Although burlesque may seem like unexpected vehicle for making a statement on social issues, Earlecia Richelle believes the art of dance is an empowering way to convey powerful, unexpected messages to an audience.
“I like unconventional ways to tell a story,” says Richelle, the Beverage Director and Cultural Curator at NYLO Hotel in NYC. “For me, it’s not through writing a book or an essay. Instead, I want to tell stories through bartending and through the art of burlesque. I like taking these issues that have a lot of depth to them and apply them to arenas that are very social. You go to burlesque show, you think you are seeing skin, and that it will be sexy. You’re not thinking you're going to get a history lesson. You think you are just going to have a good time.”
Richelle, who began her career in editorial, said she always knew she wanted to work in New York City in the creative arts. In her third year at college, she moved to Manhattan to pursue a career in magazines.
Earlecia's Solange & Sage Cocktail Recipe
1.5 oz Ketel One
.75 oz Sage Simple Syrup (1:1)
.25 oz Suze
.50 oz Lemon Juice
2 Whole Blackberries
1-2 drops Preserved Lemon Brine
Muddle blackberries in a cocktail shaker. Add the rest of the contents and shake with pellet ice. Dump contents in rocks glass. Top with pellet ice. Garnish with a burnt sage leaf and edible gold glitter.
Once in the city, Richelle got an internship at Essence Magazine, despite no longer being a full time student (a no-no at the time). According to Richelle, she kept up the clever ruse so that she could eventually follow her dreams of storytelling through unique mediums.
They kept asking me for my papers and I kept saying ‘I’ll get them,’” laughs Richelle. “I just stretched it out until I couldn’t anymore and then I made an excuse why I had to leave.”
Thanks to her shifty maneuver, Richelle says her internship helped open many doors for her. Richelle next went on to work at Sephora, where she worked in the beauty editing department, helping them build out their blog. From there, she began an editing role at Henri Bendel, and while she enjoyed experiencing the New York City world of beauty and fashion, Richelle felt something was missing.
“What I really wanted to be was a stylist and an editor and I wasn't having that much success in the magazine side,” said Richelle, who soon joined forces with an accessories designer, becoming a stylist assistant. “I was styling music videos and editorial shoots. I was still in and out of school trying to finish my degree, but I had all this passion [that had still been untapped]."
After attempting to launch her own online magazine, while concurrently moonlighting as as a cocktail waitress, Richelle said she was feeling a lack of creativity. She decided to
"check out a burlesque show" called Brown Girls Burlesque, and suddenly, Richelle says the world opened up for her.
“When I tell you it was a moment that changed my life, it was” says Richelle, who is of Panamanian and African descent. “I was like ‘Yes! I can finally tell the stories I have been trying to tell through burlesque. This is totally the platform. Looking back I understand that I’m very much a storyteller of my ancestor’s stories; that is who I am. I wanted to tell stories of people who looked like me; I wanted to talk about the things that represented me and where I came from, which being told in mainstream media. Women of color are so fly and our culture is so rich , why don’t I see that [reflected in the media]?. I didn't understand it."
These days Richelle is focused on telling stories that have to do with relevant issues including race, culture, and even global warming through burlesque and mixology. In one of Richelle's burlesque acts called Toxic Bee (which is danced to Britney Spears’ Toxic), she plays a bee in love with a sunflower. In the skit, eventually the love, like climate change, poisons the dance, culminating in a dramatic fashion.
“In other countries, say, Latin American cultures, daughters are raised to be accepting of their female forms, says Richelle, making the point that by embracing Burlesque, she is able to rise against the American tendency to have self hate. "They dance, they own their body, and they learn that from a young age. For me burlesque takes me to that original place if I had been born in Panama or Africa, and I had felt very disengaged from that.”
In her newest role at NYLO, Richelle is still telling stories. Now, a maestro of mixology, the outspoken beauty spends her time creating meaningful cocktails like Strange Fruit, meant as a a reflection in America's gruesome relationship with the hanging tree; Roses and Ash, a smokey rose sour inspired by Van Gough's painting Roses which he created right before leaving the Saint-Remy asylum; and Viva La Loba- playing homage to my most adored book, "Women Who Run with the Wolves"
“I want to continue creating high concept cocktails that create a craft cocktail experience fused with culture and unique engagement,” says Richelle.
The Quick 10
1.What app do you most use?
2.What's the first thing you do in the morning?
Check my emails.
3.Name a business mogul you admire.
Dita Von Teese.
4.What product do you wish you had invented?
5.What is your spirit animal?
6.What is your life motto?
Keep creating, no matter what.. "you can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." Maya Angelou
7.Name your favorite work day snack.
I forget to eat most days at work.
8.What's something that's always in your bag?
Lipstick, wine key, and business cards.
9.What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?
Lesotho, southern Africa.
10.Desert Island. Three things, go.
Gin & tonic, avocados, and some kind of hat.
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!