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Elyria’s Living Black History Spotlight: Tiarra Smallwood

Feb 22, 2021

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3 Questions for Tiarra Smallwood:

What does it mean to be a living example of Black history to you?

In the fashion industry, specifically, I think, with the murder of George Floyd and all of the trauma and sadness surrounding his death, it really woke the [fashion] industry up. Truthfully, it’s why [Black designers] have more opportunities right now – it sparked so much conversation around what has and hasn’t been done, and now, Black designers are being pushed to the forefront.  I haven’t had the time to think about how blessed I am to be a part of that…it’s a huge responsibility. I have a responsibility to open doors for other Black designers. I owe it to those who have paved the way for me to “pull up the cement truck and pave the way for someone else.” You can’t just get your rewards and run – you have to come back and to the dirty work of paving the way. 

Who is your Black History Hero?

My college professor Dr. Ellington – she was amazing! Dr. Ellington quickly became a mentor to me; we’re still in touch, I’m still able to reach out to her – she does amazing things in the Black community and really works to build up first-generation college students, like myself. Dr. Ellington being there for me when I got to college and nurturing my growth was so helpful. 

If you could share only one guiding principle or tip with Elyrians, what would it be and why? 

Trust in God and manifest. Believe in yourself, and manifest what you want in life. It’s something I’ve been doing, and it’s paying off

Spotlight Biography:

Tiarra Smallwood, west side of Elyria born and bred, and currently residing in New York City, is the high fashion industry’s rising star. Like many fellow Elyrians, Tiarra’s path began with the belief that she could create, or, was, the solution. 

“Growing up, my mom and I loved to shop, and I was never really finding things that I liked. My love of fashion really started with not finding pieces that I liked.” Tiarra’s challenging shopping experiences led her down a path of determination and problem solving. 

An Elyria City Schools pioneer for all grades, Tiarra attended Oakwood Elementary, Westwood Junior High, and graduated from Elyria High School in 2006. 

“Towards the end of high school, when you really start getting your fashion sense and finding out what you want to do in life, I really started thinking about [fashion] as a potential career” shared Smallwood. Considering her childhood experiences, and her growing fashion sense and taste, Tiarra applied to the Kent State University School of Fashion, one of the nation’s top schools for fashion programs, and was accepted. 

“My parents were super supportive,” shared Tiarra, not everyone was that lucky: “a lot of my classmates’ parents were upset that they went into fashion – they didn’t think it was a lucrative career. But my parents were always very supportive.” 

Tiarra earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Fashion Design in 2011. 

Following graduation, Tiarra worked as an Accessories Designer for Abercrombie & Fitch for over five (5) years. Feeling stifled and stuck, she “prayed to God, and got the sign to quit, and trust [in] Him.”

So, she did. 

Tiarra, in a leap of faith and divine trust, returned home to Elyria with her beloved parents, and worked to actualize the next stage of her journey, but, “nothing came for months,” Smallwood shared. 

Eventually, Tiarra earned freelance work with The Gap Inc, in New York City. “In that time of freelancing, I wanted stable work, and pay that reflected what I [had] previously earned,” but most of all, Smallwood “wanted to move into high fashion.” 

She worked to explore her options, and seek opportunities that would allow her to spread her wings and enter the high fashion world, but was told no from brands, Tiarra said, due to “not having a luxury background.”

With pioneering spirit, Tiarra never wavered from her purpose or path, and actively chose to be inspired by the ‘nos’ and decided to say ‘yes’ herself, founding her own fashion company and luxury brand, MAX+min

“When I quit my job, I felt like God said, ‘I have something better for you.’ At the time, I was so upset, but I see the plan now,” she reflected. 

Two (2) weeks ago, MAX+min launched at Saks Fifth Avenue, and will be available for pre-order at Bloomingdales at the end of February. 

When asked about how she feels about her brand being sold at both fashion behemoths: “I haven’t taken the time to fully realize it yet; from everything I was fighting to get – being told ‘no,’ to being in Saks and Bloomingdales in one (1) go…it’s all God. I have to give it up to God.”