Student Co-Founder Provides Cultural Fashion for CNY
A Syracuse University graduate student is looking to make waves in Syracuse with her African-inspired fashion accessories line.
PhaJenn (rhymes with “fashion”), a portmanteau of co-founders Phalande Jean’s and Jennifer Pierre’s first names, began in June 2014 as an extension of their own individual styles.
“In undergrad, people would always come and ask us where we got our jewelry,” Jean said. “So we’re like, let’s start our own thing and sell it.” Jean, 22, is a masters student studying marriage and family therapy in the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics at SU. Pierre studies management at Babson College in Babson, Massachusetts.
The two entrepreneurs were roommates while attending the University of Miami. They now manage their business in two separate cities, which has been a challenge, according to Jean. While she splits her time studying, working at a clinic and managing her business, Pierre is also working and in school while handling PhaJenn.
What sets PhaJenn apart from other jewelry boutiques, Jean said, is that the pieces are handmade in Benin and Ghana, mostly. The two women chose these vendors because they wanted to support other black business owners.
“From the very beginning Phalande and I were on the same page about highlighting the Caribbean and African influences to stand out among the current pieces out there,” Pierre said.
Both Haitian immigrants, Jean said she and Pierre bonded over their shared background and culture.
“We wanted to connect back to our roots in that way,” Jean said. “We wanted to give back to our own community and promote the spirit of entrepreneurship within and throughout the black diaspora.”
PhaJenn models show off pieces from the Alkebulan Kollection, an exclusive line of Xhosa necklaces handmade in Ghana.
PhaJenn currently has two lines, Alkebulan Kollection and Luxe Looks, that incorporate bright colors and intricate beading patterns to create flashy, eye-catching pieces. The Alkebulan Kollection features exclusively Xhosa necklaces from makers in Ghana.
“Our jewelry is not for people that don’t want to be bold,” Jean said. “It’s for people who want to challenge themselves, fashion-wise, which we hope translates into areas of their lives.”
While in Syracuse, Jean hopes to participate in trade shows, fairs and festivals to showcase the jewelry, but for now the majority of the pieces are with Pierre in Massachusetts. Pierre is preparing for Facet Trunk Show in Boston on Dec. 5.
One of the biggest challenges, Jean said, was determining the demographic best fit for their pieces. As college undergraduates, the two thought their peers would be the easiest market to attract, but they soon ran into a wall when they realized their jewelry was out of many students’ price ranges. “We thought we were going to open up and sell out the first day, as soon as we put up the site,” Jean said. Now, she said, they focus on a wider audience.
“One thing we never liked hearing from people was someone in their 40s or 50s saying, “oh, I could never wear that,’ so we always challenge them to do that.”