Everyone knows that you don’t stumble into success. But when you’re great at what you do and embrace the challenges that come with your destiny, success eventually finds you. Nobody knows this better than Nneka Mosley, founder of Nneka Saran. Her line of clutches make the same statement that can be seen in her own journey: own your style with faith and confidence. It’s a message that’s resonated with everyday women as well as celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Eve and Keyshia Cole. With each stitch of fabric, she carries this message forward and builds a brand that is spirited and eclectic, but still classic.
Sevan: Tell me a little bit about your line.
Nneka: I started in 2005 kind of on a whim. I always loved to sew, always loved to make things, and I got a sewing machine for Christmas that year. My mom bought it because she knew I liked to do stuff, but I had never used a sewing machine before.
I was like, “Why did she buy me a sewing machine? I’m not going to use it.” And she said, “No, whatever, take it. It was on sale.” I said “OK.” So I let it sit around for two months, and then I decided to play around with it. That’s when I ended up doing a bag, and it came out OK so I said maybe I should try to see what happens, make a couple…maybe people will buy them? And so I did that. I made 10 and then they sold to my family and friends that weekend for $20 each.
And so I said, OK maybe I’m on to something. So that’s kind of where it all started and from there it’s been a word-of-mouth thing.
Nneka: I did a MySpace page back in ’05, and I got featured in a couple of blogs which kind of helped it really grow and actually that’s probably where I got the most exposure. You’ve heard of Concrete Loop, right? I was featured on there in ’07 and literally got 10,000 hits on my Myspace page and like 200 emails from people trying to order. I couldn’t believe it! At the time I was still working full-time so I would go to work, come back home, make bags…basically stay up till like 3-4 in the morning and do the same thing all over. And that’s kind of how it kept going. From there, I would do it on and off. I stopped for a period of time and then started back. Last year I left my full-time job and now I’m pursuing it full-time.
Sevan: How was it leaving your full-time job?
Nneka: It was difficult. I knew that I wasn’t going to be there for much longer, but I had no clue that it would be that soon. I figured I’d be there for at least a couple more years. Before I got to that point, Armond [my husband] said, “Yea, I don’t see you being there any longer than a year.” And I was like what? Yea right. Yea I’m going to leave one day, but it’s not going to be anytime soon. And then my company started talking about doing a reorganization across the board and people getting laid off, but no one knew who would be affected. Then they said you could volunteer to take a package. And I said, hmm maybe this is a sign. Maybe this is an opportunity to step out there? So we prayed about it and I already knew the answer, but I was like that can’t be the answer. Leave? Really?
So it came and I said, you know what, this is the time and I said I’m going to step out on faith and see what happens, and that’s it.
Sevan: What has the journey been like?
Nneka: It’s been good, you know. It’s refreshing, for one, because I had a good job but it just never fulfilled me creatively, and I always knew there was something more. I would go to work sometimes literally in tears driving in because I felt so torn. Because one part of me was like I should be grateful for having a job in a time like this where a lot of people aren’t working…but at the same time I said no, this can’t be what life is going to be like. You know what I mean? And so finally the opportunity came, and I took it as what God was pressing me to do and that’s what I did. You know, it’s a faith walk.
Nneka: I always talk about faith, and I’m big on faith because that’s its really about. Life in general is a faith walk, but especially something like this. I left security to come to something that’s unfamiliar. As with anything, every month is different. You have to really work hard and you have to really grind. It’s not easy at all. It’s great to be able to make your own schedule and work in your own environment, but some months you may not make as much as you do in other months. So you have to know that can often times come with the territory.
But it’s fulfilling, and I really do see the light at the end of the tunnel. I think it’s a slow grind, you have to continue to build your brand. That’s what I’ve been trying to do just build and get as much exposure as I can. Get it out there. Right now I’m still pretty much a one woman show. So I do everything myself, which is hard because I’ve got to make the product, ship it out and that’s just the manufacturing side of it. Then you have all the other stuff. Marketing, doing events…social media itself is a full-time job by itself, you know what I mean?
Sevan: How do you manage it all?
Nneka: I stay up very late. I have very long, late nights most of the time. I’m a night owl anyway so staying up till like 3 or 4 really isn’t that big of a deal to me. It’s been a little better now that I have my office. Because when you’re at home, and you work from home you never really turn off. Because it’s always there. But now that I’ve moved everything here it’s been kind of good in the sense that now I have a little more structure. But I still come here and stay here late sometimes. Not as late as I used to, I wouldn’t stay here til 3 in the morning. Well, I guess I probably would if I had to, but I haven’t yet. But yea, that’s been good. It’s great. It’s fulfilling. I feel like this or something in this realm is what I should be doing.
Nneka: And then I think the most encouraging thing which has also been very humbling and surreal is when people are like oh, you inspire me. Me…really?! So many people I don’t know are so encouraging and supportive of me and it’s amazing. So, I look at it as confirmation that maybe this is the right path because obviously, even though I feel I have so far to go, he little things that I’ve done are encouraging or inspiring somebody else. That’s a blessing! It’s awesome to me and definitely lets me know this is what I should be doing. You just gotta keep going, keep pressing towards the mark. Gotta stay persistent. I do recognize that. It’s not an overnight success type of thing. For some people it is, but with most people it’s not.
Sevan: What’s the biggest challenge?
Nneka: The biggest challenge probably is balancing it all. It can be very challenging because you feel like you’re being pulled in so many different directions so not having anybody to really to help me. I have an intern now. That’s just for the summer. She started two weeks ago. So she helps, but it’s not like she’s here every day. So you know, I can delegate little things to her and even delegation that’s kind of a challenge too because I like to be hands on with everything. I guess that’s something you need to work on now when you’re at this level because when you do grow, you have to learn how to delegate because you cannot do everything yourself. You just can’t. You’ll burn out. So I think that’s the biggest challenge, just juggling everything. Trying to do this, do that, set up this…
Sevan: What is that like being an entrepreneur and being married?
Nneka: Well, you know the cool thing about it is that, even though my husband has a full-time job right now, he is an entrepreneur too. So he understands. It’s not like I’m working late, and he’s like, “Oh, what are you doing?” He knows because he’s also doing the same thing. He wrote a book and he used to have a real estate business, so he’s done it. I mean you still have to balance things out because you can’t work, work, work, and then not have any time, so we always make it a point to make time for each other and have our date nights and all that type of stuff. But it is very cool because he is very understanding and he’s really super supportive. He helps me in any way I need. Whatever he can do, he will help, so it’s great. But you do have to make sure you kind of keep [the marriage] a priority too because you could easily get so wrapped up and busy with stuff.
Sevan: And last one, where do you get your ideas for your designs?
Nneka: Everything really. I love fabric stores. If I go in a fabric store I’m just like in heaven and so usually Im just looking to see what stands out to me. Once I see the actual print or material, that’s when I get the inspiration. That’s when I start thinking, OK this would go good with this or this may look cute with that. So that’s kind of really where it comes from. I also love to draw inspiration from people. I just love to sit and people watch sometimes. That’s the cool thing about New York or DC or other cities like that too. Because you see so many different types of people and styles…the mixing and matching of different prints and textures I do with a lot of my bags kind of go hand in hand with that. I really love to see people who are unique and who stand on their own and not really follow, but instead they’re a leader in their own right. So with my bags, I draw a lot of inspiration from them.