Founder of A Vibe Called Tech, Charlene Prempeh joins us for the latest instalment of From The Desk Of...
Formed in 2018, A Vibe Called Tech (AVCT) is ‘a creative agency set up to explore the intersection of Black creativity, culture, and innovation’. With a background in marketing and consulting – working with a range of companies and brands, including the BBC, The Guardian, and Frieze – AVCT’s Founder, Charlene Prempeh is a dab hand at storytelling. These days, Prempeh’s time is split between running AVCT, writing about Black innovators, design, travel, and culture for publications including the Financial Times and i-D, and consulting on diversity for the Royal Academy of Arts and Art Fund, amongst other projects.
Here, Prempeh talks us through her standard nine-to-five, important business lessons learned, and why time is of the essence.
How do you start your days?
Reading. I usually wake up and read the news before I do anything else, it’s been a ritual since I was a child. If I have time, will also try and do yoga or a short meditation
What’s your go-to uniform?
I gravitate towards structured pieces but I’ll tend to wear whatever reflects my emotion on that day. I love Black designers like Olubiyi Thomas, Bianca Saunders, and Martine Rose – my work is about Black storytelling so it’s important for me to also do that through my own wardrobe.
Describe your workspace/ workplace…
I work between Somerset House, Faith in Strangers (a shared working space in Margate), and my home in Margate. I enjoy the balance working between the three different spaces gives me, our shared workspace is amazing for collaboration and brainstorming but I love being surrounded by art and music at home too.
Identify something in your workspace that’s special to you (and why)…
I’m mildly obsessed with stationery and struggle to write with anything other than a uni-ball Signo. Ideally with a 0.38 tip.
What are your workplace essentials?
My laptop, mobile, and with a child under two at home, I’m constantly toeing the line between great design and safety – I have some functional but stylish cork planters which I love and they double up as housing plants; and my stationery collection.
What time of day are you at your most creative?
I find that the mornings are the time when I’m most focused on writing. When I set up the agency, I was working a seven-day week for months on end but I’ve started to realise that breaks are important to renewing creative energy. I try to balance the rhythm of my day to be most productive but also make sure I’m spending some of the day in a valuable and meaningful way beyond work.
What’s your go-to lunch order?
As long as lunch ends with a Pink Lady apple, I’m fairly relaxed about what comes before it.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Working with brands and individuals to tell organic stories about the Black experience. Having a global remit is also really rewarding; we think it’s important that the nuances of Black Culture are explored from the perspective of communities in different countries.
And the most challenging?
Given the travel restrictions in place over the last few years, there have been limitations on myself and my Creative Director, Lewis Gilbert being able to meet physically with clients or with the talent we commission through our work. Sometimes only being able to have a few calls and emails to work on a brief together can be challenging but we’ve actually been elated at the outcome of these kinds of projects despite the physical constraints.
What did you study in school/university?
I did A Levels in Mathematics, English, and Sociology and then majored in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at St Hugh’s College at The University of Oxford.
What was your first job?
I started out in marketing and advertising agencies before pivoting to the world of editorial and publishing.
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in East London in Canning Town as the youngest of four siblings and we all studied at the local Catholic primary and secondary schools.
What sparked your interest in tech activism?
A few years ago, a chance conversation with my husband while we were on holiday got me thinking. We were talking about artificial intelligence, and some of the issues with facial recognition tools not being able to register Black people properly – it was a long conversation and the idea that new technology couldn’t recognise Black skin felt suddenly ridiculous. I went down a rabbit hole afterwards looking at the intersection of new technologies and the Black community and the idea for A Vibe Called Tech sprung from there.
Do you have a mentor or inspirational figure that has guided or influenced you?
It’s funny because I think mentorship is incredibly important but I’ve never had anyone formally in that role. What I do have are friends – one in particular but I won’t embarrass him with a namecheck here – who has his own business and my husband (founder of Unified Goods) who are also entrepreneurs and are there to listen and guide whenever I need them.
What are some of the hurdles you had to overcome in the early days of A Vibe Called Tech?
Many people think of the issues we are addressing as being niche, however, telling stories from the Black perspective is relevant and essential for all audiences. We have found this perception beginning to change and hope that our work is helping to bring this to the forefront.
What’s the most important business lesson you’ve learned?
The multi-faceted nature of being a founder, having the tools in place to be able to run your own business; juggling everything from branding, research, marketing, accountancy, and more; and not being afraid to scale the team when needed.
The best advice you ever received…
Just get on and do it.
What are you working on right now?
Our next project is with artist Sondra Perry and the Fondation Beyeler in Basel for Rolls Royce Art Programme’s initiative, The Dream Commission. Lewis and I have been developing a publication to coincide with the exhibition of Perry’s new work; Lineage for a Phantom Zone. We’re also working on creative projects with WePresent, Frieze, and the Whitechapel Gallery which will be unveiled over the coming months.
What’s next for A Vibe Called Tech?
More projects in the US and around the world, growing our team, and continuing to educate people through our research and talks.