Today we’d like to introduce you to Latonja “Tonji” Randall-EL.
Hi Latonja “Tonji”, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
Based in Los Angeles, Capsule by Tonji is a boutique dreamt up by me… Tonji a Washington, DC native who currently resides in Southern California. I started Capsule during the pandemic after selling clothes from my closet on Instagram when the mental stress of being cooped up in the house with COVID was starting to wear on my spirits. Before Reels were even a thing, I started filming videos of me in different outfits choreographed to trendy songs and people were ready to buy them all. After getting many DM’s from people who were inspired by my style but saddened by their inability to fit my size clothing, I thought… maybe I should sell clothing and accessories that I curate but that are available in all sizes.
I’ve been into fashion since I was a little girl. My mom dressed me in fur coats, gold jewelry, African garments, and suede fringe vests and cowboy boots before I was even old enough to understand what I was wearing. I was literally going to elementary school in Capital Hill looking like I stepped out of a Children’s Vogue magazine. Ever since then, I have enjoyed dressing up and all of the confidence that comes with being well put together.
I started Capsule by Tonji with a clear vision: to transcend the idea of having one specific look/style and instead to curate wardrobe capsules of timeless and stand-out pieces made for making memories. I don’t just have one particular style, and neither do my Capsule Babes (my tribe of supporters and customers). We are a little Bohochic, Edgy, Luxe, Grundge, Street, and Femme. A nod to nostalgia with a modern twist, each capsule (collection) is crafted from individually selected, high-quality pieces that can be loved for time to come. From easy like Sunday morning leisurewear to nights exploring the wearer’s favorite places around the world, Capsule by Tonji is sure to have something for everyone.
“What I love about this brand is that we’re curating looks with quality pieces that are sure to captivate any audience. We aim to cater to a broad range of customers helping them find their specific style. We dress for our mood, occasion and/or location.
I’m literally the friend who everyone expects to be overdressed no matter the occasion… so I decided to brand my customer mailing bags and live by two mantras:
“People will stare… make it worthwhile” -Harry Winston And “When in doubt…Overdress”- Vivienne Westwood — Tonji Ceo & Creative Director of Capsule.
We do not take it for granted that of all the places to shop, our customers have chosen to shop with us. We are humbled and grateful.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Oh my goodness… the road to becoming an entrepreneur has been everything but smooth. Selling clothes for fun on Instagram was one thing, but building an entire brand and creating all of the content and intellectual property myself was a lot of work. It has been a humbling and infinitely rewarding journey though I must say. After trial and error of paying to have my logos and website designed by graphic designers only to end up being out of the money, I paid back at the drawing board with nothing to show for my efforts…I could have given up long before I ever got started. I ended up spending countless nights researching and learning as much as I could which ultimately led me to doing everything myself. I designed my logos, the designs on my bags, labels, hangtags… all on apps I learned about from YouTube (Thank God for the time of technology we live in). Being a perfectionist didn’t make it any easier. I ended up pushing back my launch date several times because I was not aware of how long building a website takes when you have no experience. It took me a month to finish it.
From concept to launch November of 2020 until February 21, 2021, I have to say I am really proud of what I accomplished. When I am faced with trauma, my natural instinct is to do something big to prove to myself I am capable of anything. Like a Phoenix. I was going through a tough time in my personal life and I said you know what…I’m going to start my business. I shut myself out from the world and really was on my grind. I flew home to DC for my photoshoot in December of 2020 and got the help of my amazing family and friends who supported my vision and wanted to see me win. My cousin who is a photographer in DC did an amazing job shooting all of the items that ended up being my first collection of Capsules when I launched. My beautiful friends modeled the clothing and we spent an entire day 7-2am traveling around the cold streets of Georgetown, DC shooting content. I was way in over my head and a little too optimistic taking so many pieces across the country to shoot in one day. I had one day to get it all done because the very next day, I got a hair transplant! (Yes, head surgery followed by a long healing process the day after pulling an all-nighter for my photoshoot). Most people think being in business for yourself is easy, but they also have no idea how much sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears go into making your dreams a reality.
