After graduating from college, Jenna Nia decided to invest in herself and her love for fashion and entrepreneurship. Before launching Imme Collection, which has been worn by a number of popular celebrities, Nia took a detour into reality TV. Read on to find out how this brainy beauty became the creative director of her own fashion label.
What’s your background and how would you describe what you do? Tell us your story.
As the creative director of Imme Collection, I design all of our pieces as well as manage the marketing and branding of the label. My background in fashion design starts with me designing and sewing my own clothes as a preteen. My goal was to go to college for both fashion and business but during my senior year in high school, I made the difficult decision to accept an academic scholarship to Saint Louis University that didn’t have a fashion program so I forfeited my opportunity to get a formal fashion education.
I received my bachelor’s in business administration with a concentration in marketing as well as an MBA from Strayer University. After graduating college and doing several internships in marketing and PR, I secured an entry-level job in marketing which led to a long six-figure career at a large corporation. I launched Imme Collection in 2013 while I was still working a 9-to-5. I worked on my business as much as I could before and after work and on weekends. Then after successfully building my company, I was able to leave corporate America in 2015 and run my business full time.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced during your journey creating this brand?
As a fashion designer, your designs are your art so it can be challenging to balance your art with your business. For example, I could be in love with a particular design and then not get the response I expect when I release it. Sometimes I have to know how to let go of pieces I’m personally super excited about and focus on delivering pieces that I know will sell well.
What is the hardest part about being an entrepreneur?
The most difficult aspect of being an entrepreneur is the uncertainty that comes with owning a business. When you have a job working for an established company, you know exactly what your job is and how much you’re getting paid to do it. When you’re an entrepreneur, you never know what the day is going to bring and your income isn’t guaranteed. But this is also what makes being an entrepreneur so rewarding because you never get bored and you have the opportunity to make an infinite amount of money versus being paid a fixed salary.
How long did it take for your business to take off and what would you have done differently?
Honestly my business results have always been a direct reflection of what I put into it. When I first started, I was super anxious to grow my company so I put a lot of energy into marketing my brand and within a couple of months I was consistently generating revenue. Then over the next couple of years, I was occasionally distracted by my former job or just life in general and my business took a backseat. And even after I left my job in 2015, I still didn’t put a consistent effort into growing my business because at the time I was pregnant with my now one year old son and becoming a first-time mom took priority. So if I could change anything, I would have been more consistent in the first couple of years of my business.
What made you choose the route of custom making your designs instead of buying wholesale?
When I started my business in 2013, it started as Imme Boutique and I originally did purchase items wholesale. I started as an online boutique because buying wholesale and reselling is much easier and faster than actually designing and producing your own collection. Selling items as a boutique allowed me to quickly build a following and generate revenue while I was preparing to launch Imme Collection but it reinforced my desire to only sell my own pieces. I would buy items wholesale and I always got frustrated when I received them and the quality of the fabric or construction wasn’t up to par or the color or fit wasn’t what I thought it should be. It took me about six months to fully transition from Imme Boutique to exclusively selling my original Imme Collection designs.
Before reality television became a huge deal, you were a cast member on BET’s “College Hill: Interns.” Which season were you on and tell us about that experience.
I was a cast member on “College Hill: Interns,” the spin-off of “College Hill” that featured eight college students and recent college grads from all over the country working on a summer internship in Chicago. When I saw the commercial on BET advertising the auditions, I had just graduated from college a semester early and was working a full-time internship at a prominent PR company. My full-time internship gave me a taste of what it was like to really work a 9-to-5 but it was temporary so I wanted to do one more exciting thing before I got a “real job.”
What made “College Hill: Interns” different from the other seasons of “College Hill” is that we did do work for our internship and I really did gain experience that was relevant to my business degree. Being on “College Hill” 10 years ago was a lot of exposure at the time but reality TV and social media were very different back then so I didn’t take advantage of the exposure and focus on building my own brand like I would have today.