Simeon Talley first came to Iowa from Columbus, Ohio in late 2007 to work on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Over the last decade, he’s made Iowa City his home and worked to help the communities he’s passionate about collaborate.
Today, he’s behind initiatives like The Political Party, a group of young, progressive leaders that hosts issues-based events around the state to try to engage their peers in the political process.
He’s also an organizer behind the Iowa Fashion Project, which hosts the annual Flyover Fashion Fest, and is working on a Retail Art Design Incubator (RAD, Inc.) in Iowa City to provide affordable retail and venue space to local makers and designers.
This interview has been edited for conciseness.
C&M: Tell us about what you’re working on right now.
ST: How I think of all the things I do holistically is building community through collaboration. I’m specifically working in areas where there might not be enough recognition or enough connectivity. People might have been working in silos previously, but really I’m driven by the idea that there are pockets of amazing creatives and entrepreneurs in Iowa, and that we’re all better if we think of ourselves as a community and a collective.
Specially with the Iowa Fashion Project, the premise is there’s lots of fashion talent here and there are lots of people doing interesting and cool things. For some reason though, we’re seen as lacking fashion and design talent. (The Iowa Fashion Project) was really created and formed to push back at that notion, and instigate more collaboration between fashion entrepreneurs, stylists, photographers and creatives in general.
We wanted to elevate that story and show that what one company, designer or brand is doing isn’t happening in isolation. I think that says something important and profound about the state of Iowa. That entrepreneurial spirit really belongs to anyone, whatever your idea is. You don’t have to go elsewhere to pursue it. You can be successful here.
C&M: Why did you decide to start The Political Party?
ST: I came to Iowa to work in politics so most of my background is in politics and community organizing. Leading up to the 2016 election there was a growing sentiment that young people weren’t necessarily inspired by the political process. So, we decided we could produce some events to talk about issues and policies, but also have music and the performing arts as a component. Basically, using those cool things as an entry point to get more young people to care about politics.
We used those events and the Political Party as a way to identify young progressives to run for office at a local level, and help develop a pipeline of people who can run for office one day. It’s that type of change that is not just going to happen so we need to be identifying, supporting and recruiting young people to run for local office or assume leadership in their community. We have to be intentional about that, but it doesn’t always have to be the same types of people. We thought “What if we work with artists, entrepreneurs or musicians?” and really had a broader, more inclusive approach about how we’re asking people to be involved and engaged in the political process.
C&M: Why are projects like these important for the state?
ST: A lot of people are involved in transforming the perception of what’s possible in Iowa, what we’re known for, and showing that there are lots of really interesting, cool things here. It’s an affordable place to live, it’s an accessible place, and there are a bunch of dynamic things happening. When we think about what we want our state to be in five, ten or 20 years down the road, I believe we want to be known for being entrepreneurial, being creative. Not only can artists and musicians get a start here, but they can have a successful career in Iowa and travel across the world, but still have Iowa be their home. I think it’s important to keep young people in the state to help continue this type of future in Iowa.
Not being from Iowa, it’s a choice for me to stay here. I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t think there was a supportive community and the support I need to help me turn my ideas into something more tangible.
C&M: What role do you think Iowa entrepreneurs should play in the political process?
ST: I think we need more entrepreneurs involved in the political process. I think an entrepreneur is someone who, at their core, identifies a problem and is building a business to find a solution for a consumer or community. Not only do we need the mentality that applies in that process, but I think (we need to apply it to) solving social problems as well like education, poverty, homelessness (and) hunger.
…This is a lofty example, but imagine if we had more people who thought like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, entrepreneurs who are tackling the world’s biggest problems. That’s a very inspiring and commendable model to follow.
C&M: What has been an unexpected source of inspiration for your work?
ST: I’ve been really active and engaged for the past two years, and I’ve been fortunate to connect myself to a lot of individuals who have been in the entrepreneurial community building space for a lot longer than I have. I’ve really been inspired by tracing the steps of people who have created the environment for me to even envision that Iowa can have a fashion community.
I think you also have to look at what other communities are doing to draw inspiration from as well. I think Iowa is getting a lot of things right, but there are a lot of people in this race of making more entrepreneurial, creative places to live. There are tons of models, efforts, and projects coming to life every day to try and take pieces of what you see elsewhere and replicate it here.
C&M: Who do you consider to be a mentor? Where do you look for advice?
ST: I look for advice all over. I’ve been on a journey of self-improvement and development, and I’ve tried to be self-aware and intentional about becoming better and performing at a high level. …
Specifically, individuals I’ve looked up to are Andy Stoll and Mark Nolte. In politics and business, (Nolte’s) always working to build a strong community. Derian Baugh of Men’s Style Lab. Zack Mannheimer has always been someone I’ve been inspired by. The RAD, Inc. model is based off the model of what he and others did with the Des Moines Social Club… Mike Draper of RAYGUN is another individual I’ve followed and looked up to for quite some time.
Of all those folks, what really separates Iowa is that those are people performing at a high level but they’re super accessible and very approachable. I don’t think that exists in other communities.
C&M: What’s your biggest piece of advice for other entrepreneurs?
ST: I think it’s kind of particular to the type of individual. What’s benefitted me most in my life on this journey is not to take anything for granted. Nothing is given. Nothing is assured. You have to work hard, and you have to hustle for everything. No matter what technical or skill gaps that you might have, you can really be successful, personally and professionally, by being incredibly persistent. Each and every day work on something and stay focused and disciplined.
I would encourage anyone and everyone to embrace the hustle, and know that it is always going to be a hustle. Hard things are hard. If it was easy a lot of people would do it, but it’s not. You can learn things you don’t know. You can become better at certain things. You can develop new skills, but your hustle, your ability to stay focused and disciplined and preserver, is something have to commit yourself to.
About Simeon Talley
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Twitter handle: @SimeonTalley
Megan Bannister is a freelance writer based in Des Moines and a regular contributor to Clay & Milk.