What inspired you to create your own brand?
I was looking for a versatile shoe that I could wear with everything in my closet, yet I was having trouble finding it. That summer in 2014 I found myself in the south of Spain with some 3rd generation artisans that said they could bring my vision to life. When I got back to the states, I kept getting stopped and asked where I got my shoes. I took that as a sign from the universe, called the artisans and they were as excited as I was to collaborate.
What was your previous work experience before launching your brand?
I worked in luxury retail. I worked for brands like Salvatore Ferragamo, Alfred Dunhill, and Ralph Lauren.
If you could do something different before starting your business what would it be?
I was very happy and very successful in luxury sales. I was also much younger and making six figures. There was no plan! Starting my business was kismet. After I started J.J. Gray I felt that the retail industry was changing and consumers were shifting to online shopping.
"I wish I were a designer, the things I want only exist in my head."
What was the toughest circumstance you overcame when just starting out your business?
ALL OF IT! ha. I am a first-generation woman of color who never thought starting a business was even possible for myself. I had to learn everything from scratch. I was very fortunate to have found some truly wonderful and talented people along the way who mentored me, offered their advice and resources early on that set me on the path I am on today.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer? Why or Why not?
I have always loved fashion but never thought I’d be a designer. When I was younger, I had designed a few dresses for myself and friends for formal occasions. I remember I’d always say, “I wish I were a designer, the things I want only exist in my head”. So I guess I called it into existence, but never once thought it would actually happen.
How important is social media to your brand?
Very important. I wish I understood social media more so that I could be truly successful in promoting J.J. Gray. For a small business like mine, it’s so helpful when you don’t have the budget for marketing and P.R.
"Success for me is when my clients try on our shoes and the foot and shoe become one."
How do you define fashion?
Fashion for me is an outward expression of how you feel on the inside. I grew up in a time where tomboy was mixed with sexy. Think Madonna in Vogue (men's suit with a bra) or Aaliyah in her baggy jeans and a crop top. I love menswear and adding a feminine twist.
What does the word “success” mean to you?
Success for me is when my clients try on our shoes and the foot and shoe become one. I can’t explain it. My shoes have helped me build special bonds that I cannot articulate. Knowing that the brand is bigger than me and that we inspire confidence in men and women alike, makes me feel successful. Whatever fills you with purpose and understanding of yourself and those around you is success.
Do you see your brand ever expanding into a different avenue? Why or why not?
I hope the brand evolves into something bigger, but right now I’m enjoying being good at what I’m good at. I love our staples. There is a market for everything and this one is ours. Handcrafted shoes and boots made by third generation artisans.
"Knowing that the brand is bigger than me and that we inspire confidence in men and women alike, makes me feel successful."
If you were not in the fashion industry what other industry or job would you be in?
I am really good at anticipating others' needs and helping others. I’m not exactly sure what industry I’d be in but I know I’d be working with people.
What is the inspiration for your brand’s name?
My Grandmother calls me J.J. and there was a time in my life when I saw everything in black and white. I quickly learned the world is one big Gray area! That’s how I came up with J.J. Gray.