As a publicist and founder of an all-women’s collective, Talya Lee Macedo is all about making connections with people. And after speaking to her for about an hour — a conversation filled with laughter, honesty, and inspiring anecdotes — I got a pretty good sense of her people-person warmth. The 32-year-old, Toronto-based brand strategist is passionate about all things creative, stylish, and artistic, and since November, she has been working as a publicist at NATIONAL PR with leading prestige beauty brands.
A few years ago, in response to workplace gender inequality that she and her friends had experienced, she launched HER Collective. Since its 2014 beginning, HER Collective has been offering women a safe space for collaboration, mentorship, and support, as well as giving women a platform to tell their story. Here, we chat with Macedo about work with HER Collective, her personal style and beauty regimen, feminism, and her advice for young women. Head’s up: this one’s a long read, but it’s well worth your time — we promise.
What is HER Collective all about?
It is a collective for women. It has definitely evolved — it sort of started out as our collective portfolio. We’re all creatives and entrepreneurs willing to do stuff. This was three years ago. Then we all got hired and got older and hit our thirties and we were like, “well, we don’t really need this to advertise our capabilities anymore,” so now it’s become more of a community hub.
What we do for all of the collectives that we can is: A, bridge the gap in between collectives, connect everyone, and remove any idea of competition; and B, to support [them] with our skill sets. It’s been this thing that’s entirely informal. It’s not even registered as a not-for-profit. I was the common denominator and pulled in all of my incredible friends who were sort of thinking in the same capacity as I was, observing the way the world is right now socio-politically and kind of thinking about what we can do. But not just between us for support, but also for others.
I love what you said about how it’s collaborative and about helping one another rather than being competitive. I think that’s so important for women.
Yeah! And it’s already assumed we’re going to be competitive with each other. I’m actually not a competitive person, which is hilarious, because I did competitive dance growing up. But I’m not naturally competitive. I don’t really think there’s any point in bringing any sort of negativity because it’s hard enough for women across the spectrum, so we might as well make it a little easier. We’ve also made it a point to really speak to the intersectionality. We’re a very diverse group and we do have quite a bit of focus on what the women of colour around us are doing, what queer women are doing, and non-binary people. So we are trying to listen and learn and to try to provide a bit of a platform. We do have a blog and we do let anyone that wants to contribute, as long as it sort of fits the message.
So what inspired you to start HER Collective?
[Laughing] Honestly, I get asked this and it’s always the same answer… I would love to say that it came from a place of just like wanting to help women. And it absolutely did, but I think it initially came from a place of anger. I was just really tired of being forced into spaces with men where they would just take all my work and take all of the credit. And I really noticed that that was a common denominator for all of us.
We thought: we are directing great projects and men are literally just taking credit or belittling our contribution. So I really wanted a place where we could be like, “Hey, we all did all of it and we’re going to talk about it and talk about each other.” So it was kind of born out of that, but my focus is always, always, always — since I was a teenager and I was teaching dance, I have always been very focused on supporting young women in any capacity that I can.
How did you first start getting into feminism and wanting to empower women?
You know what, I think that I noticed a lot of my peers’ struggles in a different way from a different lens. I feel like feminism has become so much more trendy than it used to be and the conversation has changed drastically from five years ago. Five years ago, it wasn’t cool to say you were a feminist. Now, it’s cool to say it. And even like two years ago, diversity wasn’t hot and now diversity is everything. So I can’t really pinpoint a specific point.
But I would say that I’ve had and continue to have a lot of learning to do around the subject of feminism, specifically intersectional feminism. I would say becoming friends with a lot more marginalized folks and recognizing what their day-to-day struggles looked like and that it went so much further — it went beyond just that women don’t get paid as much or that women get passed up for opportunities. It ended up being so much more than that and that’s when I realized that I have a voice that actually speaks to a particular experience and I can probably support this.
