Have you ever met someone who just gets it? Whether they have shared experiences or have developed extreme empathy from their personal relationships? Well, besides footwear, food, and dreaming of global travel, I love to keep tabs on the VC (venture capital), marketing, and startup worlds. In my spare time, I’m literally trying to absorb as much information and inspiration from influencers and thought leaders in either of those spaces who constantly think out-of-the-box. (*Let me know if you want to hear more about who I’m following.) And, of course, I’m a little biased towards footwear startup founders.
Jamela A. Acheampong is a name that you should definitely remember. And she most definitely gets it. This 29-year-old Queen Feet ally, corporate expat turned private label footwear Founder/ Brand Director knows how to survey consumer behavioral demand and has the GUSTO to actually put in the work to materialize her dreams. Despite the funding and support challenges faced by women of color, Jamela has managed to conjure Kahmune, a footwear brand that specializes in inclusive nude shades. We, as the Specialty Shoe Lover (SSL)/ Queen Feet community, applaud her for her continued success because this has been no easy feat. If you do a little research on footwear production, you’ll learn how EXPENSIVE this ancient industry can be. The footwear tariff codes in the U.S. alone are ridiculous. With this being such a traditional, labor-intensive industry, production and shipping (including supply chain) costs can easily add up.
Without nearly as much footwear experience and financial support as her counterparts, Jamela’s Kahmune brand is nearly 2 years old. YAY! If you want to learn more about the lack of diversity within the startup funding realm, I suggest you start with the Harlem Capital ‘Diversity-In-VC Research Report’ to get an idea of the challenges that Jamela and other founders of color continue to face.
I got a chance to learn more about the Kahmune launch story, so of course, I had to share. Enjoy!
SSL: Jamela, I don’t personally know too many millennial women of color in footwear start-ups. If you could, tell me a little about your footwear background prior to Kahmune’s official conception. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I thought your background was in finance or accounting. How did Kahmune get its start?
NEED! At the time that I came up with the idea, there were very few nude footwear options for women of colour, or anyone really who didn’t view their skin as beige or tan. I was working in FinTech Sales and decided it was not for me, so I left my job. I realised a few nights later that I had two choices: begin the tedious process of finding a new role or bite the bullet and start my own venture. Naturally, I went with the latter. I have always known that I wanted to run my own business(es.) I think if you talked to my friends and family they would describe me as pretty bold and outgoing, so it was never a question of finding the courage to start the brand.
The idea behind KAHMUNE (com · mune) was born in February of 2016. Whilst browsing social media in search of “nude” clothes and accessories, I noticed that the term always drew the same results. Although I was in search of items that matched my dark skin tone, all I kept coming across were the same beige, cream, and tan shades. It was overtly clear that “nude” had a type. My Dad has always said that ‘some of the best business ideas are the ones that solve a problem’. The fact that the term “nude” is attributed to a specific shade is a problem. KAHMUNE was born as a long overdue solution. There are quite a few other brands on the market doing the same for lingerie, lipstick, and tights, but I noticed a huge gap when it came to women’s footwear.
SSL: Did you have a support system (investors, mentors, founding partners, etc.) to help you navigate this new world of footwear design and manufacturing? How much time did it take from your initial concept to the brand’s launch?
I’ve noticed that I can be quite an impatient person when it comes to the things I love, so that’s one thing I’ve had to learn on this journey. I haven’t had any investors or mentors but am still actively looking for both! My family, in particular my sister, has been my rock and also the reason Kahmune caters to women size 11+.
In many ways, I ran before I could walk. So, in all honesty, I don’t feel like the brand has truly formally launched. It’s much of the reason I decided to throw the events this year, as it’s my opportunity to finally get out and meet “The Kahmunity” and introduce them to the shoes in person. With that said, I came up with the concept in March of 2016, so we’re pushing 2 years! My first samples were received about 8 months later, my first round of press just under a year later. My first official orders followed closely after. And my first customer feedback/review was received about 15 months after I first had my idea.
SSL: It’s been a pleasant surprise that your footwear line includes extended sizes, do you happen to wear a size US 10+/ EU 41+ in footwear? What was the basis for your decision to include extended sizes?
