school where I thought I might start planning weddings, but I think every girl that’s thought of doing something creative has thought about that once or twice. But now that I’m in it, I really enjoy it. I think the aspect I enjoy the most is the community. I get to meet new people, and help spread this powerful message that Bumble is spreading. I feel very fortunate that they trust me with that.
N/I - It’s a great place to be. Do you think that’s something that you’ll continue to pursue?
Tiana - With Bumble or just in life?
N/I - Just in life.
Tiana - I do! Seeing the way Whitney has….
N/I - [Bumble founder] Whitney Wolfe Herd?
Tiana - Yes. The way she’s structured the company, and the way she runs it is all very inspiring. Her story is really inspiring. I’ve always been someone who’s always been a huge advocate for equality - mostly on racial fronts - really on all fronts. But I think that working with Bumble has encouraged me to be a little bit louder with the messages that I have to say.
N/I - That’s great. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve established how you wound up on a path of which you wouldn’t have necessarily anticipated at an earlier junction in your life.
Tiana - Absolutely.
N/I - But are you starting to see a long term goal beginning to present itself because of that?
Tiana - That’s so funny that you asked that question, Sean. I’ve never been asked that question, but I think it’s the question that I need to be asked in my life right now.
N/I - Really!?
Tiana - Yes! So thank you!
N/I - Wow. I’ll sign myself up for a Pulitzer then.
Tiana - Seriously [laughs]! I definitely think there are elements of what I’m doing now with [Mother Magazine] and Bumble that I could foresee in the future being something that sticks. I don’t think I have it figured out yet.
N/I - Sure. That’s why I wanted to ask, because - I’ll just use myself as an example - when I was in high school, I was going to be a professional basketball player, and then when I got into college, I thought I would be a branding and marketing whiz, but after I did that, I realized that might not be exactly what I want to do. It had components of what I wanted to. But I realized what I truly wanted to do was to create an outlet for people to learn through other people. Because that’s something that I’ve found throughout the years to be the most inspiring, or invigorating thing for me, be it through podcasts, write ups, or interviews. So like you, I have a general idea of what I would like to see this blossom into, there’s a thruline somewhere, but I don’t necessarily know what it looks like exactly at the end. I tend to think that not being able to see a concrete end serves the project better, because I can still see other pathways that open up along the way.
Tiana - That’s great. Honestly, I was going to ask you about whether or not it’s better to have all of these options, or whether it’s better know exactly what road you’re on. Because sometimes I get jealous of people who studied nursing in school and now they’re nurses! I don’t want to take anything away from that, obviously, nurses are incredibly important.
N/I - That’s very true, but at the same time, there are a lot of people our age that are accountants, or working within a firm. They all can see what the end goal is, it’s right there before them….
Tiana - They know exactly what steps they need to take to get to where they want to be.
N/I - And there are so many different ways that one can go with that.
Tiana - But there’s a certain level of security with that, too. Wouldn’t you say?
N/I - Absolutely. There are plenty of people who are more risk averse and less risk averse than others, and if at the end of the day, you know in your heart that the one thing you want to do is provide for a family and live a comfortable life, that’s great! Then there are other people - who are typically a little more creative - who want to create something that’s their own, or start a movement or something that can really help other people. That’s something that I can see you doing very well with, and you’re already kind of on that path to achieve.
Tiana - Well thank you so much, I receive that [laughs].