There were a few things that inspired Enerjiee: I was born with a lazy left eyelid (medical term: ptosis) and as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I had a difficult time with teasing/being “different”. I’d had a few corrective surgeries, and because of one in 7th grade, I began wearing sunglasses. By the time I got to college (3 surgeries later), sunglasses were a part of my look; most people assumed it was because of fashion, but in truth, what started as a coping mechanism for an insecurity became medical (due to developing complications such as severe light sensitivity.)
I’ve always loved fashion and have always been a creative; I started embellishing eye-wear in college out of boredom and would let friends use the pieces in fashion shows. A few years later I met someone who made it an actual career and I was fascinated! A year later, I interned for that same designer and realized that I had fallen in love with designing eyewear. After my internship ended, I went on to intern at several places including SONY Music and Complex Media and it was at Complex that I was encouraged by a supervisor to start my own line. She really thought I had a talent and urged me to get it off the ground, but I was hesitant because being an eyewear designer is not a ‘typical’ job description, nor does it have benefits or a 401k plan. I decided to look for a job instead, but after being a college honors graduate for almost 2 years with no job and $357 left in my back account, I figured, ‘what the hell, I’ve got nothing to lose but the rest of this money.’
That’s how Enerjiee was born.
We need to see black women owning businesses because, in this current economic climate, it’s difficult to get a job with a degree, much less a job in your actual field. We’re taught that there are only avenue’s ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ and sometimes we’ve no direction on how to navigate those choices, nor do we know that there are other options (i.e. the rest of the alphabet J). It’s also important that I say this; not only do we need to see Black female entrepreneurs, but we need to see black female entrepreneurs who are willing to give back to the girls after them – in an authentic and meaningful way – and we need to see each other genuinely supporting one another. I see a lot of talk about paying it forward and support, but when you dig a little beneath the surface, a lot of the times, there is no walk behind that talk.
As a woman, it’s difficult for people to give you your respect. As a black woman? It’s that much more difficult. People get offended when you take yourself and your business seriously and, no matter how hard you try to be professional, you will meet people who attempt to shake your confidence and moral compass. Becoming aware of this is half the battle – then it’s all about becoming a politician.
Another difficult lesson I had to learn was that people’s words are not legally binding, contracts are. Friend, family, whomever; when you are engaging in a business activity, you become your business self. There are no slides, there are no ‘understandings’ – you treat your business as such. Everything belongs in writing, so that everyone is accountable, because you’d be surprised how often business can affect personal relationships when those lines blur.
First, really think about if it’s something you’re passionate about and if you can take the knocks that entrepreneur life is sure to deliver. Then, be realistic; I’m not one of those people who believe ‘there is no plan B!’ For some people, this very thought is what keeps them stagnant. Sometimes, what looks like ‘plan B’ might just be plan A with a bullet point. What do I mean by that? I mean use every opportunity to tie into the end goal – that is where the passion comes in; if you truly love it, that will be second nature.
Also, know that there’s a high probability that people won’t respect you in the beginning, but respect yourself and they’ll have no choice but to comply. You teach others how to treat you.
College, jobs, etc. Well, I graduated from The City College of New York and I like to dub myself ‘the intern queen’ because I had so many internships under my belt. I mentioned Complex Media and SONY, but I’d also interned at places like The Plaza Hotel and various small businesses and event companies. I tried to get as much experience as I could, so I took whatever opportunity fell my way (coincidentally, always unpaid as it is in media/entertainment.) This is what actually contributed to my frustration post-graduation – being young, educated and unable to find work for months/years makes you question the rules you were given to follow. I come from a Caribbean household where a single mother raised 2 children on her own. I was first to graduate high school and college, so I felt the pressure weighing on me – I had put in all this work and had nothing to show for it. My mother also had been urging me to release some pieces because she thought they were great – actually, she may have had the vision for the company before me! At first, launching Enerjiee was a way to keep my mind off that job rejection email or lack of interviews that week, but soon it became therapeutic.
I have 2 – my father would always tell me as a little girl, “you have three things against you in life: you’re a woman, you’re short and you’re black. People will always expect nothing from you and even when you’re good, they will try to take that away from you. You have to be 10 times better than them to be equal. You blow them away.” It took a long time for me to understand that speech, but by God was he correct. To succeed, my goal is to always aim for blowing them away.
The second is that closed mouths don’t get fed on this boulevard they call life; speak up, but always with tact and grace.
That’s a loaded question because it’s not a simple answer. I care about the way my community is treated and viewed. I care about the fact that we have the burden of carrying the perception of “our people” on our backs and that everywhere I go, I must be cognizant of that. I care about the way we as a community, and as humans, relate to one another. I care about way too much, possibly.
Ultimately, Enerjiee won’t be solely handmade eyewear pieces, but a lifestyle brand for women. In order to do that, I am taking a step back to reevaluate my company from the top down. I believe in learning and using experience to teach yourself, so I am learning all I can at my 9 – 5 (plan A, bullet point 2 *wink*) in advertising/media, with the goal of translating that knowledge into quantifiable actions for Enerjiee. Like I said earlier, every opportunity must tie into that end goal.
Visit http://www.enerjiee.com to shop and browse their creative selection of women’s eyewear!
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