I do actually! I’ve always been a solid US 10. My sister is a US 12, so she has constantly reminded me since the brand’s inception that she’s going to need to be able to wear the shoes too. As a brand that prides itself on being inclusive and having received a slew of emails asking for the larger sizes; I knew it was something I had to do.
SSL: The Kahmune brand has a really unique theme, inclusive nude shades, which is totally incredible and rivals Christian Louboutin’s similar collection. As a dark-skinned woman, I can definitely appreciate a great nude shade that compliments my actual skin tone. How did you choose this theme as the basis of your brand?
It was a no-brainer for me, if I’m honest. Sometimes, unless a problem is pointed out you sadly, (you) don’t always notice it’s there. I’ve contemplated a few times why Band-Aids are a certain colour, or why bras come in one “skin tone” shade but never contemplated doing anything about it. When I came up with the idea, it really bothered me that there were so far options and more importantly that the ones out there were allowed to steal the word nude when nude is not one colour! I found it very disconcerting that in this day and age the concept was not being challenged more. It may not be a necessity, but we all deserve to have the option!
SSL: Has it been difficult to manufacture footwear extended sizes? If so, what’s been the biggest challenge(s)?
Yes! Sadly. Did you know that most Italian manufacturers don’t carry their lasts, which is what is used to mold and make the shoe, in sizes larger than an EU 41? (US 10) You have to get the lasts made separately! It’s one of the reasons I experienced such a production delay last year as they had to do a lot of testing to ensure the heels fit correctly and would support any additional weight of a person requiring a larger shoe. I haven’t minded or found it challenging thus far as I’ve been lucky enough to find manufacturers willing to work with me to produce these extended sizes.
SSL: Footwear manufacturing is not cheap. As a minority-owned start-up, have you faced funding limitations with investors and/ crowdsourcing? If so, how can the Queen Feet community support Kahmune?
No, it most certainly is not! As much as I hate to admit it, the main reason Kahmune hasn’t been able to grow faster is due to capital constraints. There IS a funding gap. I would be silly not to admit it. And not only am I a woman, but I am a minority woman. I won’t let this stop me, but it is definitely more work trying to explain to the everyday investor why it is important for all women to have a shoe that matches their skin! I did attempt to crowdfund last year but sadly was not successful. Could be another one in the works…Stay Tuned! I would love for the QF (Queen Feet Community) to join our mailing list and/or follow us on social for updates. Also, (I’m) always open to feedback and requests.
SSL: What could we be expect to see from Kahmune in the upcoming year? Any new styles in the works?
Of course! We’ll be releasing some summer styles this spring and will also be dropping a few highly anticipated warm weather styles this fall! We’ll be over in the US doing launches/product events in order to give our Kahmunity a chance to interact with the brand and the shoes. NYC and LA are on the calendar and we hope to add more dates shortly.
SSL: What advice would you give to young women who are interested in pursuing a start-up that might be slightly different from their academic or career backgrounds?
I’m sure you hear it all the time but don’t give up! And have the courage to break away from tradition– NO you do not have to be a lawyer, doctor, or business person. Once you find what you’re good at and what makes you happy, stick with it! If you love it enough, you will make sure you succeed! Even if you can’t start big, start small, but make sure you start! Find a mentor. Join women in business/entrepreneurship groups. If you know exactly what it is you would like to do, use the skills you do have to secure a job in that industry or in an area that gives you some exposure, so you can gain skills that you can use once you launch your own venture. NEVER be afraid to ask for help. Try to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Competition is healthy but make sure you’re building other women around you up rather than trying to bring them down.
Jamela and the Kahmune brand gets the Queen Feet community because this unique brand aims to make diversity the standard, not the exception. Therefore, we should support any and all brands that support us! Also, shoutout to Jamela’s Queen Feet sister– the reason the brand offers sizes beyond U.S. 10. You see what happens when we speak up for what we actually need?!! Be sure to follow the brand on IG!
If you know about any budding footwear brands that cater to the SSL/ Queen Feet community, please share with us below.