Meet Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris, Founders of Vontélle Eyewear – a luxury eyewear company providing bespoke textiles & prints from the African Diaspora on optical frames and sunglasses. We offer sizes that complement diverse faces, fulfill prescriptions, and custom lens color/tints including blue light blocker lenses.
The glasses we have been wearing for years were simply not made to fit diverse faces with very narrow bridges and short temples, which cause dark blemishes on the nose and tension headaches. Lastly, after visiting an eyewear expo in Paris with thousands of attendees we saw that the eyewear industry lacked diversity. There was simply no other choice but to create a new narrative and vision for the eyewear industry. It is the goal of Vontélle Eyewear to add more diversity and culture to the eyewear industry.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: We are the dynamic duo Tracy and Nancey (Tracy without the “e” and Nancey with an “e”). Please credit our parents for all names and spellings discussed in the interview.
The concept for Vontélle was born out of a need of both founders Tracy Vontélle Green and Nancey Harris, who met in college at Morgan State University, and each lost their expensive eyewear within that same year. They wanted vibrant patterns, better fitting glasses, and options to purchase from a Black-owned brand.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: Nancey: As a child, I wanted to be so many things ranging from Wonder Woman, because of her superhuman strength and mobility to WNBC Award-winning journalist like Sue Simmons, and make an impact in the world of journalism. My bachelor’s degree is in Mass Communications with a minor in journalism. My world shifted after graduation, and I found myself in the world of advertising and sales. Before long, I became a top sales executive earning millions of dollars for my employers. However, after 20 years, I began getting corporate burnout and I knew I had to make a change. When I received a call from my best friend (Tracy), lamenting about losing her glasses and wanting glasses that were more stylish, I figured she was on to something. After further discussion and research, we decided this was the path we wanted to take and create fashionable glasses for the culture. The rest is Her-story!
Tracy: Funny as a child I wanted to be the boss (I was the eldest child of 4). I knew I was going to be in charge of something. As a teenager, I loved Fashion, Art and wanted to be a supermodel (I remember spending my allowance on subscribing to all the major magazines and creating collages). However, I was very good with numbers and entered college as a Political Science major with my eyes set on attending law school. However, a very good friend (Nancey) said you should major in accounting as by that time I was doing many of my friends’ annual income taxes including my parents. Thus, I minored in accounting, received a master’s degree, and worked my way up to Chief Financial Officer (CFO). However, I was always a businesswoman, I had a tax business and owned and rented real estate. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur but was afraid to take the leap – I had a good career. But the pandemic combined with a new medical diagnosis (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults – Type 1.5 it’s both Type 1 & Type 2) helped me take the leap. It was now or never.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: For us, becoming an entrepreneur is having an idea and seeing it through to fruition. Many say the greatest ideas are in the graveyard. Many people have great ideas, but not everyone acts on them and although some ideas require startup costs, it takes nothing to begin the research and learn ways to make your dream come true.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: Vontélle was founded in 2019 to satisfy the demand for better-fitting vibrant, fashion-forward eyewear. Each of our products and accessories is designed and handcrafted to pay homage to our African ancestry with traditional colors and patterns that channel our African, Caribbean, and Latin heritage. Our patterns use many textiles and designs from highly identifiable, recognizable, and respected materials like mud cloth and kente cloth. These designs are tailored to empower humanity to see the world through a cultural and global lens.
We fulfill prescriptions (readers, single vision, and progressives) and offer custom lens color/tints including blue light blocker and/or polarized lenses in any pair of frames. We offer optical frames and sunglasses in sizes that complement diverse faces. Our research concluded that many of us are wearing ill-fitting glasses. Vontélle wider bridges for your nose, longer temples for behind the ears, and larger lenses for high cheekbones will fit comfortably on your face.
