There are many different sectors under the fashion and retail industry that need better representation across their marketing channels. In the eyewear market, many businesses are largely owned by white and non-Black minorities which relates to the campaign. These two women entrepreneurs decided to create a company for Black women like themselves looking for the perfect pair of frames.
Nancey Harris and Tracy Vontélle Green are the founders of Vontélle Eyewear, a luxury eyewear brand that focuses on creating stylish brands with Black women in mind. In a Q&A with BLACK ENTERPRISE, Harris and Green share their motivation for starting the brand and it was important to bring more diverse representation into the field.
BE: What were your challenges entering the sector as a Black woman entrepreneur?
Vontélle: Vontélle encountered several challenges but three stick out. The eyewear market is an exclusively European & Asian white male-dominated industry. One of the first challenges [Vontélle] faced is a lack of representation. Collaborations are key and essential to any business. When we decided we wanted to start this business, we traveled to Paris for Fashion Week, which featured all the brands in the marketplace. We immediately stood out. Truth set in as we realized, there were only a handful of African Americans present. [If] we [didn’t] meet the right manufacturer during our visit to Paris, we would not have an eyewear collection today.
We interviewed many designers and manufacturers and they either did not believe in us, could not understand our vision, and/or did not want to work with two young Black women. Many did not call us back. Of the three that did, one was overcharging while the other responded leisurely. We had to find the right collaborator who saw our vision and wanted to work with us at the right price.
Additionally, we have colleagues assisting us with website building and maintenance, marketing, social media, and branding. Although we are driving the vision, we need people around us that have expertise in certain areas and help us navigate things we do not know. We are learning as we go on several topics. Luckily, we cover some areas as Nancey has extensive knowledge in sales and shipping and Tracy has extensive knowledge in finance, taxes, etc.
BE: Why was it important to provide representation in eyewear?
Vontélle: In the United States and globally, African American consumers spend billions of dollars on eyewear produced by luxury name brands, but they are not owned (designed and manufactured) by Black-owned fashion houses or companies.
Think about this: According to the Vision Council of America, one billion people worldwide need eyeglasses. In 2019, the global eyewear market brought in revenues over $139 billion and is estimated to grow to $259 billion by 2027. Yet, there are less than a handful of Black eyewear manufacturers or designers. Considering 164 million American adults wear glasses and 218 million wear non-prescription sunglasses (to block sun rays); people need glasses as they are a medical necessity. We are getting into the industry at the right time with our handcrafted ethnic designs.
Therefore, we were compelled to launch our collection of 37 designs as the lack of ethnically inspired styles led us to create our own line, Vontélle. While the selection of eyewear globally has increased, the familiar styles remain the same; copied over and over. We decided to add culture and ingenuity to classic styles. Vontélle is a unique luxury eyewear brand, offering exotic and ethnic patterns reflecting African, Caribbean, and Latin cultures. Vontélle, in French, means “there she goes,” or “you go.”
For consumers, Vontélle provides an opportunity to add head-turning style and flair to their wardrobe. Our textiles and prints include mud and kente cloth, Ankara prints, and trademarked Vontélle designs are combined with the finest luxury materials.
BE: How were you able to fund your business?
Vontélle: Vontélle is a 100% self-funded startup. Both Co-founders have been truly fortunate to have had careers that afforded us the ability to save and make wise investments. Though we were able to manage the costs of graphic and web design, manufacturing, packaging (and we roll out the red carpet for our customers), the expenses quickly add up.
As a startup, we are reviewing our options to help scale and create a sustainable business. In order to increase awareness and build sales, we will need additional capital for marketing (commercials, social media amplification, radio ads, etc.). We have started to apply for grants and our next steps are to fundraise/seek crowdfunding and begin pitching to venture capital firms.
We attribute most of our success to individuals who believe in our vision and crave exciting eyewear with colors and style from the African diaspora and are thus willing to work with us either gratis or for a nominal fee.
BE: What are your business goals going into 2021?
Vontélle: Our goal is to change the world! For 2021 and beyond we aspire to change the landscape of the eyewear industry. We intend to sell out of our initial stock, create new designs, and reproduce top sellers. Designing has started for Fall/Winter Collection 2021–2022 incorporating wood and other materials. Vontélle wishes to have both control and success. Control to continue to produce handcrafted eyewear fashion and textiles for all communities. Success to bring our designs and culture global.
Most importantly, the data states that our communities have higher than normal eye health disparities. The National Eye Institute reports that African Americans are more likely to have cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy than any other ethnic group. As a result, Vontélle has partnered with Women in Need (WIN), the largest provider with 12 shelter facilities offering supportive housing and services to women and their children in New York City. Vontélle will collaborate with optometrists to offer free eye exams and provide eyewear. There is no doubt that the co-founders can take Vontélle and turn it into a strong competitor in the global eyewear industry.