Karen Okonkwo, TONL and the Importance of Imagery


A picture is worth a thousand words. Even more so in a time where representation in media is imperative to the narrative of the African diaspora and on a greater scale, people of color. One company that has decided to take on this challenge to shift the view held in the media and create a positive perspective in the world of stock images. A solution has come in the form of TONL. TONL aims to redefine stock images (which happens to be stereotypically white and cis-gender) and provide individuals who have been searching for diverse imagery the answer to their problems.

We had the opportunity to speak with the co-founder of TONL, Karen Okonkwo and learn more about her and the story behind TONL.

Where are you from?

I was born in California. I’ve lived most of my life in Arizona and currently live in Seattle, Washington.

Where did the idea for TONL come from?

So, the idea originally came from a blog I started called Sorority Secrets. The light bulb went off during a google search for African Americans and other ethnic groups and I saw that there weren’t quality photos representing us, and what you could find was off target and just generally bad.

I ran the idea by my friend, Mekdes Mersha and figured this would be something great to change the narrative of people of color online. So, my friend actually dates Joshua Kissi and I ran the idea by him and now have birthed TONL in its early stages.

Have you told your family? If so, what did your family think when you told them you were starting TONL?

My parents have been very open to the idea of starting a company. Now, that might be because I still have a day job but, they are always open to hearing about different ways to make money and support myself doing something I love.

Why Stock Images? What was the moment or situation that helped you realize that there was a need for TONL in the stock images industry?

I saw an opportunity and wanted to fill a void in the market. Honestly, I was annoyed by what was out there. There was nothing just showing African Americans, Muslims, Asians, etc. just being regular people. Not being able to find quality stock photos creates this weird image that these groups don’t do everyday activities, which is false

I don’t know if it’s too early to ask but will there be free content and paid content available?

So, we did a lot of research on what type of business model that we wanted to go with and we will have a subscription and a la carte option to obtain photos.

Even when pitching the idea, no one questioned our model!

Here are some things to think about. TONL is really about inclusion so we won’t exclude people of European descent. We live in a world that isn’t just white and we have to question why the media continues to try and feed us this idea. Also in this age, we are all our own media companies and other companies are capitalizing on the black community.

We live in a world that isn’t just white and we have to question why the media continues to try and feed us this idea.

I saw that you do more outside of TONL. What is the inspiration behind Her Big Day LLC?

The idea came from my business partner, Beri Gebrehiwot having difficulty planning her Eritrean wedding. She had no problem identifying vendors for the Western culture day of her wedding, but her Eritrean wedding was difficult to find wedding vendors. Together, we decided to provide this service of linking cultural brides to vendors to meet their cultural wedding needs.

Have your parents asked when you’re getting married?

My parents have never asked about when I’m getting married

My aunts, on the other hand, have asked.


TONL will launch later this month on August 21st!

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Create what you want to see. @theafricanking

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