Featured Member: Nancey Harris of Vontélle Eyewear
Vontélle Eyewear is Born
In 2019, both Nancey Harris and her friend Tracy Green lost their eyeglasses. After they finished kicking themselves for losing expensive designer frames, they committed to buying from a Black-owned business to replace them. The challenge was that Black eyewear designers were few and far between. Not only were there very few African American eyewear designers, but they weren’t seeing designs and prints that stood out or excited them. Then and there the two ladies decided they would create their own eyewear company: Vontélle Eyewear.
“We know that we have this capability to be one of the leading luxury eyewear manufacturers that exist, barring the fact that we are women and we are Black,” said Harris. “Those things should not make their way into this equation. That just happens to be who we are, but it’s not what we do.”
Nancey, a serial entrepreneur and media professional for major corporations, and Tracy, a hospital CFO, have tons of collective business experience that primed them for running a bootstrapped startup. So when it came to sourcing materials, negotiating contracts, and working with manufacturers, they had plenty of experience to pull from.
Even with Nancey’s extensive business experience, starting an eyewear company was not without its challenges, both personally and professionally. Initially, it was really hard to find a manufacturer that would work with Vontélle. “They don’t see people like myself and my partner approaching them on a daily basis,” said Harris. “So there’s that lack of trust in that we can make intelligent business decisions.”
When they found a distributor willing to work with them, there was the additional challenge of convincing them to do custom designs. Nancey and Tracy wanted custom products with interesting African patterns and unique designs instead of just placing their name on a traditional frame. But Harris and her partner weren’t deterred. “There’s always some hurdle that you’re going to overcome at every stage of your business as you continue to grow,” she said.
Like with many other businesses, the pandemic affected the trajectory of the company. People were spending their money differently and not necessarily going to the eye doctor or focusing on their eye health. One of the ways they pivoted was to include a matching mask with every eyeglass purchase.
As a bootstrapped startup, their latest challenge is finding creative ways to market with a limited budget, but Harris has faced every challenge head-on and remained unwavering in her optimism and her passion for their products.
Part of her ability to weather business challenges is that she’s not afraid to ask for help. Finding mentors and connecting with colleagues in her industry have contributed to her success. “You’re going to need help at some point. No one can do it all by themselves,” she said.
Vontélle is passionate about eye health. They want people to make their eye health a priority.
So when they had the opportunity to provide eyeglasses for hundreds of families in a New York City WIN family shelter, they jumped at it. “Getting eye exams and this part of health care is often overlooked, and there are a lot of companies that even though they often offer health care, they don’t even offer dental or eye care,” says Harris.
In a May event, Vontélle served 77 families without housing, and they have no plans of stopping. As the company continues to grow, they plan to take this giving event nationwide. “Once we take care of New York, our own backyard, then we’re going to spread out and spread the love and the joy,” says Harris.
IAW Grant Winner
Vontélle was also the recipient of the inaugural IAW Inspirational Influencer Summit small business grant. Harris joined IAW in 2021 because she wanted to be part of a community of like-minded women and felt there were a lot of opportunities that existed for her to learn new things. Out of hundreds of applicants, Vontelle was chosen to receive a $1,000 business grant. “We are grateful when people acknowledge the hard work and dedication that we put into the work that we’re doing,” says Harris. “And we’re really proud of it, and we get to build a legacy for our family, for our children.”
Vontélle Eyewear is offering 15% off all purchases to IAW members using the code “IAW”.