Any working woman knows it can be tough to find a bag that is office appropriate, fashion forward and has room for all our stuff! Then, god forbid we also start looking for a gym bag that’s cute or a clutch that fits more than a pack of gum. Luckily, someone noticed our plight and JEMMA Handbags was born. Joanna Lau was working in finance when she decided she needed to make a change and take a chance on fashion. She is now the Founder, Designer & CEO of JEMMA Handbags, which are designed in New York and sourced from high end materials from Italy. She knew the plight of the fashionable working woman, and turned it into a business. She told us how we, too, can make a change and follow our dreams (while still finding time to hit the gym)…
YOU USED TO WORK IN FINANCE. HOW DID YOU TRANSITION INTO FASHION?
It was a real challenge, having no knowledge of the industry or connections. I had to step out of my comfort zone, meet with many people daily to learn the different aspects of the fashion world and the behind the scenes manufacturing, logistics, supply chain etc. And at the same time grasp the fundamentals of starting a business from cash flow management to recruiting talent! But not having a background in something should never stop you from doing it as everything can be learned, its a matter of how determined you want to be.
WHAT LED YOU TO FOCUS SPECIFICALLY ON BAGS?
While working as a trader on Wall Street, I could never find a handbag (and I’m obsess with handbags!) that met my career needs – or at least not one that met my personal style and that I was proud to carry. I found myself carrying multiple bags to work to fit everything I needed and these bags were not of the quality or style I desired. Many of my girlfriends and colleagues had the same complaints, so I knew there was a void in the handbag market for professional women that wanted a single handbag that truly accommodated all of their needs and still look stylish. I created JEMMA for the modern working woman who doesn’t want to sacrifice her style, convenience or an entire paycheck for the right handbag.
WHAT MAKES YOUR BAGS UNIQUE?
JEMMA fills a niche in the women’s handbag market for a well-designed, well-priced, high quality handbag that serves the modern woman’s daily needs. There are a lot of beautiful handbags available today, but I felt that fashion trumped function far too often. I had many bags that were pretty and cool, but when I needed to carry my laptop or an important folder or file, it was awkward — which is both unattractive and unprofessional. I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a bag that addressed my needs for a functional accessory that was also gorgeous and appealed to all my senses like a luxury handbag.
WHO DO YOU ENVISION CARRYING YOUR BAGS?
I see the JEMMA Girl as a modern woman who knows exactly what she wants in life. Women wear more hats today than they ever have before and their needs are different from even 10 years ago. At JEMMA, we strive to cater to those changing needs and create products that embrace the elegance of the past but serve the needs of the present.
WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY FOR YOU?
There isn’t a “typical” day for me – every day is different. I’m constantly on the road so I would say the only thing I try to keep constant in my day is working out (I gym, swim or golf when I’m near a golf course!) because its so important to stay fit to be productive!
HOW DO YOU FIND A WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
Having a balance should be the goal, but should not be the end and all to life. Rather than strive for a perfect balance, I try to focus on my immediate priorities. That means, during the work day, I’m completely focused on work/meetings/calls. In the evening when I go home, I relax by cooking dinner, hanging out with friends and having a good time. And I sign back on to respond to important emails before I go to bed.
WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF YOUR JOB?
Making products that improve women’s lives is so rewarding – especially hearing from my customers themselves!
AND THE WORST?
The demands of an entrepreneur is endless and its a constant feeling of having the weight of the world on your shoulders but it is also what keeps me going. I live for the challenge!
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE LOOKING TO BREAK INTO FASHION?
You don’t have to have a conventional design background to succeed in the fashion industry. For me, the JEMMA brand is really an extension of who I am, what I love and my personal style. I think a strong brand has to come from within, what the creator is passionate about, likes and values, that way you know it best and you will know how to make it happen.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
When you’re younger, its cool to blend in but really that’s the time you should be learning about ways to stand out because blending in throughout life almost guarantees mediocre results.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR JEMMA?
Growing JEMMA to be the brand to love for the products we make and the JEMMA Girl community we build. As we grow, we’re able to really hone in on what the JEMMA Girl loves and needs, thanks to the feedback from our loyal following. All we can say is JEMMA Girls, get excited!