Meet Abaynesh Jembere, owner of the fashionable Jembere Eyewear brand.
Jembere first fell in love with sunglasses after landing a job in the eyewear industry. After working in brand management for almost a decade; for a list of established retailers, Jembere was faced with an unexpected layoff that led to her serendipitous journey into entrepreneurship. The small business owner and Sudan native, has spent the last year developing a company that exudes style, culture, and contains a charitable initiative.
BlackEnterprise.com: Tell me a little about yourself. How old are you and where are you from?
Jembere: I am 34 years old and I am Ethiopian. The quick story is, my parents left Ethiopia for refuge in Sudan in the late 70’s. I was born in Sudan on a refugee camp, immigrated to America when I was 2 years old; with my father, mother and older brother, and after a few years of living in San Jose, we ended up in Seattle, where I grew up.
How did you get into the design/eyewear industry? Where did you gain your brand experience?
I left Seattle to attend Drexel University’s design and merchandising program. Upon graduation, I moved to New York where I landed a job with an eyewear company. I always thought I would work in the apparel industry, but when I started working with sunglasses, I immediately fell in love. I spent about 8 years working as a brand and product manager, where I worked with a list of brands and retailers. It was an exciting career. I gained experience in many levels of the industry.
What was your big entrepreneurial ‘aha’ moment?
My ‘aha’ moment came from a bit of a setback. I was very unexpectedly laid off a few years ago and the thought of looking for a new job was mortifying. Jobs were scarce and my experience was very specific to a particular industry. I realized during that time that if I was ever going to go follow my dreams of being an entrepreneur, now was the time. So, I went for it.
How did you prepare, financially, to start Jembere? What was most costly in terms of startup?
I started with family to get the beginning stages going. At this time, crowd funding was huge. I had been studying and researching other entrepreneurs on their successful campaigns. I decided this was how I would fund my initial production run. I ran a 40-day campaign on Indiegogo and it was a huge success. I raised almost $19,000 and Jembere Eyewear was ready to go.
What’s been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in an effort to own your own business?
For me, it has been time and stability. Not going back to the stability of a paycheck was hard. When starting your own company your priorities change. There is a lot that comes with it and you are responsible for everything. I have always been passionate about owning my own business. The excitement you get with every little accomplishment is amazing so, in the end, watching your business grow and flourish is worth all the sacrifice.
What’s been your biggest obstacle since starting the company and how did you overcome it?
The biggest obstacle for me was getting the funding. Running a crowdfunding campaign was one of the hardest things I’ve done. It requires a lot of your time and for those 40 days I did not sleep much. I decided to take my campaign on a tour while hosting a series of campaign events in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and NYC. Although it was tough, it was an awesome experience.
When business gets tough, what motto or words of encouragement keep you motivated and why?
For me, I always look at my family for encouragement. We immigrated here and my parents had to do whatever they could to support their children. My mother and father are my inspiration because they are what keep me going. I’m just living my dream.
Talk about some of the ways you’ve incorporated charity into your business and why it was so important for you to give back?
As mentioned above, I am Ethiopian and when I decided to start my company I knew I wanted to make sure there was a charitable aspect specifically with my country. We are so happy to have partnered with Seeds of Africa. Seeds of Africa is a non-profit education and community development organization with a school in Adama (Nazret), Ethiopia. After the opportunity to visit the school last year, we knew it was a perfect fit. A portion of our proceeds go towards the purchase of uniforms and school supplies. Giving back is the ultimate fashion statement and, for Jembere, we are thrilled to be a part of such an amazing organization.