In my search for finding cool women who are doing their own thing, a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of Tisja Janssen. When we speak about multi-hyphen, well let’s talk about her various roles, Tisja can be described as a creative concept developer - artist-photographer - photoshop fanatic - inclusivity advocate. We connected over email, WhatsApp and FaceTime; she was friendly, sweet and smart. I talked to her about all the cool things that she’s been doing.
Hey, it’s so lovely to meet you! We’ve been whatsapping back and forth; I’m glad we finally get a chance to chat.
Yes, so am I! These last weeks have been crazy, but now we’re finally Facetiming. So what do you want to know!
Good question! Let’s start with the beginning. What did you study?
I studied concept and communications—a fascinating degree. In my second year, we had to create a brand around ourselves. I had to take a deep dive into myself, about who I am, what I stand for. I developed this creative personal brand that took things from my past, my heritage, but also my inspiration together. It was fierce!
During my studies, I did an internship at Dutch fashion label Stieglitz. I was thrown in all sorts of situations because it was super hands-on. Here I discovered my love for Photoshop; by just creating the wildest things on my computer. They gave me a lot of freedom to explore and create. After a while, I got involved with the fashion photo shoots, from the concept to the actual art direction at the shoots. I learned so many things there. After that, I was hired by Dutch fashion start-up Nelson Johnson to do some work as well as an art director. Which was excellent as I’m not trained nor have all the experience to be a real art director, but I understand creative concepts and love developing them.
Do you only work in fashion, or did one thing lead to another?
For me, I love brands that show women who own their sexuality and are sensual. But not sensual as men would like to see women, but only showing women who own their bodies and showing it themselves; they show their bodies how they want to, that’s so beautiful. That’s why I also love working in fashion; it’s women’s bodies, it’s art, it’s visual. It’s all of that combined. For me, fashion is not about the trends or what’s in style right now; it’s an artistic expression.
But then the Black Lives Matter movement started, and it hit a nerve. I’m black myself; I have a very dark-skinned mother and a white father. I connected with it. But from it, something positive happened. It gave me focus; it opened my eyes and provided me with a creative vision. I began to think about how black women were unrepresented in fashion and brands. I saw that some brands also realized that they were not inclusive. Ganni, a Danish fashion brand, invited black artists to create something for them and using their platform to amplify the voices and talents of Black creators. My sister, who’s an artist, and I joined forces. We knew that we could create a visually and artistically strong concept. We submitted our idea, though we had never really worked together like that before, and our concept got picked. This summer, we worked with Ganni for their first IGTV collaboration in which we expressed the meaning behind our collective, our inspiration and our individuality as sisters. We were thrilled with the result, and this is when we started Sisters Janssen.
So what is Sisters Janssen exactly?
It’s our collective; my sister is a painter; I’m a concept developer. We are both black women in Amsterdam, and we feel unrepresented by many brands. So by offering our creative services, but also by opening a dialogue with brands, we help them in their journey of being more inclusive. Brands invite us to either show them how to be more inclusive both internally but also in the way they express themselves. For example, for this year’s edition of Amsterdam Fashion Week, Dutch fashion brand Scotch&Soda invited us to customize two jumpers that they would display in the shop window of their flagship store. It was a very cool experience to see our jumpers, and we’re not even designers, hanging so prominently in the city. They wanted to work with us because we are different, new, fresh and to express their inclusivity by providing black artists with a platform. Obviously, our goal, in the end, is to guide all kinds of companies to make changes within the company, in their DNA.
Have you seen bad examples of showing black inclusivity?
The other day a friend of mine showed me an ad. It was a picture featuring all-black women, but they all had straight hair. It was like, OK, let’s get some black models, but they do have to fit the white standard of what is considered beautiful so let them all wear wigs. They just completely missed the mark. They probably only did it to be on-trend instead of being inclusive.
How do companies find you?
We got a lot of people that find us through Instagram. This platform is essential for us and works for us. Also, there’s a lot of word of mouth.
What are the plans for Sisters Janssen?
We want to work with a museum, so we are looking into working with the Stedelijk Museum. We are also working on a special plan for which we need to get funding, but I can’t tell you anything about it yet.
Are there any companies that are a great example of being inclusive?
Yes, for sure. Rihanna is my biggest role model, and her beauty brand Fenty is the best example there is. She knows and gets inclusivity. It’s not that hard, and it’s about being there for everyone, giving everyone a sense of belonging.
One question that I always ask before we end our conversation, what did you want to become when you were young?
My dream was to become a massive musical star. I love singing. I’ve always sung and had singing lessons. My brother does work in entertainment, by the way, he’s an actor. But when I was 18, I had my first audition, and I froze. The idea that others will judge me, not only on the way that I sing but also everything else about me, that was not the life for me. So now I sing for myself. And I still get to express myself.