How Sisters and Business Partners Tiffany and Amber Davis Keep Each Other in Check
September 20, 2019 | Filed in: Woman of the Week
Tiffany and Amber Davis could give a masterclass on how to ride the waves of a career and ultimately chart your own course. Growing up in an Atlanta suburb, they both loved storytelling and hoped it would translate into a viable profession. It has—but not in the ways they expected. Tiffany’s path led from journalism to marketing and brand strategy, while Amber has worked in fashion, interior design, and event planning. Eventually, they found their way back to each other, launching the creative marketing studio Context & Co. Below, we chatted with them about sisterhood, mentorship, and why they fiercely guard their lunch hours.
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Amber: I WAS BASICALLY TIFFANY’S SHADOW when we were growing up. She’s five years older, so I copied everything she did, everything she wore, everything she listened to. Even as we got older, we both went to Georgia State and studied journalism.
Tiffany: BEING THE BIG SISTER MEANS that whatever you’re doing, your sister will want to do, too. It’s just built in. My friends and I spent a lot of time writing down the lyrics of CDs—don’t ask me why. Mariah Carey always had the best lyrics. She used big words with multiple syllables, and it all felt very poetic. We also did a lot of reading. Our dad was passionate about education and learning, and he always took us to the library.
Amber: I REMEMBER THINKING, “THIS IS OUR TREAT!”—going to the library on Saturday. I think that’s part of why we both ended up wanting to write for a living. We’ve always loved storytelling.
Tiffany: I THOUGHT I WANTED TO BE A PRINT JOURNALIST, but by the time I graduated, that was not where the industry was going. Blogging and newsletters were emerging though, and an editor I knew told me, “This thing called DailyCandy is launching in Atlanta, and I think you should meet the team.” I ended up getting that job and running the Atlanta edition of DailyCandy for four years, but then it got acquired, and my role was downsized to a part-time job. It was super humbling to go from a cushy job with full benefits to a freelance job that was not paying my bills in any way, shape, or form. But it helped me develop an important mindset: As a writer, my identity can’t be defined by what I happen to be doing at any one time. The path will take me where it takes me. Sometimes that might be a cushy job, and sometimes I might be writing for peanuts. But if I like what I’m doing, then I’m in the right place.
Amber: I WAS ALWAYS TYPE-A in the sense that I wanted to know exactly what my path was, what steps I had to take to get to X, Y, and Z. Early in my career, I would tell Tiff all the time, “I’m learning these random things at work, and they don’t fit together!” I felt like I had to follow a linear path to be successful, but looking back, I realize it’s okay to have career detours that don’t make immediate sense. In fact, those random phases when I worried I was falling behind have come full circle and made me more well-rounded.
Amber: NOW THAT WE WORK TOGETHER, WE VALUE BEING ABLE TO CREATE A NON-TRADITIONAL BALANCE in our work lives, especially when things get really hectic. By no means have we figured out the science, but it’s something that we continually strive for. It’s so nice to work with someone who has your back and who respects your boundaries around downtime—whether it be a nap, a Pilates class, or just taking a break from your devices.
Tiffany: WE HOLD EACH OTHER ACCOUNTABLE for creating that balance. We’ll look at our calendars and say, “We need to respect our lunch hours.” It can slide around, but if there’s not room in the day for each of us to refuel, something is out of balance. That is a metric of success for us. And we help each other, like “Okay, girl. You said that you were going to work out this week. When are we going to make it happen? We said that we would do something that was purely inspirational without screens in front of us. When it that happening?” To us, that stuff is just as important as signing a new client.
Tiffany: WE CAME UP WITH A VENN DIAGRAM for how we weigh opportunities and decide whether to take on new business. There are three circles. One of them is compensation. Does it pay what we know we deserve? The second is: Does this give us an opportunity to do something that we stand for and believe in? That could mean a cause, or it could mean helping someone who has a great idea but might not have the budget or resources to get it off the ground. And then the third one is: Is it something we’d want to show off in our portfolio? Because the work that you show off leads to more work of that nature. We don’t take on projects unless they hit at least two of the three circles.
Amber: MENTORSHIP IS SO IMPORTANT AT EVERY AGE AND STAGE. Whether it’s someone on the job or just within your personal circle, having a trusted source for questions big and small is something that we all benefit from. The key to this relationship—on both sides—is honesty and transparency. For me, mentorship has looked like new collaborators that come out of past jobs, like-minded ladies via volunteer and networking groups, and even new contacts at my coworking space. The trade of ideas and advice is less formal as I get older, but still feels like an invaluable part of my journey.
Tiffany: THERE’S NO “ONE MENTOR” FOR EVERYTHING. Nobody has figured out how your best life should work—you’ll be lucky if you do! I’ve found the best mentoring comes from people willing to show their cards and remind me not to count myself out. For me, that’s been a super-connected former editor who helped me vet job offers and took me as a plus-one to a cool industry event when I relocated from Atlanta to NYC. Or a boss who fought hard to recruit me, but was understanding when I told her that I wanted a bigger—and more sustainable—role, and would need to find it elsewhere. Or authors Tiffany Dufu and Dani McLain, who I’ve never met in person, but whose books have changed my outlook on being a partner and modern mom. The list goes on…
Tiffany: I USED TO BE A VERY ECLECTIC DRESSER. I would treat clothes as costumes and be like, “Today, I’m going to be a flamenco dancer, and tomorrow, I’m going to be a ninja.” I’m much more streamlined in my wardrobe now. It used to be fun to spend 30 minutes experimenting with outfits, but now, I’m much more inspired by the things I do after I’m dressed. I want to look and feel good, but it’s not about identity-finding for me anymore. Now, I’m a jumpsuit person. I’m a friend of all jumpsuits.
Amber: WHEN I WORKED IN FASHION, I felt like I had to constantly change up my look. But now I realize the beauty in uniform dressing—in knowing the shapes that you really like on your body. When it comes to style, our mom is a huge influence. She never spent a huge amount of time getting dressed, but she always looked really polished and put together. When I look back at old pictures, I think, “She was just so cool.”
Tiffany: OUR MOM IS A NURSE, AND I LOVE THAT SHE’LL WEAR a string of pearls around her neck—with full scrubs on. She’s always had this low-key glam and has taken pride in the way we present ourselves. She taught us to take care of the items we had: to polish our shoes, to keep them nice. She would use an iron to make pleats in things that did not have pleats. She didn’t care about labels, but she cared about quality, and she’s still that way. She’s just a super-cool, chic little mom.
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Photographs by Matthew Priestly. Styling by Chris Walsh.