But I do have feminist role models, obviously. I love [writer/professor] Roxane Gay. She’s so important. She’s everything. And obviously, Beyoncé. I think that Rihanna is an extremely important feminist of our time in so many ways. I have feminist idols all over. I also think like the cliché answer, but the truth is my mother and grandmother and auntie, recognizing that their feminism doesn’t look like being loud and bold but also it’s just surviving.
I feel like a lot of people have different definitions of feminism. What exactly does it mean to you?
To me, it just means prioritizing women in every capacity. And I mean all women. Women across the spectrum: women of colour, queer women, and trans women. Like recognizing that the word “woman” means so many things and that everybody that falls under the umbrella of the term “woman” deserves a voice and deserves to be heard and deserves opportunities.
What has been the response to Her Collective so far?
Since we relaunched — we relaunched a year ago with our new members and our new blog — we’ve had such a positive, good response. And not only from other all-women’s collectives. We’ve had positive responses from men who are trying to learn, we’ve had positive responses from press… I think our format is something that people are really looking for, because it doesn’t really fall under any kind of…like we’re not official, I guess. We don’t have a space and we don’t have a membership program. We’re literally just in our community, very grassroots. So I think the response has been very positive because we come across as approachable and real.
So if someone wanted to join the community or get involved, how would they go about it?There are so many different ways. I mean the thing about it is that the point of it is so we can learn and support, right? So there’s no like official application or anything like that. If we get an email from someone that’s got a project going on that they would love our support on for the website, and it fits the message, we’ll do it. There’s no charge or anything like that. We’re self-funded to be honest. I just pay out of my pocket for it. So if someone wants to contribute — especially if someone wants to contribute something that’s a little bit radical, we’re often very open to it.
We have an ongoing series that is called Diary of a Polyamorous Black Girl. It’s by this amazing writer in Toronto, Alicia Bunyan-Sampson. We were so floored by the response. None of us had ever thought of polyamory, and none of us had thought about it from the perspective of a black woman. So it was really just so powerful and those are the kinds of things that we write. We all work full-time jobs, so we do the best we can, but it’s really just outreach.
What have you have learned from your experience with HER Collective so far?
Oh my goodness, I have learned so much about cultural nuance. Like, I’m a South Asian woman and I identify as queer and I’m in my thirties and I’ve been divorced — that’s a whole story in itself, and there are so many implications that come at me culturally. And getting to learn about other people’s experiences, whether it’s an experience through trauma or the workplace or relationships or friendships, whatever it is — living in a small town sometimes, if that’s what the experience is — getting to learn about that is really, really important. It has opened my mind.
I genuinely came from a place where I thought I knew everything like many of us do in our early twenties, and in the last few years, I’ve learned a whole other story. I would say one thing that I’ve learned an immense amount about, that I would love for more women to take time to learn about, is the experience that trans women go through in our country. It’s a very nuanced, particularly challenging experience for everybody around. I think if we can promote an understanding around it, we can actually do better for it.
What is your favourite part of your job in PR? What motivates or inspires you about it?
Connections. I love the connection. I just feel like — and I mean I work in the beauty and fashion segment mostly. I do a little bit in publishing right now, but working in beauty and fashion is just fun. It’s something where you don’t have to be pushy with people to talk about the products. I think that’s a challenge for me that I’m working on. But talking to people every day, talking about what makes us feel good, finding out people’s backgrounds or day-to-day commotions, and that kind of stuff.
Every time we have an event and there’s like 30 editors in the room and you know people flying in from the States or whatever, like getting to have that time to talk to them, and then also going out and getting to meet people in a more public realm is actually exciting to me. It’s funny that I feel that way, because I’m very much an extroverted introvert — like I need to go home and recharge and have quiet time, but I love having the day-to-day connections.
So as someone working in fashion and beauty, do you have any style icons?
