Teneille Craig

Karen Okonkwo

Teneille Craig
Karen Okonkwo

Karen Okonkwo

CO-FOUNDER, TONL

Karen Okonkwo knows all too well that a mere image can change the trajectory of someone’s life, a subtle nod from the world that says “we see you.” That’s why she created TONL, a disruptive company she co-founded with NYC-based photographer Joshua Kissi that encourages and creates diversity within the stock photography industry. “Our work impacts youth culture by simply displaying subjects of various backgrounds who look like these youth,” she tells OkayAfrica. “Having these sort of visuals show them that there is space for them in society. The power of imagery is embedding in the youth that they matter, that they belong.”


One peek at TONL’s Instagram shows a tiled array of brown and black people, genders, identities, abilities and sexual orientations. For Okonkwo—who by day works full-time in medical sales and marketing—it is a true representation of the global world today. Those images, some accompanied with personal narratives of the subjects to provide a deeper layer of understanding and visibility, are how they stay ahead of their competitors, who offer a one-note viewpoint in stock photography. It’s also why TONL is guaranteed for success. Prioritizing their millennial and Generation Z audiences is empowering them to be seen not only in imagery but in life. “The youth are the ultimate changemakers of this century,” the Nigerian-American says. “The youth are demanding seats at the table which is diversifying the spaces otherwise occupied by white people. They are resilient, trickling up this noble energy to powerful people.”