Vontélle translated from French means “there she goes,” or “to go.” Our head-turning eyewear designs work to ensure this level of command in every room. “You GO” style. Our products are meant to empower you to walk confidently in this world: at work, at play, for every occasion. Our commitment to celebratory ethnic eyewear fashion was born out of a need to create designs that are better fitting, durable, bold, and beautiful as eyewear is a medical necessity and worn daily.
Additionally, Vontélle works to address vision health disparities in deserving communities. Each year, we commit a portion of proceeds to further vision support services for children and families in need.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: You can be disruptive by creating something new and/or improving upon something that already exists and catering to an audience. The entire reason Vontélle exists is that we saw a need that nobody was fulfilling. Our customers have been ignored. A few eyewear lines create XL frames but only one or two pairs of glasses. We created 37 eyewear designs that fit diverse faces and included patterns and textiles in the African, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures. Finally, you must be flexible which means willing to pivot and make adjustments. Due to the pandemic, we decided to create masks to match our beautiful patterns and coined the phrase #fullfacefashion.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: Vontélle launched amid this global health crisis COVID-19 parallel to our own personal challenges and crises. In December 2019, while on vacation out of the country for the holiday, Tracy went into diabetic ketoacidosis and was diagnosed with a rare form of diabetes called LADA Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (also called Type 1.5 which falls between both type 1 and type 2 diabetes).
In September of 2020, Nancey’s, home caught on fire and her family was immediately displaced. She had to stay in a hotel, get clothes from friends, deal with insurance and move her son to grandparents, but quickly found housing due to a great network of friends while her house was renovated.
However, we did not skip a beat as we were nine (9) days away from launching a business that we had carefully planned. Still, we were determined to push through, our vision and mission were bigger than both of us, we had a small team who had worked very hard, and we had inventory to sell. Believe me, we were tired, overwhelmed, even sick at times but we never wanted to quit. We launched our website and our inaugural collection on October 1st, 2020, as scheduled and here we are persevering today.
Every day we make decisions that extend us and the team, but we agree that we will grow together. Like being the 1st Black Women-Owned Eyewear company to partner with Nickelodeon- ViacomCBS to create a children’s line. We are still pinching ourselves- this is an amazing opportunity.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain.
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: As an entrepreneur, you use every talent. Even your not-so-good ones because you don’t have the capital to pay people to do everything. I would say at the beginning, I was taking pics of my friends (models) using my iPhone…hey we used them to launch the website. Thankfully, today we now have photographers and I really understand the difference. But I’m not ashamed to say that is my most useless talent.
Nancey: I’m ambidextrous, but my more dominant hand is the left hand. Although this is not fact-driven, I’d like to think that this ability has taught me how to quickly adapt from one duty to the other seamlessly; or even work on multiple tasks simultaneously. All credit for this skill goes back to the root of me being ambidextrous. Our advice is to embrace your uniqueness.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: As a startup, having a supportive and inclusive culture is important. Ideas should never live in a vacuum. The greatest ideas come from productive conversations both inside and outside of your organization. We have worked in multiple environments, at various levels, we agree one flourishes when you are able to participate, and your views are embraced and even utilized. We all hail from various walks of life and companies will flourish best when they practice inclusivity. The worst advice received would be anything that tells us not to celebrate our uniqueness.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: Vontélle launched amid this global health crisis COVID-19 parallel to our own personal challenges and crises. The e-commerce world for business owners has become a necessity. Brick and mortar cannot be the only options. Customer service as a priority will never change.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: A common myth would be that your plans will not change. Our advice is to develop resilience and flexibility.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: The traits, qualities, and assumptions we believe are most important to have before starting a business include creativity, honesty, and positivity.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: Aspiring leaders can prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship by exploring the wealth of knowledge and history of HBCUs. Historically Black Colleges offer so much too. Attending Morgan State University has helped to shape who we are today.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: We have worked in the sales, marketing, and accounting industries.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris: We would add women like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Mary McLeod Bethune.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris for taking the time to do this interview and share their knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Tracy and Nancey Green & Harris or their company, you can do it through their – Linkedin Page
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