Joanna: Founder of JEMMA 

I’ve always had a keen interest in fashion, especially workwear. During high school I completed a summer course in fashion design at Parsons and then I worked part-time in PR at Tommy Hilfiger while studying at NYU.

I began my career an Emerging Markets Trader on Wall Street. However, I realized that my career clashed with my love for style when I couldn’t find a chic, high-quality handbag that served the daily needs of modern women like myself. Once I Identified the gap in the marketplace, I knew I wanted to fill it.

From there, launching the business meant planning. I forecasted how much I would need to get the business up and running, set aside the amount from my savings, and just went for it. I think it’s important to believe in yourself. There’s never a right time, and you’ll never know you’re ready. Believe in your vision and go.

On being a CEO

I start my day at 6AM, which is sleeping in, compared to the days when I worked in finance. The first thing I do when I wake up is check emails because I like to be on top of everything throughout the day. Next, I hit the gym for half an hour while listening to Bloomberg TV. I like to stay up to date with the markets.

I always select my outfits the night before and place everything I need for the next day in my JEMMA work bag. This way I’m never scrambling to find things in the morning and only occasionally switch items in and out of my bag depending on what else I may need.

By 8:15 AM I’m out my door and on my way the office. Once I’m in, the first thing I do is respond to all urgent emails, from customer service to web development to marketing/social media/PR needs from my agencies and supply chain logistics.

Meetings and conference calls happen in the afternoon and recently I’ve been speaking at various colleges across the country with Women in Business students. These speaking panels are fun and rewarding for me and they keep me in touch with my target customers’ needs even though I’m an e-commerce only company. I’m always thinking about new designs, brand strategies and overall growth tactics for JEMMA.

Ideally I eat dinner at 7PM, that is if I’m lucky enough to be done with work. It’s hard to know when you’re done with work as an entrepreneur. I like to spend one or two nights a week out with friends for dinner/drinks and then the other nights at home cooking. It’s important to stay inspired and happiness really comes from surrounding yourself with the right energy. Thankfully, I have family and friends who lift me up and help push me forward.

At night, I try to sleep at least seven to eight hours to make sure I’m fully awake for the next day. Luckily I can fall asleep anywhere – and fast!


On Jemma as a business 

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 is light colored to avoid the proverbial “black hole” of a larger handbag. A pen holder, a lipstick holder, and card slots were 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.

On dealing with rejection

Running a business is an emotional rollercoaster, from successful leaps forward to frequent rejections. I think the biggest challenge I faced was bringing a company to success with limited resources. Financial management and cashflow allocation is extremely important, but when you do it right, it is a very rewarding experience. I measure my rewards through personal success and the satisfaction of my work that comes from doing something I love. I’m rewarded when I see other women share JEMMA’s vision and especially when they get excited about how JEMMA handbags will improve their work, life and balance between the two.


On learning from mistakes 

A lot of times, my mistakes happened simply because I’m new at this and forging my own way. I don’t see my mistakes as setbacks though, I learned something new each time and am able to make JEMMA better because of them.

Best piece of advice

Life is too short. Do what you love and don’t be confined by social norms.

On advice that should be ignored

Advice to be like someone else that isn’t you.

On mentors  

I admire Steve Jobs! I try to surround myself with mentors from varied backgrounds to develop a fuller understanding of career and life.

On the evolution of JEMMA 

I see JEMMA evolving into a go-to brand for the modern working woman because they trust us and have a sense of ownership—like our bags are made just for them, and they’re excited to see what we’re going to churn out next. We’re working on a few exciting things now, in fact.

The most significant moment in running JEMMA thus far

Walking on the street and seeing women carrying JEMMA bags with total confidence!

To learn more about JEMMA click here

Where to find JEMMA


Instagram: @jemmagirlnyc

Twitter: @JemmaGirlNYC


Write A Comment