After six years in the fashion industry, Lisette Ffolkes has worked tirelessly to branch out and has launched a fun, colorful, and bold jewelry line, that uniquely expresses her dual “Caribbean and Latin American” culture roots. Now, after four years running, her New York-based jewelry line Jam+Rico, is well on its way to becoming a household name. Lisette’s creations have gotten major recognition from some well-known companies such as Essence and CRWN Magazine.
Brooklyn’s own Lisette Ffolkes debuted her Jam+Rico collection in the summer of 2016, incorporating various elements of inspiration from the food, music, prints, colors, and patterns of her Jamaican and Puerto Rican heritage into each statement piece, creatively inspired by textures, sights, and sounds of her travels to the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Cuba, and Aruba, in particular. What’s next for Jam+Rico? To expand and integrate her jewelry line with other apparel and fashion ventures that not only appeal to the individuality of the modern consumer but as well evokes the confidence and self-beauty of each wearer.
MN: Tell us about yourself, what’s the foundation of your passion for Jam+Rico?
LF: Growing up, I was always influenced by my culture. With immigrant grandparents from both islands, I was always curious about their upbringing and traditions that were formed from their homeland. The most prominent inspirations were food and music in my home. A little salsa and reggae with a mix of arroz con pollo, pasteles, jerk, and curry were favorites and loves within my home.
Once I got older and was able to travel to both islands, the fascination and love of my heritage grew even stronger. The colors, carnivals, art, beaches, and language all inspired me to create and design. That’s when I knew I needed to design to bring me closer to the cultural connection of my ancestors. With Jam + Rico I can dive deeper into my love of the Caribbean and explore all of the islands which have their traditions and uniqueness.
MN: How did you go about starting your business? How were you able to fund your business? Build a team?
LF: I started my business by with a leap of faith. I self-funded and started by designing only 5-6 pieces that I felt confident would sell. I thought if I would wear it someone else would too! The comfort I had in launching came from a process of a year in planning and developing my ideas. While also learning from the fashion industry after 6 years of experience I wanted to try it on my own. I started by selling to friends and family then started vending at festivals and fairs. Once I saw people outside of my immediate circle were interested I kept going. Currently, I am a one-woman show, it is hard to balance but it’s been such a fun journey so far but we are looking to expand in the near future!
MN: When making and designing a new collection, how long is the process? What inspired you to make such unique pieces?
LF: With each collection, we travel to one Caribbean country and connect with the people, experience, and culture of each island while finding inspiration from our trip. Before each trip, I research the island and learn as much as I can about the history and the places we would like to experience. Once we come back I start sketching and developing a collection. I will sketch 10-25 pieces and will settle on about 10 styles we would like to develop for the new line. This process will take about 6 months for me. It’s a bit longer since we are sharing the story of our travel experience as well as creating a collection. Each piece is handmade and developed in India and New York.
MN: Some challenges are obvious and in your face, can you tell us about the greatest counter-intuitive challenge you’ve faced in this initiative and your most successful strategy in overcoming it?
LF: A blessing that has happened recently in my life has been the birth of my son on May 4th, 2018. Two years into the business as I was beginning to see true growth. After a few days of not feeling too well and endless exhaustion, I decided to take a pregnancy test and to my surprise, I was pregnant with my first child. Every through ran through my head…how can I afford this?! What about my business?! Wait we live in a one-bedroom? I hope he’s healthy…I hope I’m healthy! Omg!!! My little one is a year and a half now and at first, I was continuing to push myself to do everything through maternity leave still answering emails, shipping out orders and had to take a pause to enjoy and live in the moment of my biggest achievement.
I had to stop to soak up every moment of the miracle that just happened once he entered the world. It was so hard for me at first, I was missing events, pop up and meetings while building a new website sending out orders and breastfeeding. More invitations to attend, connect and meet up were coming in and my mobility had slowed. I lost my confidence and almost gave up on the business but I had to learn how to be a mom and run a business at the same time. It was the hardest challenge but I discovered all that I was capable of achieving and this new wave of “mommy energy” helped push my business further than I could ever imagine. I was now working for him to provide a future for him and when you have someone to work for the fire to succeed burned even stronger!
MN: How has your life changed running your own business? What is the good, bad, and ugly being an entrepreneur?
LF: My life is BUSY! I am always on the go, always selling, always thinking about what’s next, while balancing family, friends, and a full-time job. I had to learn how to manage my time and be productive. I always feel like there is not enough time in the day but it’s all how you balance it. At the end of the week, I think about the goals I accomplished, what I wish I achieved and what I want to get done the following week. It allows me to not have to much pressure on myself to get to the next level of my business.
MN: What do you think about the current landscape for women who want to start their business, in particular, minority women? What are some attributes you think must carry/have to be a successful black business owner?
LF: Owning a business is one of the hardest things you can do and most minority black women start with their own savings and an idea. Funding for small businesses in our community is not readily available and most women work extremely hard to get their business running. Currently, social media is a great outlet for businesses to scale and grow at a faster rate. You can connect with customers and offer your product with one click. Having a strong social presence is necessary for all brands.
MN: What advice would you give women who want to follow your shoes?
LF: It’s okay to be afraid!! So often we are told to be brave, strong and fearless as entrepreneurs but it’s also important to know there will be many items of doubt and loneliness. With every victory, there is a mountain of hard work behind it! Your biggest obstacle will be yourself. You will fight through each decision and question if it’s the right one but lean in and go with your gut. As you start on this journey it is mostly a guess and gut check but once you pick up speed you will learn where to go from there. I’m continuously learning from my peers, family, customers, and experiences. I wouldn’t change it for anything!
MN: Where do you hope to see Jam+Rico in the next few years?
LF: We have big plans for Jam+Rico!!! Our first addition is a travel blog. As we visit each Caribbean island we share a culturally connected view and we want to share this experience with everyone. As we build out connections without the islands we plan to offer retreats and a chance to travel with us to experience the island through our eyes. Jam+Rico is in the preliminary stages of this addition so we are excited to launch this part soon. We are also excited to expand our reach with the collection by having more countries and states carry our line. Jam+Rico will also expand our accessory categories to include handbags, hats, sunglasses and more beach-friendly items.
MN: Describe your business in 3 words.
LF: Culture. Exploration. Connectivity.
MN: Name a fun/silly fact about yourself?
LF: I majored in music in High School and Edward R. Murrow in Brooklyn. As a result, I was in a few Off-Broadway plays and I was even apart of a girl group called Bittersweet. I was a triple threat singer, actor, and dancer. I still love to do all three!