When I started Fanm Djanm, if my goal was to get rich and scam people, I would have quit four years ago. Starting a business from nothing is incredibly hard. Especially if the business involves art and creativity. Especially if the founder is black. And young. And a woman. You will find people laugh at you (at first). They will say "no" before you even get a chance to present your work. Then they will be inspired, and ask you all kinds of questions about your business. Then some will copy. Some will steal your photographs (campaigns you planned for months and saved for to pay models, buy meals, and transportation in freezing NYC weather) and use them for their own benefits without even crediting you, including internationally known super stars. Large companies will use your photographs as references and inspiration, but will not hire or even approach you to collaborate. And even after years of running a successful business that has been featured in some of the top publications (without the help of PR), people will say things like, "Headwraps? Interesting. So what do you want to do with your life? Where do you see your career going in a few years?"
To start the business is one thing. To keep it going for years and to grow and to add members on your team is a whole other demon. Problem solving will become your best friend. And creativity won't just be useful in photographs. You will need it when you have a pop up (that you've been planning and advertising for weeks), and the person whose place you've rented and paid for in advance for almost $1000 for the day does not pick up and you get stuck in the rain with your team with loads of bins on the sidewalk after already spending a few thousands setting up the pop up and paying for your flight from Austin and hotel room or (AirBNB) for the trip. Or when you're working a 60-hour-week, and you're in the office on a Saturday, and an impatient customer calls you to yell at you. Then realizing they're wrong, they call you back to apologize. You will need patience and even more creativity when you have issues like the bolt of fabric you ordered is entirely damaged, but you can't return it. Or the box of tee-shirt that came late from the printer is the wrong color or finish. Or the office space you've been renting is sold to a new company, and the new owner calls you to tell you that your rent will double as soon as your lease ends in a few months.
I've been through so much running Fanm Djanm through the years. It has really taught me what true determination is. I know what it feels like when my arms give out from carrying loads of fabric from Midtown to Harlem. Before I could afford an Uber, or delivery, I'd go with a suitcase and fill it up with fabric that I hand-picked, felt, and loved. Then I would lug it up and down subway stairs. I would cut myself. The wheel of my cheap suitcase would fall off. Sometimes, I would even sit on the corner of a street sobbing. Asking myself why I was doing all of this. I had a career in hospitality. I could always go back. I could always go back to running and operating hotels and restaurants. At least I would have benefits, a good salary, and loads of vacation hours and perks, like staying in fancy hotels around the country. And then, I would read an email about how my colors helped someone overcome something. Or how someone wore my headwrap while giving birth. Or how after a run, someone wore a Fanm Djanm tee to remind themselves how strong they are. Then, I'd think. I must keep going.
Fanm Djanm blossomed over the years into something even I could have never dreamed. It's still small. We still do everything by hand in my little corner studio in Harlem. I know it will be bigger. But not too big because that's not what I want. I have plans, you see. I want to create sustainable goods while hiring a group of people and PAY them for the skills they possess. The group of people who are made to believe that their passions and professions should only be hobbies.
I want to hire young, black creative women to create beautiful, simple things that makes us feel good. I want my logo designed by a young black woman. I want my signature prints to be designed by a young black artist. I want to pay all the people I work with, and I have. And I want to pay them what they're worth.
So to the woman who wrote us saying that our prices are too high and that we're stealing from people, I will leave you with this:
What I do is not a hobby. It's work. A lot of it. Yes, I priced things a lot lower when I first started because I had no experience and no overhead cost. At that time, it was just me in my little studio apartment. Now we have an office, and a team. People who need to get paid for what they do. An office that requires maintenance, and a space that I must pay for monthly. The person who designs our newsletters must be paid. The person who posts on social media and responds to inquiries must also be paid. We make things in small batches in the US, and we have a zero waste policy, which means we spend lots of time thinking about how to utilize our left-over fabric.
Despite everything, I still make a conscious decision to remain as affordable as possible. I know how we started. And I want to continue growing with our loyal followers and customers. Nothing makes me happier than a college student or a working mom of three being able to afford one of our headwraps, or headbands, and knowing that all the work that went into making the product happened in Harlem, NY.
What about the time it takes to shop for all the new fabric? Or the time it takes to create the new products? Or the ideas? The visions? Should these all be for free?
What about when several shops reach out to carry our products, but we can't because we didn't price them high enough for wholesale? We make things in small batches in the US, and we make them well. Sis, have you seen our past campaigns? Do you think these beautiful images happened because someone handed them to me? No, sis. Again, what I do is not a hobby. It's a job. I carry many hats, and to maintain myself, I must charge for my work. And to grow, I must charge enough for my work. I hope that helped.
If you guys have any entrepreneurial questions. Drop them below! I'm happy to answer. By the way, this dress is from the new LINEN COLLECTION available via FANM DJANM. And this headwrap (MAMA AFRICA) is one of my faves this year!