Elisa Johnson knew at an early age that accessories are her thing. Not many share the same self awareness.
The designer launched her namesake sunglasses brand this summer with the intent to “celebrate people of color in a light opulence,” she said, and also at an affordable price. The brand currently offers six styles made in Hong Kong and named after friends, family and Johnson’s inspirations, such as her mother, Cookie, her late friend Lyric Leigh, and actress Jane Fonda, priced between $120 and $150 since Johnson believes sunglasses at $300 are nonsensical. She also considers her followers on social media and ensuring the brand is affordable for the people in her age range.
So far the brand’s sales have exceeded Johnson’s expectations and she’s only getting started.
“I want to take what I’ve learned so far and build on it,” said Johnson. “It’s important to reflect on what customers are gravitating toward and what they aren’t. The Jane sunglasses sell out every time, and our rectangular-style Gigi sunglasses sell out the fastest any time there is a new color.”
But why sunglasses?
It started in high school for Johnson, who said she had to wear a uniform every day and hated it. She used accessories to differentiate her look, like Alexander McQueen scarves or spiked Christian Louboutin shoes and sneakers.
She knew she wanted to go to college in New York City after visiting her brother, E.J., and was admitted to a few schools, but decided on the Fashion Institute of Technology for its community. Ultimately the decision was to be “in the thick of the fashion scene in New York City,” she said. “This has always been my number-one love.”
“I always knew I wanted to have my own fashion brand,” she continued, “but I wanted it to be something of quality and affordable. I also wanted to start small. I had big ideas of doing a clothing line, but I wanted to start with something true to me.”
Johnson interned at Luxottica in 10th grade and with longtime friends Coco & Breezy, who walked Johnson through what goes into managing a business.
“I was in the office watching their creative process, working together, their packaging. It was everything that I needed to confirm this is what I wanted to do.”
She also joined the duo at the Vision Expo show, where she noticed the lack of diversity at the exhibition, specifically the low number of Black people at the event. “I saw so few of us, including Coco & Breezy,” she said.
“That pushed me to feel like I’m on to something: To create a brand that represents people of color has been very important to me,” she added.
In 2020, she did a presentation proposal for her first investor — her father, NBA legend Magic Johnson, who declined initially.
“He wanted to know I was serious about this, but instead of just handing me the money to do this, I did a business plan and presentation. I presented a second time in June 2020 and he approved it. I wanted to do it the right way and make sure all of the boxes were checked.”
She continued, “My goal was to be able to say I could pay him back when all was done and I reached that goal in the past four months. I was very happy, shocked actually, but very grateful for everyone that supported me in the beginning. All of the positive feedback I got was overwhelming at first, but sales expectations had been exceeded.”
This content was originally published here.