Editor’s note: This Women in Business profile is on the writer's sister, Ama Yawson, founder of Joojos shoes in Brooklyn, NY.
In the vast world of children’s shoes, there are many brands to choose from. But these days there’s an increasing need for higher quality shoes, shoes that are made so well they can be passed along to future generations or to children in need half a world away. Founded by the effervescent Ama Yawson and her husband Charles, Joojos is a little shoe company out of Brooklyn, New York that’s doing its best to meet these needs.
I chose to profile my sister for this spotlight on female entrepreneurs because she inspires me. And also, to find out what inspires her.
“I’m inspired by people who want to save the world and want to do good things for others and people who are able to do so with limited resources,” says Yawson. “We are both children of immigrants; we have parents who are from Ghana, West Africa and seeing people who were our relatives or sort of distant relatives who were struggling, who didn’t have much, I think that left an impression because I realized that ‘hey, I could have been in their shoes,’ why wouldn’t you want help?
Driven as a young girl , Yawson visited places like Ghana and Nicaragua where she saw poverty first hand. She would go on to Harvard and later UPenn Law and Wharton Business Schools, where she focused on becoming an entrepreneur.
Fast forward to today, and Yawson is a corporate lawyer. How does a corporate lawyer get into children’s shoes?
“I think it kind of went back to what I saw in Ghana, seeing children walking around barefoot, with no shoes, exposed to soil borne illnesses. So I really then became kind of interested, fascinated by the idea of children's shoes and creating really high quality shoes,” she says.
Before starting her new venture, Yawson worked to come up with the perfect name.
“We actually named it after our first son who we named Jojo. Jojo is a name that means boy born on Monday, the name is associated with peace and so Joojos kind of means peace,” she says.
And it wasn’t easy from there.
“We bootstrapped it from the beginning; I mean this is our personal savings. You know we didn’t know much about shoes so it required a lot of research on our end but we wanted to find people who were passionate about shoe making. Our shoes take 90 minutes to make, I mean you see the people working in Romania love what they’re doing , they are hand stitching, it’s not completely machine made and that is not what you see very often out there in the marketplace, says Yawson.
Besides paying the craftspeople a fair wage, Yawson also made a commitment to children who really needed her shoes.
“With our One Box Changes Everything program, we hope to do just that. We are going to give our customers an opportunity to send their old shoes, these shoes that children have outgrown, that are still high quality shoes and then send those shoes to Ghana, so that hopefully we can contribute to making sure that fewer children walk around bare feet and exposed to soil borne illnesses,” says Yawson.
You can find her shoes online and in boutiques like Yoya in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City. She has also caught the attention of flash sale sites like Gilt Groupe and Zulily.
“You have to make sure that your dream is inextricably linked to who you are. Business is tough … rejection is out there and so you have to make sure that whatever it is you want to do, you feel so incredibly passionate about, that you will be able persevere despite all of that rejection,” says Yawson.