Most women of color, black women, in particular, can relate to the involuntary inner eye roll that occurs when “nude” clothing/accessories/makeup and just about anything else that comes with “nude” offerings gets mentioned.
This eye roll occurs because despite of the proven purchasing power of black women–and more importantly despite the fact that we are existing members of society, the various skin tones of black women have routinely been ignored. Instead, focus gets placed on a nameless beige, white woman, that companies have decided is the prototype for the “nude” coloring used for products. With this in mind, entrepreneurs like Jamela A. Acheampong are shaking up various industries and reminding the masses that there is no one shade of nude. If you’ve ever found yourself searching for the perfect pair of nude heels, Jamela’s brand, Kahmune, is a heaven-sent. Kahmune is a line of European handmade leather heels consisting of 10 different shades of nude. With all of this in mind, Jamela took a moment to talk to us about fashion and entrepreneurship, check it out below.
Tell me about your background !
Oh Gosh where to begin! Well I have two degrees: B.A. in Economics from USC (in Los Angeles) and a MSc in Finance and Accounting. I’ve worked in everything from banking to sales (didn’t love either of them) and originally went to school to be a Dentist! Still fascinated by teeth but I think I’ve found my forte in business.
Where are you from?
I was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania but grew up in the Middle East. My family is from Ghana though so I identity very strongly as an African. However, I now live in London, where the brand (Kahmune) is based.
Have you always been interested in fashion ?
Definitely! I can still remember sketching my future prom and wedding dresses before bed while most kids were probably reading Harry Potter–don’t get me wrong, I found time for that too! I think I’ve always loved being “different” and from an early age used fashion as a way to do so. I always had to be the one that stood out amongst my friends. Over the years I’ve dabbled in design as well, whether it was college football gameday accessories or ankara bags. I’ve always loved being creative but as I’m sure many Africans know, it was always viewed as a hobby rather than a career.
What makes style in London different from everywhere else?
I think the sheer level of diversity represented within the city of London contributes a lot to the range of styles here. The weather is definitely a huge factor. Winter fashion is on point! I’d say there’s probably more of an emphasis on fashion and style than many other cities in the world. Different areas of London definitely all have their own looks and feels.
Do you think being Ghanaian has influenced your sense of style?
I want to say yes but the answer is probably no! I think if anything it has given me a strong sense of identity and I hope that is something that comes through in the brand. It’s made me not afraid to takes risks and stand out. Normal is boring.
What’s an accessory that your outfit isn’t complete without?
Earrings! Absolute must. I have a bangle from my dad that rarely leaves my wrist as well. Other than that, my style is pretty fluid and my outfits depend on my mood. I try to keep it classy, with a bit of edge and a sprinkle of sex appeal.
What made you decide to create your own footwear?
NEED! At the time that I came up with the idea, there were very few nude footwear options for women of colour, or anyone really who didn’t view their skin as beige or tan. I was working in FinTech Sales and decided it was not for me. So I left my job. I realised a few nights later that I had two choices: begin the tedious process of finding a new job or bite the bullet and start my own venture. Naturally, I went with the latter. I have always known that I wanted to run my own business(es). I think if you talked to my friends and family they would describe me as pretty bold and outgoing, so it was never a question of finding the courage to start a brand
The idea behind KAHMUNE (pronounced “com · mune”) was born in February 2016. Whilst browsing social media in search of “nude” clothes and accessories I noticed that the term always drew the same results. Although I was in search of items that matched my dark skin tone, all I came across were the same beige, cream, and tan shades. It was overtly clear that “nude” had a type. My Dad has always said that, “some of the best business ideas are the ones that solve a problem”. The fact that the term “nude” is attributed to a specific shade is a problem. Kahmune was born as a long overdue solution. There are quite a few other brands on the market doing the same for lingerie, lipstick, and tights but I noticed a huge gap when it came to women’s footwear.
How did you raise the capital needed to start Kahmune?
I was lucky enough to be accepted into an accelerator/funding program for fashion startups. As a result I received a small startup loan.
Do you have any previous experience in footwear? If not, how has it been learning as you go?
Nope, none! HUGE learning curve. I don’t think a lot of people think about the art or practice that is shoemaking. One thing I always tell people who ask is, for the sheer size of the footwear industry there are many more barriers to entry than one would think. Just finding a good, quality, shoe manufacturer has been half of the struggle. It has been really hard. I’m not even going to lie but the feedback and support has made it all worth it.
What particular challenges have you dealt with while creating Kahmune?
I think first and foremost being a sole founder creates it’s own challenges as I am literally responsible for everything! I think I also had to learn the hard way that not everyone has your best interests at heart. If you want something done a certain way you have to speak up, and be vocal and sometimes hold peoples’ hands to make sure things get done the way you want them to. When it comes to startups time is literally the equivalent of money and they both tend to run out quite quickly!
What inspired the name Kahmune?
Kahmune is a play on of the word ‘commune,’ which is derived from the word community. I wanted a name that signified unity. The fashion and beauty industries have been built on exclusion and I personally believe that it is high time we changed that. Kahmune is about being inclusive. All shades are beautiful!
If you weren’t creating your own business what else would you be doing?
Nothing. I honestly can’t see my life any other way at this point. I don’t particulary enjoy working for other people. One of the quotes I live by is “If you don’t take the time to build your own dream someone else will pay you to build theirs.” Words to live by regardless of what it is you want to do in this life.
Kahmune is launching soon! What do your plans look like for the next 1-2 years?
World domination! Hopefully. In the next year we will be introducing 5-7 new styles. In the year or two following that, I hope to double the number of styles offered. I would love to do some global pop ups and there are a few brands and influencers that I would love to work with. Maybe venture into a new product? Never say never, you so we’ll see!
Do you have any advice for young African women looking to create a business within fashion?
I’m sure you hear it all the time but don’t give up! Have the courage to break away from tradition–no you do not have to be a lawyer, doctor, or business person. Once you find what you’re good at and what makes you happy, stick with it! If you love it enough you will make sure you succeed! Even if you can’t start big, start small, but make sure you start! Find a mentor. Join women in business/entrepreneurship groups. If you know exactly what it is you would like to do, use the skills you have to secure a job in that industry or in an area that gives you some exposure so that you can gain skills that you can use once you launch your own venture. NEVER be afraid to ask for help. Try to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Competition is healthy but make sure you’re building up other women around you rather than trying to bring them down.
Kahmune will start taking orders directly on their website next month, get more information here: http://www.kahmune.com/