Businesswoman, author and community leader who has overcome a series of challenges to support her community and inspire young people.
Tskenya, 29, faced a number of challenges growing up. The youngest of five children, she became a carer to her mum Cleo in her teens and was bullied at school for her weight and height. Later, at university, she encountered racial microaggressions for the first time, something she says impacted on her already fragile mental health.
Now, just a few years later Tskenya, who was diagnosed with ADHD in her early 20s, dedicates her life to her community as Chair of her local tenants’ association in East London, helping to provide social activities for young people and the elderly on the estate – all while running a successful shoe brand she launched after teaming up with The Prince’s Trust.
“I’ve lived in the same estate with my mum since 2000, so practically all my life,” says Tskenya, from Hackney. “I’ve been Chair for five years now and I absolutely love it. The thing I love about it is that I’m really passionate about social mobility and community. When I think about my early start in life, it was working class and I had a marginal experience in many ways, but my mum always provided me with a vision that was bigger than my own, one experience.
“Because of that, I feel impassioned to take the kids from the place I grew up out to the museums, to take them to the pantomime every year if their parents might not be able to afford it. I love helping to provide a social life for the older people too because I know how terribly lonely they can be. When I think about what the community has given me, particularly in those difficult times, I feel it’s up to me to give back. I want to help harness an environment that’s welcoming and empowering to all. It’s the pleasure of my life doing this.”
After a tough few years, Tskenya credits The Prince’s Trust with providing a “circuit breaker” in her life. Her route to the charity in 2016 came during one of the most difficult times in her life when, with the seeds of a business idea in her mind, she felt unsure of her next steps after her graduation.
“At that point things were so difficult I was experiencing regular thoughts about taking my own life,” she recalls. “The one thing that stopped me was my family and my mum, thoughts of the legacy of pain I would leave behind.
“Then one day I was on my way home from a retail job in central London when I started crying on the bus. This lady reached out to me, and at first, she asked if I was upset about a boy. When she realised that wasn’t it at all, we started talking and she told me all about her family and growing up in Ireland. She said lots of really insightful things, and as she went to leave she said, ‘Check out the Prince’s Trust’.”
Just a few days later, when researching how to make her fledgling idea for a shoe brand reality, ‘The Prince’s Trust’ appeared at the top of Tskenya’s search results.
“I’m a big believer in fate, and that for me was a sign,” she says. “I sent off an email and within a couple of weeks, I was accepted onto the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme.”
With support from The Prince’s Trust, Tskenya’s dream became a reality even bigger and better than the one she’d imagined. As well as designing larger-sized shoes, her brand, TSKENYA, is gender free and vegan and has been recognised for helping break down barriers for plus-sized and LGBTQ+ people in fashion.
In addition, Tskenya also helps educate young people and marginalised individuals on the topics of business and venture capital. In 2023, her first book A Quick Ting on Black British Businesses was released, which looks at the past, present and future of black British entrepreneurship.
Still closely involved with The Prince’s Trust, Tskenya, a passionate advocate for ongoing mental health support, regularly appears at events for the charity, sharing her inspirational story and encouraging other young people to reach for the stars.
She says: “The Prince’s Trust changed my life, and I’m more than happy to do what I can to support their incredible work.”