Fresh-Faced Fashion: 21-Year-Old Designer Launches Luxury Handbag Line, The DeOndra Jeree Collection

December 20, 2013  |  

While media reports decry an entire generation of entitled millennials who seem to be ignorant of the art of hustle – all while expecting fame and fortune in effortless immediacy – there are some young people who aren’t afraid to build their empires from the ground up.

At just 21, DeOndra Jeree has founded her own line of luxury handbags, the DeOndra Jeree Collection, and she’s poised to give industry mainstays some serious competition. “I think the fashion industry needs a fresh face and someone young and edgy and fun,” she says matter-of-factly.

The New Orleans native and former graphic design student was first exposed to the world of handbag design through the Handbag 101 Awards in New York City. While at the event, Jeree was able to meet several designers including Kenneth Cole, who sparked her own creative endeavors. Fast forward one whirlwind year later and DeOndraJeree.com is now open for business with projected sales of upwards of $250,000 projected for 2014.

“After the awards show was over, I called my mom and I was like, ‘I have this brilliant idea,’” says Jeree. “I always wanted my own brand, so I was like, this is the time. Why stop?”

Jeree’s collection is inspired by her southern roots and features reptile skins reminiscent of the animals she admired while growing up in Louisiana. “I’m a country girl, and we have a lot of lizards and snakes around,” says Jeree. “I just fell in love with the lizards because I like their transition. When they’re in the woods, they’ll be green, and if they’re around something brown they’ll turn brown and metallic like.”

But while the inspiration for the collection may be southern-fried, there’s nothing down-home or dowdy about the pieces. Prices range from $195 (for a small coin purse) to $755 (for a two-toned leather backpack), and they’re worth it, says Jeree. “I’m using genuine lizard skin and Italian leather with quality hardware, and everything is reliable,” she says. “You can carry for it season after season, and you don’t have to worry about it looking old or tearing.”

It may be difficult to imagine that a twenty-something would have an eye toward classic, timeless styling, but it’s clear that, like her designs, Jeree plans to stay relevant for the long-term. In addition to carryalls, she has shoes, charm bracelets, ready-to-wear fashion and more on tap.

So where, exactly, did all this hustle come from?

“My parents always taught me to do what I want to do in life; don’t settle for less,” she explains. “Growing up I wasn’t able to have jobs. I was just told to focus on school and graduate because, most of the time, when kids grow up getting these part time jobs, they become comfortable with it and they don’t try to push to be more. So my parents always pushed me to do what I want, and they have always been supportive.”

Jeree’s parents are so supportive, in fact, that they provided all of her startup costs (around $30,000). Their altruism eliminated the need for her to seek funding, which is certainly one of the most difficult aspects of entrepreneurship. And then, to make it a full family affair, Jeree sources business tips from her older brother who holds a degree in business management.

To be fair, Jeree knows that most other aspiring entrepreneurs ain’t got it like that, with no-strings-attached capital and business advice just a phone call away. But, she says, that doesn’t mean they can’t still accomplish their goals. As a young designer in a notoriously cutthroat field, Jeree faces her own potential hurdles that family ties could likely never alleviate. And should those challenges present themselves, she’s armed with the same wisdom she offers to others dreaming of starting their own businesses.

“Just learn how to take rejection as motivation,” she says. “Be yourself and be original, always put God first and be to willing work hard and you will succeed.”

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