At 22 years-old and only seven months into entrepreneurship, designer and creative director Deondra Jeree Morris has produced luxury handbags with price points retailing as high $755
Morris tells EBONY.com she believes that she was born to stand out–much like her bags.
At 19 years-old, dreams of getting into the fashion industry took her from the small town of Dennis Mills, Louisiana to the Big Apple to work the Independent Handbag Designer Awards. While there, Morris was inspired to start her own handbag collection and in late 2012, she began creating it. Using her degree in graphic design and the skills acquired from internships with various fashion, media and accessory brands, Morris produced a collection made of genuine leather and metallic reptile skins inspired by her southern roots. In October of 2013, with the help of a start-up investment from her parents, her handbag line, the Deondra Jeree Collection, was launched.
Since launching, Morris reports that she's sold over 400 handbags and the company is now on track to generate a profit during its second quarter this summer. She continues to grow the imprint of Deondra Jeree by securing placement at trade shows like the ENK International Trade Show where her handbags are currently being shown. By the end of next year, she plans to have expanded the Deondra Jeree brand to include leather goods, shoes, and sunglasses.
EBONY.com caught up with the designer and creative director to learn more about the young millennial who has found a way to live her fashion-forward dreams.
EBONY: Where did develop the confidence to go after your dreams, especially in such a competitive industry, so early in life?
DEONDRA MORRIS: My parents always told me that I could be whatever I wanted. Not being successful was never an option in my home. I love fashion and I’m very serious about my work and my business.
EBONY: What was it about fashion that drew you to it? And what has kept you since pursuing a career in the industry?
DM: I’ve been into fashion since grade school. Growing up, I was always the kid that everyone called “weird” because I had my own sense of style and fashion. As a child, I would look up the latest fashions on my phone and talk my parents’ ears off about it. I’d always watch shows such as America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and Project Accessory. I always knew fashion was the career I wanted to pursue so that’s why I started my own handbag collection.
EBONY: Most people don’t understand the process of what it takes to create a handbag line. Can you give us some insight into the process?
DM: Yes, the handbag development process is quite long but very interesting. I look for inspiration for the design, then layout the sketch. Then, I source the leather to create samples for production and any marketing-related purposes. Once I am happy with the samples, I initiate production. The process can take anywhere from three to six months depending on the materials and suppliers I use.
EBONY: So what differentiates Deondra Jeree handbags from other luxury handbags on the market?
DM: The Deondra Jeree brand is different from other luxury brands because: we use only the finest materials at affordable prices. We also only offer six designs because we are a niche brand. We are not trying to compete with all of the blockbuster brands. We know our clients want stylish, practical handbags that can transition from day-to-night or work-to-weekend for an affordable price tag.
EBONY: Switching gears some, as a millennial, what has the journey been like to build a sustainable and profitable brand at a relatively young age?
DM: It has been a very long and expensive journey, but I have a strong support system. My parents are extremely supportive, as is my brother. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management so he helps with the business and management end of the company. I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet experienced and knowledgeable fashion professionals along my journey. In fact, my marketing and merchandising teams have become my mentors. They don’t want me to make the same mistakes they made starting [out] so they are guiding me in the right direction. It’s like having business school professors on speed dial.
EBONY: That’s great! What is one major obstacle that you all have faced along this journey and how have/did you work to overcome it?
DM: The biggest obstacle I encountered was when my bags were going into production. My manufacturer couldn’t find any more of the metallic, gold, [and] genuine lizard skin used in many of the products. But after we contacted six or seven suppliers, we ended up finding the materials, and the problem was solved.
EBONY: So, when did you all realize that your line was becoming successful?
DM: Originally, when my first set of samples were finished, the manufacturer didn’t think my ideas and bags were going to be great. But once they were finished, I got a call from someone at the manufacturer who said, “Oh my God, your bags are beautiful! Job well done! The bags look like they’re supposed to be in Saks [Fifth Avenue]!” One of my dreams is to have my bags sold at Saks. I’ve also received a lot of positive feedback from the media.
EBONY: What is some of the best advice that you’ve received thus far and who gave it to you?
The best advice I have received thus far is from my dad. He has always told me to do good and good things will follow. I know it sounds like a platitude, but it is true.
EBONY: What is one of the greatest sacrifices that you’ve had to make thus far for your business and dream?
I have a brand and a business to protect so I am not able to behave like a normal 22-year-old. I just don’t have the time to go out and socialize with my friends. When my friends are out after work having dinner, I am in the studio designing, doing interviews, or traveling to source materials.
Also, there are girls who look up to me so I have to be careful of what I say and do. Being a positive role model is very important.
EBONY: What advice would you give to other Black, Fresh & 20-Somethings who are looking to enter this area of fashion?
Be yourself. Be original. Be willing to work long days and nights. Accept help when needed. Listen to others who have been through it. Find a mentor. Educate yourself on running a business because it is not easy. Don’t give up when things get tough. Always have a positive attitude and network. Do your research. And finally, always put God first.