Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in personal care but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Tracy Vontélle Green and Nancey Harris, Founders of Vontélle, located in New York, NY, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Our brand is Vontélle, and we design better-fitting, vibrant, luxury eyewear designed to complement diverse faces. Vontélle offers wider bridges for the nose, longer temples for behind the ears, and larger lenses for high cheekbones to fit more comfortably. Eyewear is not only an extension of your wardrobe but a necessary medical device. We also fulfill prescriptions and customize lenses (tints, blue light blockers, polarized, etc.) in any pair of eyewear in our collection. Our customers have had a challenging time finding properly fitting eyewear and love textile design, art, patterns, culture, and color. Eyewear Culture Starts Here!
Tell us about yourself
It started out with two best friends from college who lost their glasses within weeks of each other. We initially wanted to support another independently owned eyewear brand, and when we didn't see the sizing that we needed or the patterns, we decided to fill that niche. Upon further research, we learned that many ethnic groups have been wearing, for centuries, uncomfortable tight eyewear with very narrow bridges and short temples, which cause dark blemishes on the nose, indentation on cheeks, and tension headaches. Last, after visiting an expo in Paris with thousands of attendees, we saw that the industry is 99% male-dominated and Caucasian. There was simply no other choice but to create a new narrative and vision for the eyewear industry. Our motivation and goal are to add more diversity and culture to the eyewear industry. Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Beautiful.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
We are proud of all the accolades that we have garnered. It's hard to narrow it down to just one accomplishment, as we work very hard to get to where we are and where we plan to go. Vontélle is the first (1st) Black Women Owned Eyewear company to partner with Nickelodeon- Paramount+ and have a 3-year licensing deal to design a children's eyewear collection with beloved characters like SpongeBob, Rugrats and Baby Shark, and more. We are now in Saks 5th Avenue online, Showfields Noho Store, and won several grants to help propel our business. Vontélle has been featured on Good Morning American (GMA), NBC Today's "She Made It," with Jill Martin and appeared in Black Enterprise Magazine, Forbes, Essence, InStyle Magazine, and the Business Insider as well as a host of other publications.
However, one of the things that both Co-Founders (Tracy & Nancey) are most proud of is our work with WIN (Women In Need), a New York City (NYC) organization with 13 shelters to provide free eye exams and prescriptive eyewear to women and families in need annually. Vontélle works to address vision health disparities in urban communities. In May 2021, we forged partnerships with local optometrists willing to donate their time to provide free eye exams, vision & eyewear companies willing to donate glasses, and The Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation to provide funding for the prescriptive lenses. In one year, Vontelle has completed over 200 examinations and provided over 80 pairs of prescriptive glasses to these homeless residents at three shelters. We are excited to keep this effort going in our hometown with ten more shelters to go. As Vontélle continues to expand as a company, our goal is to partner with homeless shelters across the country.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Operating a Black women-owned business comes with multiple challenges and obstacles. The eyewear industry is primarily European-male-dominated, and there are 2- 3 companies that own many of the brands, optical shops, and even vision insurance. Therefore, collaborations are key and essential to any business. When we decided to start this business, we traveled to Paris to do research and attend an eyewear expo, which featured almost every brand in the marketplace. We immediately stood out as we realized there were only a handful of African Americans present. Had we not met the right manufacturer during our visit to Paris, we would not have had an eyewear collection today. We interviewed several manufacturers, and they either did not believe in us, could not understand our vision, and/or did not want to work with two Black women. Many did not call us back, and of the 3 (three) that did, one was overcharging. We had to find the right partner who saw our vision and wanted to collaborate with us at the right price.
Every emerging business faces some type of challenge, with capital being the main obstacle, brand awareness, and distribution. We are working through these issues now. However, the growing pains are very real. Still, we see the light at the end of the tunnel each day as we continue to climb our way to the mountaintop.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
The first step we recommend is to ask questions. Ask everyone how they did you do that. Where should I go to get this? Do not be afraid to ask. The internet is your best friend. You can find a great deal of information using search engines. Moreover, do not take "no" or "I do not know" for an answer. If you want or need information, keep asking. Do your research and get the knowledge and answers you seek. Lastly, ensure you have a business plan, review the numbers - actual potential ROI (return on investment) and reach out to other start-up business owners. There is the fun part of the business, which is what drew you there, and there are the necessary business needs (taxes, sales tax, website management, content, inventory, meeting timelines, etc.).
Overall Steps to Note:
- Don't be afraid to pivot, adjust, change, and listen to all feedback. We launched during a pandemic, which was crazy. We added matching masks in our patterns, and it was a great selling package for us.
- Don't give up. Celebrate each win…no matter how small. You will need it when things are not going well.
- Ensure you have a business plan with actual costs and revenue projections. For every $1.00 you make, you are spending $5.00. Websites costs, you will pay a fee for everything (credit card, bank, accounting software, lawyers, accountants, trademarks, domain names, custom email addresses, URLs, postage, paper, phone, ads on social media, etc.).
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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