The Shaping the Arts series highlights TCU College of Fine Arts faculty and alumni who are at the forefront of their fields and who Lead On, Creatively.
“If you want to become an entrepreneur, I strongly advise you to always be a student,” said Fashion Merchandising alumna Ajiri Aki ’02.
The New York Times bestselling author and entrepreneur will visit campus Tuesday, April 25, at 5 p.m. in Moudy North for a book signing and discussion of “Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life.” We spoke with Aki about launching her successful lifestyle brand in Paris and the story behind her new book.
Finding the Joie de Vivre
Aki moved to New York City after graduating from TCU. She pursued a career as a stylist and worked on fashion exhibitions for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of the City of New York. Being far from loved ones, she found gatherings essential to cultivate meaningful and fruitful relationships.
“There is no better way than fellowship with others to connect, and there is joy in that,” said Aki.
Aki turned her passion for sharing moments into “Madame de la Maison,” an online boutique of hand-selected French antiques and linens to create memorable gatherings around the table. The lifestyle brand encourages others to find their “joie de vivre” (joy of life). The brand has been featured in notable publications, including The New York Times, Studio McGee and Ebony Magazine.
“I hope the lasting impression of ‘Madame de la Maison’ is not only a brand that elevates moments of joy but showcases how women of color can excel in design and inspire as tastemakers,” Aki said.
Aki has always had a keen interest in fashion and design. From an early age, she sought opportunities to learn from industry professionals and quickly grew a collection of fashion and lifestyle magazines. While reading the publications, Aki noticed women of color needed to be represented in the pages.
“Seeing no one who looked like me made it difficult to imagine pursuing the career I have now,” Aki said.
Aki founded “Madame de la Maison” to facilitate moments of joy and encourage others to pursue their passion. She hopes this will help create an inclusive environment where every voice is accepted.
“Seeing someone else in a particular space can serve as a reminder and an inspiration to also fill that space,” Aki said.
Launch of New Lifestyle Book
Aki previously collaborated with Stacey Caldwell ’02 on “Where’s Karl: A Fashion-Forward Parody,” with the book generating worldwide buzz and earning a spot on the New York Times bestseller list.
The inspiration for her upcoming book came from missing the joie de vivre during the pandemic. The book shares her stories and observations from growing up in a Nigerian-American family in Texas to spending the last 10 years in Paris, France.
“My desire to write a book was an extension of sharing my brand message, my work and the valuable lessons I learned from living in Paris,” Aki said.
She partnered with Leigh Eisenman, an agent and fellow Fort Worthian, to create a proposal and develop the book. “Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life” will be published with Clarkson Potter in April.
A Deep Dive with Aki
What advice would you give to Fashion Merchandising students?
Aki: Learn another language, cultivate friendships outside your usual circle of friends, study abroad, attend sporting events and get involved with community activities or events in Fort Worth. Truly soak up and enjoy your experience as a student while obtaining the skills and tools for your next phase of life after TCU.
Why did you choose to attend TCU?
Aki: I wanted to run as fast as I could to New York City after high school. After touring the TCU campus, I was not quite ready to be so far from home. TCU encouraged me to evolve from a high schooler into a university student. I became a Horned Frog and still smile today when I think about it.
What advice would you give to students who want to become an entrepreneur?
Aki: Internships are essential. Always be ready to say yes and observe how things work as an intern. Take additional online master classes, sign up for workshops, attend lectures and join groups.
Who most impacted your TCU experience and why?
Aki: Sally Fortenberry, Ph.D., is the most important person I met at TCU and in my life. I would have never graduated with honors or had such a rich experience without her.
Fortenberry served as my assigned advisor mid-way through my first year when I wanted to drop out and head home. She did not accept my decision and actively listened to my concerns. Fortenberry encouraged and reminded me of ways to maximize my experience at TCU, like studying abroad, becoming an RA and joining an academic sorority.
Fortenberry was the best advisor and always cared for her students’ personal and academic life. To this day, she checks in to see how I am doing, just like when I was a student.