Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in eyewear but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ashley Johnson, Founder of Mohala Eyewear, located in Honolulu, HI, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Mohala Eyewear is an inclusive eyewear brand that offers three unique nose bridge fits, various widths, and adjustable frames made with all faces in mind. These custom glasses won’t slide, fall off, indent cheeks, or touch lashes—and they look great, too! And for every pair sold, we send a girl to school through our partnership with Room to Read. We have donated 170+ years of school to date. I’m building this business for women who do not match the beauty standard U.S. face shape (although all women can wear Mohala frames). This is important because they will experience their best fitting frame with Mohalas, and when they are most comfortable, they can be their most confident.
Tell us about yourself
I am of mixed race and grew up in Hawaii, a place where cultures and races mix together naturally. I went to college at Santa Clara University, a segregated campus, where I often felt left out – instilling my lifelong passion for inclusivity and empathy for anyone who is not included. I’m obsessed with leveling the playing field. In Dec. 2017, I founded Mohala Eyewear, an inclusive eyewear brand with three unique fits, various widths, and adjustable frames to create the perfect fit for every woman. The film “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” deeply impacted me as I heard the stories of rape, sex trafficking, and the lack of value in educating girls globally. I set up a partnership with Room to Read to send a girl to school for each pair sold. We have donated 170+ years of school to date. I’m passionate about impacting gender equality through girls’ education.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
In 2020, the year of the pandemic, we were able to grow our business by 112% even though we lost all of our wholesale accounts, which at the time were 40% of our revenue. We immediately shifted our focus to e-commerce and completed two website updates, launched a strong email marketing campaign, and started doing Instagram Live Shopping Shows. In 2022 with the pending recession, we were able to grow our business by 63%. When we launched in Nordstrom Hawaii, we became the #2 bestselling eyewear brand in the store. We leaned into our partnership with Nordstrom and did a Trunk Show tour across the west coast. Even though Nordstrom was not bringing any new eyewear brands into their stores due to the recession, they made an exception to bring Mohala Eyewear into more stores. The more we are able to successfully grow our business, the more years of school are donated to Room to Read and the closer we get to our goal of donating 770 years of school.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
That others don’t always get what you’re doing. It can be a lonely place, and so I counter this by making friends with other entrepreneurs because they will get you. They will understand your struggles, loneliness, and how hard it is to start and scale a business – especially if you are bootstrapping. Building community with other founders is my lifeblood.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
You’re probably over-forecasting your year-one sales. Growing your business is probably going to take a lot more cash investment than you ever imagined. Learn as much about marketing and how to acquire new customers as you can. Founders that seem to know that grow the fastest.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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