As the four creative minds behind Retrospect gather in Los Angeles in preparation of their official launch, they bop and talk over music, eat Mexican food out of bowls, and compliment each other’s photo shoot ensembles - “OK, I see you.” The soundtrack is a mix of Black artists from British Ghanaian producer JULS to Nigerian American singer Wurld, and the backdrop is a perfectly-clear June afternoon. The vibe is warm to the point of feeling familial, which makes co-founder Chijioke Amah’s observation surprising - “This is actually the first time all four of us are together in the same space.”
The origin story of creative studio Retrospect is one that could only take place in 2020. A shared vision and commitment to historically underserved audiences and consumers are the glue that has bonded co-founders Quinnton Harris, Joy Ekuta, Ajene Green, and Amah — but it was the lows of an unprecedented year that first brought them together. Feeling disconnected and deflated amidst a pandemic and the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others, Retrospect’s co-founders, along with several other Black artists and tech professionals held a virtual meet-up. That pivotal evening of fellowship led to the formation of the Hella Creative collective, a leading voice in the movement that culminated in the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Black-owned | Creative services | Digital product design
24 JUNE 2021
Born out of pandemic isolation and a desire to amplify Black joy, experimental studio Retrospect brought together four professionals from diverse backgrounds who want to change the way brands communicate with consumers
“People first. Relationships are the thing that matters most. When I leave this earth, I want to know that I impacted people's lives”
Retrospect co-founders reflect on what brought them together and their collective aspirations for the future
“Juneteenth became the perfect opportunity for us to get connected and find a different way to have a conversation about joy and liberation,” explains Harris of Hella Creative’s early meetings just weeks before the holiday. A Chicago native who is a descendant of enslaved Black Americans, Harris says that, like so many Americans, he wasn’t taught about the Juneteenth holiday in school and didn’t learn about its history until he was an adult. “We looked at each other like, ‘We’re gonna take this time off and we’re going to figure out how to celebrate with ourselves, but we also gotta figure out a way to help other people celebrate with us.’”
The group started the #HellaJuneteenth hashtag, calling on companies to recognize the holiday and built a website with information on the history and significance of Juneteenth. #HellaJuneteenth quickly amassed commitments from more than 635 companies like Twitter, Ogilvy, VSCO and Spotify to recognize the holiday. Riding the high of that successful initiative, Amah, Ekuta, Green and Harris conceived Retrospect.
“Juneteenth should be the official, original, and the only liberation and freedom festival in the United States”
From the initial social post to an endorsement from the CEO of Twitter and Square, the #hellajuneteenth campaign generated over 235M+ impressions and activated over 635+ companies to publicly commit to observing the holiday.
Quinnton J. Harris, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer
“My biggest guiding principle is just being vulnerable and being open.”
Retrospect represents a range of perspectives across the Black Diaspora. “Black people are not a monolith,” says Ekuta, a graduate of MIT, where she and Harris formed a lasting friendship that established the foundation for their creative and professional partnership. “It's important to get the different perspectives across the Diaspora - across intersectional identities within Black people and also within other groups.”
A three-time founder with a background in brain and cognitive sciences, Ekuta previously founded Hostowambe, a platform connecting users to event planners and ImpactLabs, an engineering workshop for high school and university students in Nigeria. Her own background is a study in intersectional identities - born in Nigeria, Ekuta moved to the U.S. with her family as a toddler and spent her childhood in Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. “I definitely didn't fit in,” she says of her childhood. “When I was at home, I was in Nigeria. I was learning to cook Nigerian food… everything was Nigeria. And then as soon as I went to school, like, it was a whole different world, it was the States.”
Harris learned from watching other Black CEOs that authenticity is key.
Green, the former head of Walker & Company’s retail division and current Senior Director of Brand and Product Marketing at Industrious, was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to the United States to attend Columbia University. He has one word to sum up the commonalities he sees across the diaspora — “seasoning,” he says with a chuckle. “But in all seriousness… we always bring a little bit of spice and flavor, not only to our foods, but to everything that we do. Black people always find a way to celebrate and have fun, despite our challenges and despite our struggles.”
