Q&A with TONL: Inclusion Through Images

Since their inception, stock photography websites have offered homogenous, way-too-retouched photos and very little variety. And yet they are a crucial resource for many small business owners who don’t have huge budgets to capture their own original imagery for everything. So when I met Karen Okonkwo last year and found out about her newly-formed company, TONL, I instantly became the #1 fan. Last year Karen and co-founder Joshua Kissi made waves in an old-school industry when they launched TONL, a culturally diverse stock photography company. I reached out to her to talk innovation, progress and change.  -Sonja Rasula 

TONL Founders Karen & Joshua

TONL Founders Karen & Joshua

Why did you start TONL?

TONL started to address the lack of cultural diverse imagery in today’s media. We wanted to showcase what the world really looks like which is a melting pot of different ethnic backgrounds, sexual preferences, abilities and more. It was time for us to share the true narrative of our world.

For those unfamiliar with stock photography, can you describe what you do?

TONL is a diverse stock photography business that allows people to purchase imagery of people of various ethnic backgrounds and more to be used in various forms of media.



What was your work background before becoming an entrepreneur?

Prior to embarking in entrepreneurship, I was fully committed to Medical Sales. For Joshua, he spent a small amount of time in retail.

Why are you so passionate about what you do?

We feel so strongly about accurately depicting what the world looks like because it offers a sense of belonging to those underrepresented. Our images also accurately portray the moment in time which makes imagery the timeless, powerful object that it is. We want the future to be able to see what the world really looked like.

The words diversity and inclusivity seem to be popular right now, yet I personally still don’t see a lot of diversity in imagery and on social feeds - especially with small businesses. What are your thoughts?

We agree and this has everything to do with the false idea of what sells. Businesses are old school in the sense that they believe that a white face is more socially accepting. However, studies continue to prove the power in the Black community’s spending power and the Muslim community’s spending power. While I can’t deny the progress, we still have a long way to go to get more diverse people on the front page of magazines and leading in large on screen roles.



What other businesses are doing really innovative things and providing great tools for small business owners?

Localeur is a black owned business that is doing great things with its platform by simply leading by example. Localeur is an app that allows people to travel to amazing cities and experience the city like a local. Founder, Joah Spearman, has done a wonderful job doing talks to help share his knowledge on seeking investors and how to start an app-based, web-based business.

Another platform that does a wonderful job of speaking to the needs of all communities and developing business owners is Create & Cultivate. Jaclyn Johnson is the CEO and Founder of this amazing platform that seeks to allow women to cultivate the dreams of their life. Her platform is about women empowerment and offers tools to help women in business or women seeking to excel in the workforce.

What’s your advice for creatives and entrepreneurs?

Before you embark into business, sit down and really evaluate why you feel strongly about starting the journey into entrepreneurship. You’ve got to have a deep-rooted strong why because your why is what is going to get you up on the low days of building a business.