Colette Shelton needs little introduction, her blog and brand Cococozy has been an OG in the design industry, garnering a loyal following and plenty of accolades. Colette is a multi-hyphenate – lifestyle blogger, product designer, real estate flipper, and now, star of the new show “Cococozy Design House” on Amazon Prime.
She’s also a woman of color. In fact, being a friend of the magazine – check out her recently completed Spanish Colonial that she restored to its original glory – she brought to our attention ways that we could be more supportive to the BIPOC community. Calling us out on our shortcomings definitely inspired us to reevaluate our content, and considering the protests that are going on across the US, we wanted to sit down with her to listen to what she had to say on the matter and find out more about how she arrived at the success that she has today.
In light of the protests going on all over the country, we wanted to discuss the presence of BIPOC in the industry. Even in design, there seems to be a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on the topic and what do you think can be done better?
Nine years ago, the CEO of a prominent furniture line with showrooms at High Point Market, emailed me saying they wanted to do a furniture line; he said he loved my blog and style and wanted to offer a licensing deal to create a co-branded furniture collection. We made plans via email to meet at the trade show and discuss the potential partnership. When I got to the showroom at our scheduled time, I asked to see him. However, when he turned around and saw me, I could see that he was shocked. It was clear he did not know that I was an African-American woman before seeing me in person.
At that point, I waited for half an hour, and then he came over to me sweating and said he didn’t have the time to talk and that he would follow up with me at some other point. He never followed up.
This story is not isolated. Design also has a systemic problem with race and the black community. As far as media coverage, white designers get the most coverage. As far as brand partnerships, white content creators and white influencers are offered the most lucrative partnerships. As far as license deals, white designers are offered pretty much all but a few. As far as senior-level executives at the major furniture brands, there are barely any people of color.
All this to say, we have to change. Diverse voices bring different perspectives and different audiences to the conversation. If we don’t show people what diversity looks and feels like, it leads to the dehumanization of an entire race of people which then leads to the situations that we have seen covered on the news.
I love the design industry. It would be awesome if there were significant changes. I do appreciate Rue’s efforts at this time in highlighting diverse designers, but I hope in the future that diverse voices are incorporated naturally on a daily basis, all year, every year.
Absolutely, we realize that inadvertently we’ve been contributing to the problem by not featuring enough black designers. Our team has been evaluating how we can be more inclusive and supportive of the BIPOC community and talent. Speaking of talent… For years, you worked as an executive during the day and a celebrated lifestyle blogger by night. What about the world of interiors made you fall in love with it?
Ultimately, I am a storyteller. I have been a television news reporter, a producer and then I was a network television creative executive. Throughout my career, I had used video and words to tell great compelling stories. About 14 years ago, I left the creative side of my corporate job and shifted to marketing/sales – which was a little more technical and less creative than my prior work. At home, however, I was engaged in a major renovation of my tiny little cottage in the Hollywood Hills. I found that creating a space was like producing a show or story. I enjoyed the process of building a visual story. The blog allowed me to use words and the visuals of interior spaces to dream, to inspire others, and to tell my personal story of stepping out of my comfort zone into a totally different world of interior design.
It has been wonderful to follow along. At what point did you decide to dedicate 100% of your time to Cococozy?
At the beginning of 2019, I left my big corporate job to work on my brand full time. Part of the reason, I left my corporate job was that I felt that I had hit a glass ceiling as a woman of color. I worked extra hard with exceptional performance, yet I found that I was not getting promoted like other colleagues. I decided that it was time for me to embark on a new adventure and bet on myself.
That takes a lot of guts but it seems to have been the right bet. Besides running a lifestyle publication, you have your own product line. What inspired you to dive into the world of product design?
I love designing products and textiles. I had never had any formal training in design that way but I just did it and it worked out. I currently have a rug collection with Capel Rugs. This spring we were supposed to launch a new rug collection at High Point Market. I created a collection of exciting new designs that speak to empowerment and beauty. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we are on pause!
Clearly you had more creativity to share with the world because you are also now flipping homes. Has it been a rewarding process for you?
I really enjoyed the house flipping process. Again, through design and remodeling, you get to take an existing house and tell a whole new story. Finishing my first big remodel project last year was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.
Tell us about one of your worst renovation nightmares and how did you fix the situation?
OMG. Wow. Which one. There are so many. How about when we found out our first contractor had done almost everything wrong after we sealed up the walls and laid tiles. We had to call in a new contractor, tear everything out, and start over. One thing I learned is that if you are doing a gut renovation and working with a new contractor, it might be worth your while to pay a separate inspector to double-check their work. We had been approved by the city for all of our permitted work but it turned out our contractor had just made things look right but they were not at all done right! I also learned that when you think something is not looking quite right, trust your instincts!
You have such a knack for taking tired, run-down spaces and transforming them to their greatest potential. So much so, that now you have your own TV show on Amazon Prime: “Cococozy Design House”. How was it filming the show?
The idea was to produce a beautiful and serious before-and-after series about the remodel and design process of a wonderful 1929 Spanish Colonial Revival home in View Park, CA. Well, what ensued was mostly comedy, part drama, with a big wow factor reveal. I really wanted to extend an opportunity to diverse behind-the-scenes talent, so I worked with Ragland Reign Productions which is a black-owned production company on this. All of the above the line producers and directors were black as well. These are talented people who have not had the doors opened for them as others have in Hollywood. I also must give a shout out to Director DeWaun Ragland, Producer Tiara Parker-Ragland, and Co-Producer Jason Edmonds.
Some of the footage is a little embarrassing as I didn’t realize I was a comedienne as well! My mentor, a successful Los Angeles developer, Steve Jones of bettershelter was my on-camera nemesis but behind the scenes really helped guide me through the process.
Is there anything interesting that happened that didn’t make the final cut?
There was a lot of footage that ended up on the cutting room floor since the series is 16 episodes that run 5-8 minutes each. The fact that we had to change contractors was such a complicated story that ended up on the cutting room floor!
Through your creativity and grit, you have garnered a loyal and diverse following and have achieved immense success. What are some of the important lessons that you’ve learned along the way that have helped you arrive at where you are today?
Two things: firstly, find your voice…then own it. Each time I have really trusted my instincts and listened to my inner voice, I have succeeded. And secondly, be fearless. It sounds cliché but each time I have put aside my fears and presumed that I am going to “win” I do. The win may not look like how I had exactly planned but I found that leading with fear will never get you where you want to go in business, personal life, love, and relationships.
So you’ve ticked many career boxes (successful lifestyle publication, product line, TV show…) what’s on your radar for the near future?
I am also currently working on a new project that melds everything I have done – business, design, blogging and more. Later this year, I am launching a new platform that empowers everyday people to monetize their style. It is called Chirpyest! Stay tuned…more to come on that later this year!!