Life Beyond Reed.

Anaka Narayanan '04 & Angie Wang '08.

June 1, 2015

Our recurring series explores how the liberal arts shape the careers of Reed grads

Anaka Narayanan '04

Founder, Brass Tacks Clothing, Chennai, India

After earning her degree in economics, Anaka took a job at a consulting firm in Manhattan, but her heart wasn’t in the work. She returned to Chennai, moved in with her parents, set about learning the fashion business, and launched Brass Tacks, a line of women’s clothing with two dozen employees. She oversees every facet of the business, from designing the clothes to writing copy for her website. “I care about every detail,” she says. “But I also want to grow the business, so I’ve learned not to micromanage as much.”

Thesis: Does Civic Participation Affect School Quality? Adviser: Prof. Denise Hare [economics]

Why fashion? I was really drawn to tailored silhouettes I would see women wearing when I lived in New York, but I missed the beautiful textiles from home. When I went back to visit Chennai, I would see these gorgeous fabrics but the silhouettes were so boxy—like pillowcases with holes cut out for the head and arms. I kept wondering, "Why isn’t anyone using traditional textiles to make more modern styles?"And my mother said to me, "Stop complaining and do it yourself."

Did you have any fashion experience when you got into the business? As a kid I would go into my mother’s closet just to play with her saris—the smell of the cotton, the textures, the colors. I was surrounded by fashion, but I never studied how the garments were made or how to run a business.

So where did you start? I did a lot of R&D in the beginning, and I definitely attribute that approach to Reed. At one point I measured 100 women—family, friends, friends of friends—and realized the bust-to-hip ratio was completely different for Indian women than U.S. or European women. So I made my own size chart.

What’s your take on fashion at Reed? Functional. Reedies look down on fashion. Actually caring about the way you look? Please. 

How did Reed shape your approach to running a business? I like to go in-depth when it comes to getting something done or thinking about an idea. That's something I got from Reed. I also have an ability to apply skills to a variety of scenarios, and I'm open to learning new skills that are outside my “core strengths.” Handling the marketing, the PR, writing out my press kits . . . I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that well if it weren’t for Reed. 

What’s your toughest challenge as an entrepreneur? In the beginning I wanted to have a say in absolutely everything. But in order to grow the business, I can’t spend my day at the workshop or the store surrounded by employees asking me a million questions. I have to find balance. And I’m too impatient. I want to work on something today and see the result tomorrow.

Any advice for budding entrepreneurs? Running a business on your own can be incredibly isolating. You know starting out it’s going to be hard work, but no one tells you it can be lonely, too. So my advice would be to go into business with a partner or partners with clearly defined roles—divide and conquer.

Angie Wang '08

Cartoonist, Illustrator, Animator

Angie Wang is an in-demand cartoonist and editorial illustrator. Her day job is working for the animated series Steven Universe on the Cartoon Network in Los Angeles.

Born in Shanghai, Wang grew up in California, where she got hooked on Japanese manga and anime, still a major influence on her work, along with the Pre-Raphaelites and art nouveau.

After graduating from Reed, she decided to try making a living as an artist. One of her first jobs was an assignment for the New Yorker: “That’s when I realized I could make a living.”

Thesis: The Brave and the Boldface: A Study of Prosody in Comic Books. Adviser: Prof. Stephen Hibbard  [linguistics]

You majored in linguistics and never took an art class . . . Why? To be honest, I wanted to pick a major that wouldn’t make my parents mad, that would bridge humanities and the sciences. I really loved linguistics. As far as art goes, I’m 100% self-taught.

Was it a struggle to get started? I damaged my wrist typing my senior thesis. The only thing I could do to earn money was draw because it didn’t aggravate my injury. So I researched how to become an illustrator. I drew a massive amount, and I started making connections. It was hard, but I had faith that this path would pan out. I did some work for Dark Horse about a year after graduation. The New Yorker was a game changer.

How would you describe your style? That’s a complicated question. I have alter egos with very different styles. I’m often hired for jobs that require a certain elegance . . . I do a lot of dancers. Also work that carries some emotion, particularly melancholy or mystery. So elegant and moody.

Do you get artist’s block? Not too much. I have a complicated relationship with people who say they’re artists but they don’t draw, or say they’re a writer but don’t write. I believe the more you work at your art, the better you get.

Do you go to the big comics conventions? Oh, yeah. That’s how you network. I just cofounded a one-day festival for independent comics called Comic Arts LA. We’re making it an annual event . . . I’m really interested in encouraging the idea that the making of art is for everybody.

What’s the coolest thing to happen to you at a convention? At LA Zine Fest, I was at a table drawing a picture of a woman with really tall hair, and this guy came up and asked me, “Can I buy this from you?” I said he could just have it, but he said he should give me something in trade. So he started drawing Marge Simpson. I was like, “Who is this drawing me Simpsons fan art?” Then he signed it at the bottom: Matt Groening. 

Tags: Life Beyond Reed, Alumni, Business, Entrepreneurship, Innovation