Yes! Nobody asks this and I do! I already said Rihanna — she’s the ultimate. Rihanna has always been there. Prince. I also love any classic, really dope model-off-duty look. There’s just something about Joan Smalls, Naomi Campbell, or even Gigi Hadid. How they look on a day-to-day, the way that denim and basic tops look on them… It’s a thing. Just adding a little thing, buying things a little oversized, going to a lot of men’s departments, things like that. I love the model-off-duty look. I love Rihanna. Rihanna, I think I would literally do anything she does look-wise. Oh man, there’s so many. Really, a lot of the eighties style icons really — like I love how Madonna dressed in the eighties. Cher was a phenomenal influence in the seventies for me. A lot of the nineties R&B girls too.
How would you describe your personal style?
It is however I’m feeling that day. There will literally be a day where I’m in sneakers, jeans, and a T-shirt. Then the next day, I’m in all black leather with heels. And then after that, I’ll feel like [wearing something] oversized, shapeless…you know? It’s honestly my mood. I love to wear oversized T-shirts and balance as much femininity with traditional masculinity, however you want to describe it. I just like to play with those different elements. I would definitely say I’m almost always in a bright lip colour and my hair is usually pretty big. I think when you have those kinds of features, you tend to play them up.
Do you have any favourite designers, brands, or stores?
I do! I wear a lot of things designed by the design team I worked with, broken&living. I wear a lot of their stuff. As far as streetwear, I wear a lot of The Legends League… As far as day-to-day stuff, I’ll never knock Zara. You know, especially for the price-point, if you’re trying to claim a look, I think that there’s a lot to be said of places like Zara and Winners and things like that. I try not to overlook those spots. They’ve just done such a great job of adapting.
What’s your go-to beauty regime?
So it’s very simple on a day-to-day. I use the Tarte Rainforest of the Sea concealer. I use the Vita Liberata Trystal mineral makeup. There’s this 24/7 waterline eyeliner [from Urban Decay] that literally doesn’t come off. It’s so good. And for mascara, I literally use whatever is around. Then there’s Anastasia [Beverly Hills] eyebrows. I care about my eyebrows deeply. That’s the one thing I can’t go out the door without. As far as skincare, I try to use as much natural as possible, and I’ve been using the Josie Maran Argan Oil sunscreen all summer because it’s actually great. But I love just to use coconut oil on everything — just like raw coconut oil on my face, my nails, cuticles, feet, everything. I think it’s the best possible thing for your whole body.
Do you have a piece of career advice you’d like to pass on?
I would definitely say don’t underestimate the power of integrity. People are really hungry for an honest conversation, an honest answer, an honest deadline, an honest everything. I think that for me, I grew up in a home where integrity grew up a lot and I’ve been able to apply that outwards and I think that that will serve you so well. And there are moments where it could be really easy to compromise it and there’s a lot of temptation to compromise it, especially if you’re trying to take a shortcut. But I think that at the end of the day, honesty, integrity, and kindness actually can win. It’s what the world really wants and needs right now. On the other side of that, it’s also really important to do your research and be prepared and study people and you can’t expect people to be as kind as you are all the time. But I think that if you display it and make it part of your personal practice, the right people will gravitate towards you.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share or pass on to young women?
I guess I would say one thing, and this is a message that I would love for all young women to adapt to and take in: in this day in age, don’t be afraid to be political. It’s a lot and I really do think that shit doesn’t get done without women. Women get it all done. If we are able to get it all done and we are able to do it while upholding our values and ideologies and presenting them and communicating with each other and connecting with each other and being willing to listen, I think that we’re actually going to be so incredibly powerful in like 10 short years. What women can do is going to completely change, and there will come a time when men will have to accept it, and the rest of the world will have to accept it, and I think that if we’re able to talk about that and stand strong in our beliefs, like I said, and be political, it will be a very inspiring time.
Photos of Talya Lee Macedo by Cris Saliba; makeup by Christine Cho. This interview has been edited and condensed.