Green on his Jamaican roots and the legacy of entrepreneurship in his family.
For Harris, whose career thus far has been spent leading creative teams at Walker & Company, Digitas, and Retrospect investor Publicis Groupe, getting comfy in the big chair didn’t exactly come naturally. “Being CEO was never in the blueprint for me,” he says. “It was kind of strange and a little bit of an honor for my peers to tell me that this was actually the thing that I needed to do - that I had the vision and the ability to get people together,” he says. “I’m learning a lot about myself.”
Retrospect is a Black-owned studio founded with a mission to create culturally nuanced products and experiences. The team provides a variety of creative services including brand strategy, user experience design and creative direction. Setting themselves apart from the competition, they’ve also identified three key areas that will be the cornerstone of their business: Experiential Partnerships - connecting iconic companies with emerging ones for new brand experiences; Industry and Category Transformation - creating fresh, counter-intuitive business solutions and products for established brands; and Product Innovation - crafting end-to-end digital experiences to best position early stage brands.
Joy Ekuta, Co-Founder & Head of Operations
“In your work, know who you are and what you stand for - say yes to what you stand for, and be willing to say no.”
With a focus on community, Ekuta's driven by a desire to make a difference in the lives of others.
Ajene Green , Co-Founder & Head of Sales & Marketing
Reflecting on being a Black millennial founder, Green notes the massive debt owed to previous generations, “Black millennials, of course, we have our own kind of je ne sais quoi - there are elements that make us special. But I will also say that we're standing on the shoulders of giants.” Green’s own father blazed a trail for creative Black entrepreneurs everywhere as a cofounder of Reggae Sunsplash, a groundbreaking music festival that began in Jamaica over forty years ago. “There were so many people before us who led the way, and created an environment for us to actually go out and pursue these types of endeavors - entrepreneurship, starting businesses.”
Amah’s road to co-founder was a winding one. A Los Angeles native with a passion for photography and storytelling, Amah studied film at San Francisco State University before embarking on a career in financial accounting, then pivoted to design five years ago. Last year, when he connected with his Retrospect co-founders via Hella Creative, he was fresh off a stint leading design for internal marketing tools at PayPal after previously working in finance at Dropbox, and customer success at Intuit. “It was a beautiful mess,” he says of the journey that led him here.Today he mentors design students who are mid-career changers. “I hope to be an inspiration to people who are scared to take that jump,” says Amah, who calls leaving a less-than-fulfilling career in pursuit of a dream, “the best decision I ever made in my life.”
“There is a responsibility to ensure that we're continuing to protect the culture — to protect each other.”
“The guiding principle for me is being intentional about everything that I do - life, relationships, experiences. If I’m not doing that, then, what am I doing?”
Chijioke Amah , Co-Founder & Head of Design & Tech
For Amah, home is both Los Angeles and Igboland.
A first generation Nigerian American, Amah says he has felt the interconnectedness of Black folks everywhere in his travels. “When I go to different parts of the world, they feel like home like California feels like home. When I go to Southeast Nigeria - Igboland, that feels like home as well - that is home. If I go to Senegal, if I’m in London, it doesn’t matter there’s a familial aspect to us, something that’s similar. No matter where I am, when we see each other, there’s something innate in us that makes us acknowledge each other.”
This June afternoon may be the first time Retrospect’s founders are together face to face, but after 16 months of being isolated from everyone including each other, they’ll soon be working together in New York City as Ekuta and Harris, who are based in the Bay Area, and Amah who is in Los Angeles make their way east, joining Green who already resides in Harlem.
Three common themes emerge when talking with the Retrospect team about their individual and collective journeys --- connection, intention, legacy. With the latter two firmly established, Retrospect is focused on building their legacy. Legacy, Green says, “is honoring the past to build better futures.” Here’s to looking ahead.
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