As we continue in our commitment to elevate diversity, inclusion and equality conversations, FN is shining a light on Black-owned businesses in honor of Black Business Month. For these next few weeks, we encourage you to get to know these incredible Black-owned companies and support them all year round.
Immediately after footwear brand Kahmune was featured on QVC and HSN on Aug. 14 as part of their Small Business Spotlight program focused on Black-owned businesses, 2,000 visitors stormed the Kahmune site.
While most simply wanted to learn more about the brand, which offers footwear in a range of skin shades, founder Jamela Acheampong is succeeding in generating increased buzz around the collection launched in 2017.
The entrepreneur came up with the concept after unsuccessful searches to find shoes to complement her darker complexion. She quickly discovered the term nude generated products online in lighter skin tones that left women of color out in the cold.
“A lot of the nudes you find are tan and beige,” said Acheampong. “You need to ask who created and designed them. [However], I realized there are also women who are fairer than tan, too. It’s a problem all women may have.”
To reinforce her message, the brand’s name is a play on the word commune, which means group or community. Each color is named after women of the cities and regions whose skin tones inspired them. They range from Edinburgh, the lightest shade to Juba, the darkest. The palette has also been coordinated with shades of some of the leading cosmetic foundations on the market — from L’Oreal Paris to Maybelline, and are indicated on the Kahmune’s website.
Armed with an undergraduate degree in economics and a master’s degree in finance and accounting, Acheampong was prepared to handle the numbers side of the new business. When it came to developing product, the footwear novice headed to the MICAM footwear trade show in Italy, where she found a manufacture, also in Italy, to produce the line of pumps, flats and sandals, available in 10 skin shades.
For funding, Acheampong initially received a small business loan, rounded out with funds from online pre-orders and angel investors. In addition, she received funding in 2018 from ride share service Uber and Girlboss, a media company that helps fund women-owned businesses. (The two partnered to create Uber Pitch, a program awarding more than $200,000 in financial funding to rising-star entrepreneurs.)
Since its launch, the brand has developed a following among high-profilers, including Lupita Nyongo’o and Tamera Mowry as well as everyday women like teachers and lawyers. “It’s been a [mix] of social media, word-of-mouth and networking at events with other successful businesswomen, [such events include those sponsored by] Odyssey Media, Jack and Jill and AdColor,” said Acheampong, about marketing initiatives.
Despite the need to fill a void in the marketplace, the brand has not received the support from the fashion community Acheampong had hoped for. “People love the idea and follow the brand online,” said Acheampong. “But, support in the fashion and footwear communities has been hard to [generate].”
The entrepreneur credits an early mention by “Elle” magazine for initially getting the word out. A Black editor noticed a photo on the site of prototypes of the shoes Acheampong had posted. “She sent it to a colleague who ran a piece about me in January 2017 that resulted in 30,000 visits to my site even before it was up and running with bona fide product.”
The first shoes were available for pre-order in March 2017 for delivery in July. Since then, she has added coordinating handbags based on requests from customers. “Women who have supported me love a good bag,” said Acheampong.
She also took a suggestion from her sister, who stands at 6” 1” and needed a size 12 shoe. “In Europe, shoes only go to size 9,” said Acheampong. “So, I needed to make my own last and there were challenges — testing, iterating, along with some broken heels here and there.”
The footwear collection includes pumps in four heel heights, flats, sandals and mules. All shoes feature cushioned insoles, with prices ranging from $150 to $300.
While the entrepreneur is on a mission to equalize the fashion options for women of all colors, she said retailers then need to follow suit. “If they’re going to offer [product] in different complexions and skin tones, they need to take a note from beauty retailers who stock 40-plus shades. Consumers need to pay attention: Were they an after-thought or a first thought?”