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Envisioning More Inclusive Eyewear

By Tracy Vontélle Green and Nancey Harris

Vontélle, LLC was incorporated last year with a clear vision and ironic symbolism of “2020”. The company is producing high-end eyewear that has unique African, Caribbean and Latin print designs targeting the general market ages 25-65. The company launched their website in October 2020. Vontélle was created by Tracy Vontélle Green and Nancey Harris, both women of color and very highly accomplished. Vontélle is committed to celebratory cultural designs that represent global textiles, boldness and beauty.

Think about this: In 2019, the global eyewear market was valued at approximately $135 billion, and in the United States, it is a multi-billion market. Yet, there are less than a handful of Black eyewear makers. Considering 164 million American adults wear glasses, according to The Vision Council, there are a lot of consumers looking for eyewear.

Vontélle is partnering with WIN (Women in Need) in New York, operator of 11 shelters, to provide proceeds and eyewear to women and families in need. This is one initiative illustrating Vontélle’s commitment to addressing health disparities in deserving communities of color.

How did you come up with the idea for Vontélle?

The concept for Vontélle was born out of a need of both the founders, who each lost their expensive eyewear within the same year and decided to focus their efforts on making their next purchases from a Black-owned brand. After searching high and low for glasses that were stylish and had an ethnic flair, we realized they simply did not exist. That is when Tracy suggested we start our own line.

Did you start the venture alone?

No.  Our venture started with two best friends who met in college at Morgan State University. Tracy Vontélle Green, Co-Founder & CEO and Nancey Harris,Co-Founder & COO.

How did you manage uncertainty in early stages of business? Were you ready to pivot if needed? Did you keep it a very leanMVP?

We went to Paris for Fashion week to an eyewear summit which further confirmed that our type of eyewear was needed.  This research helped us no longer feel uncertain. We pivoted when COVID-19 hit and have continued to keep a very lean MVP.

What advice would you give to other founders just starting to build a company?

My advice is to ask questions.  Ask everyone how 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 the search engines - putting in your questions.  Moreover, do not take “no” or “I do not know”for an answer.  If you want or need information, keep asking.  Ask for a referral to another person but keep asking you will get someone with the knowledge, know-how and willingness to share. Lastly, ensure you have a business plan, review the numbers - actual potential ROI (return on investment) and continue to reach out to other startup business owners.  There is the fun part of the business and there's the necessary business needs (taxes, sales tax, website management, content, inventory, meeting timelines etc.).

Have you ever failed at anything? If so, how did you handle it and what did you learn?

We follow the motto that our failures are lessons.  You learn from every experience and then you turn that into a positive.   As of today, I do not think either of us have failed at anything. Have we lost jobs? Have we quit jobs?  Did something we wanted did not go our way?  Yes, to all those questions but we learned from those experiences and we are here.

How are your hours spread throughout the week? Have you had to set any boundaries around time?

As a startup, we are working around the clock as needed.  In 2020 alone, one of us was diagnosed with a rare form of diabetes and another had a fire at their home and had to relocate.  Throughout it all, we continued to work, taking calls and responding to emails.  In setting boundaries, we agreed that we will try to take off on Sundays but that just means we do not call our team; we just call each other.

Is it possible to build a successful company without burning out or damaging other parts of your life (family, health, etc.)?

Yes.  We put in the same energy into our paying jobs. It is most gratifying to put that energy into your own creation/company.  The hard part is complete – research, designs, website, etc.  Now, we are in the marketing and social media phase which is fun.  We intend to pick a few months per year where we focus on designing eyewear to create a new work and life balance.

How has COVID-19 challenged you as an entrepreneur and how are you overcoming those challenges?

As a result of the pandemic, retail purchases across the nation are down due to the loss of jobs.  Our business realized two key proponents that assisted us in adapting during the pandemic:

1.    We created masks to match our eyewear in the same eye-catching and awe-inspiring patterns.

2.    Due to virtual meetings (Zoom, Google Meets, etc.) for those who are employed and must work virtually-eyewear has become a way to show their personality as your face is all that you see.  Thus, increasing eyewear sales for something different.

Has your business made you happier and more fulfilled in life, compared to how you felt before starting it?

We are both starting over with this business.  Tracy, after having a successful financial career in healthcare as a Chief Financial Officer and Nancey as a successful Sales Executive in magazine publishing & television.  We are taking that knowledge to start this business.  We are just as happy; however, this does not feel like work. We finally get the phrase “do what you love, and you never work a day in life”.   So yes, more fulfilled and happier to add our eyewear into the world.

What impact do you want to have? Is your startup objective"getting rich" or "changing the world"? Is control or success more important?

Our goal is to change the world.  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 by African American/Black Owned fashion houses or companies.

We want control and success.  Control to produce beautiful eyewear fashion and textiles for all communities and success of them getting the designs and culture they seek.

Continue to follow Tracy and Nancey's story through social media and help support their business:

Vontélle Website

Vontélle Twitter

Vontélle Facebook

Vontélle Instagram

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