Other struggles included: maintaining a work life balance (running my own business while still working a full tie job) searching for good quality vendors, spending thousands of dollars not being prepared with a proper budget, buying too much inventory, not having enough of an online presence to convert all of the content and pictures into sales, not having a proper marketing strategy in order to increase engagement and conversions, lack of bookkeeping… the list could truly go on and on. As much as I worked and researched in the beginning, there was still so much I didn’t know and so much I didn’t know I needed to know about running a business.
In August, I had a fire in my home. Thank God most of my inventory was safe in an outside location, but I was out of my home for over a month. I let my customers and followers know, but I didn’t miss a beat when it came to handling my business. I was still packing orders and still attending my pop-ups…why? Because the show must go on. That ended up taking an emotional toll on me and I found out interestingly that working through my traumas has actually been an avoidance and coping mechanism that leads to burnout, depression, anxiety and an overall poor state of mental health. So then I started losing momentum and I had to slow down. Then I got COVID a second time… and really had to slow down.
We’ve been impressed with Capsule by Tonji, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
My brand is really focused on feeling confident by looking your best, and in the words of the infamous Rihanna “sometimes you have to fake it when you aren’t feeling your best…because the alternative is to cry, and all you end up with from that is puffy eyes and a waste of tears”. We connect with our customers intimately because we are all in this life journey together, and the recent times and conditions of the world have been hard on us all.
We are a black-owned, woman-owned, lgbtq+ owned small business trying to create generational wealth and financial freedom for generations to come. We are proud of our heritage and our struggle and we take the pressures of the world and turn them into the diamonds that are our curated collections, clothing and accessories that help us feel and look our best.
We love hats and we love hat wearers! We have worked with several high-end well-established hat brands like Gigi Pip, Olive and Pique, Two Roads, and Major Hats of Europe to provide great quality hats for customers who take their hats seriously at an affordable price.
Capsule babes come in all shapes and sizes. We offer curated pieces that range from size XS-3X.
We do not have a storefront, but we are very passionate about interacting with our customers. The pop-up scene in LA and SoCal has been the most influential contributor to our success this year. Our customers can find us at Pasadena Rose Bowl every second Sunday of the month and at Black on the Block Market hosted by sisters Lanie and Char (who you covered in a past interview). We participate in several other markets across Socal as well. At our pop-ups, we really have the best time connecting with our Capsule Babes and Beaus. Customers enjoy trying on their Capsule finds in our pop up changing tent. Some come to us as hat wearers and others find their very first brim that they leave with the confidence to rock in style. We’ve enjoyed being immersed in the LA culture and thus have curated specific pieces that are only available at our pop-ups. Customers love those exclusive offers as well. Being in Southern California has also provided us the amazing opportunity to connect with vendors and designers in the LA Fashion and Arts District.
We enjoy community and have loved having the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other small businesses because it emphasizes what we hold dear… “Always collaboration…never competition”. Ace Boogie (Paid in Full) said it best “It’s enough for everybody to eat”. We are eating and we are providing opportunities for others to eat as well. We’ve worked with local photographers and up and coming models (@inliight.society and @muva_genesis), met and styled celebrities and influencers (Chance the Rapper, Big Freedia, Alexandria de Rossi ((first black model on price is right) Shay Regis of @Goodgirlsthrift), and recently had our pieces featured in Rebel Magazine. We are enjoying all of the ups and downs that come along with being in business and in such a saturated industry. Our humble ability to connect with people and make them feel good about themselves is what sets us apart.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
We want your readers to know that whatever they set their minds and hearts to, they can achieve. The journey to starting and running a successful business is not an easy one, but it is rewarding and allows us to build and rebuild ourselves and our communities through ownership and fellowship.
- Men and Women’s Hats range from $60-$200
- Clothing and accessories range from $25-$150
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: https://www.capsulebytonji.com/
- Instagram: @capsulebytonji
- Facebook: @capsulebytonji
- Twitter: @capsulebytonji
- Other: Tik Tok @capsulebytonji
Inliight Society (Rodney McCullum) Jenalta McCullun