February 24, 2024

Maintaining a business during these trying times is tough. We had a chat with Stephanie, the founder of Pamoja Bags. Here is her story and what made her want to start her versatile bag business.

The Inspiration Behind The Brand

In undergrad, it was my dream to work in the fashion industry in NYC, and it came to fruition after graduating in the summer of 2010. Charting new territory in a new city and taking on my first full-time job as a Merchandise Assistant in Men’s Shoes at a department store, it was an amazing experience!

But in the back of my mind, I knew there was more in store for me. I struggled with the fact that I was working in a place where we were continuously enticing the customer to buy more things (s)he does not need and selling things that are not designed to last – constantly putting out promotion after promotion to get the customer in the door, becauseit’s such a good deal not to pass.”

After four years, I went back to business school, seeing it as an opportunity to reflect on the next, knowing I ultimately wanted to launch a leather goods brand that counters that bottom line business objective, offering quality product designed to last at a great price point. From there, it took me four years to launch my brand, Pamoja.

Challenges

Money is a big challenge, especially when you are self-funding your dream. I’m still working a full-time job, and I do not plan on quitting my full time job anytime soon, because I want to continue to reinvest into my company. To this day, I’m still investing my personal funds into this company.

It’s a tough pill to swallow when some of my expenses become costly “lessons learned.”

1st Product Sample –  I decided to sample in NYC, so I could be accessible to the pattern maker. However, the finished product was a disaster. I ended up working with my technical designer who helped me put together the design specs. She’s located in London and her work is amazing! Hardware Production – I’ve been working on a custom hardware piece for ~2 years. I was so happy and excited to have a working sample that I decided to go into production prematurely, learning there was a defect in the design/functionality. Now we’re back to the drawing board, redesigning this handle!

Expansion Plans

I have some designs to expand the assortment with some handbags and card cases sometime in the Spring. My goal is to have an assortment of five styles by the end of 2021. I also plan on expanding to Men’s and other lifestyle categories that cohesively align with the brand, such as candles and eyewear. I want to learn more about the candle making process and hand pour the candles myself so it will be very limited batches and special! All of my products will be handmade. I’m currently working with a small factory in Ubrique, Spain and the artisans and the owner are just amazing. I can’t wait to visit!

Planning

There’s so much planning that goes into this business, but I love every moment of it. From a product perspective, it starts off concepting a design to sampling to production. Running a product business online, requires all of the digital aspects of running the business including the ecommerce site, email marketing, social media, SEO optimization. I’m working through an influencer strategy to get my brand in front of more potential customers and starting to research paid marketing. At the end of the day, if the customer does not know about Pamoja, how are they going to purchase?

You can check out more of what Pamoja has to offer here.

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