Monday, 16 May 2016

Designer on the Rise: Joanna Lau, Founder and CEO of Jemma

Between slaying it at work, grabbing drinks with her girlfriends and hitting the gym on a (semi) regular basis, the modern woman is busier than ever. While every girl boss has her own tricks to having it all, there's one thing any busy bee needs: A versatile purse. Switching bags every morning takes some valuable time out of your day, plus even the sharpest style maven may accidentally forget her apartment keys in the switch. With a versatile color palette and fashion-forward silhouettes that will take you from the office to happy hour, Jemma provides a chic alternative to the typical working bag. Here, founder and CEO Joanna Lau shares her style secrets and what's to come for the emerging brand.

Joanna Lau

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.
TT: How does Jemma differ from other purse brands on the market?

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.
TT: I know playing favorites is nearly impossible, but which bag is your favorite: the Emma or the Jojo?

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!

Can't get enough of Jemma? Be sure to follow the brand on Instagram and Twitter.


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