The Trendologist: Tell me a little about yourself. What did you do before launching Jemma?
Joanna Lau: I was a trader on Wall Street for four years after graduating from NYU Stern with a major in finance and statistics and a minor in music. I always had a keen interest in fashion. I worked part-time at Tommy Hilfiger's public relations department while at NYU and completed a summer course in fashion design at Parsons during high school. I founded Jemma in October 2015, and launched my first Work-Life Collection in January 2016.
TT: What inspired you to start your own line of handbags?
JL: While working in finance, my daily problem was not having a proper work bag that I could confidently carry that not only met my working and personal needs, but had the appropriate color, quality and professionalism. I found myself having to constantly accommodate to the constraints of my handbag. My girlfriends and colleagues had similar experiences, so I knew this was a void that needed to be filled. Jemma was created for the modern working woman who doesn’t want to sacrifice style, convenience or an entire paycheck for the right handbag.
|The Emma Purse, $398, Jemma.|
JL: Jemma fills a niche in the women’s handbag market for a well-designed, high quality handbag that serves the working woman’s daily needs. There are a lot of beautiful handbags available today, but I felt that fashion trumped function far too often. I had many bags that were pretty, but when I needed to carry my laptop or an important folder or file, it was awkward — which is both unattractive and unprofessional. I was frustrated that I couldn’t find a bag that addressed my needs for a functional accessory that was also gorgeous and appealed to all my senses like a luxury handbag.
TT: What was your approach to designing these bags?
JL: I did a lot of market research and interviews with working women to find out exactly what their pain points were with the options that existed for work bags. Clearly an area for a laptop, file and/or folder is essential, and a sleeve for a tablet is important too. Our key attachment snaps into the bag so they’re easy to find, and easy to grab. Our interior a lighter color to avoid the proverbial “black hole” of a larger handbag. A pen holder, a lipstick holder and card slots were [also] non-negotiables. For both style and function, we have an optional cross-body strap and a full closure top for those who commute via mass transit.
TT: Your career history is very different from most designers. What advice would you give individuals who also want to get their start in the fashion industry?
JL: You don’t have to have a conventional design background to succeed in the fashion industry. For me, the Jemma brand is really an extension of who I am, what I love and my personal style. I think a strong brand has to come from within. That way, you know it best and you will know how to make it happen.
|The Jojo Purse, $358, Jemma.|
JL: Currently I have been switching between all bags and colorways depending on my outfit. If I had to choose just one, I’d pick the Navy “Emma” Work Bag when I need my laptop during the day and the Ballet “JoJo” Life Bag when I’m out on the weekends because its simply exudes ladylikeness!
TT: Where do you see the brand in five years?
JL: We are working on a few exciting things now. Stay tuned because we’ll be sticking around!