Jamal Robinson: Doer, Visionary, Love
Occupation: Entrepreneur and Owner of Desiar Eyewear, Founder and Chairman of Believe In The Dream, Inc.
Alma Mater: IPFW (A.S. Business Management)
Hometown: Fort Wayne, Indiana
This month, we met with Jamal Robinson, Entrepreneur, Owner and Designer of hand-crafted, luxury brand eyewear, Desiar, and Founder and Chairman of Believe in A Dream, Inc, a non-profit providing mentorship and development of children in Northeast, Indiana. Truly inspired by Jamal’s energetic and tenacious approach to life, work and play, we here at Verge of Greatness had to ask him how he continues to innovate and push forward on his path to success – in all things life and work. Here’s our interview with Jamal.
Note: Because Jamal gave us so many juicy morsels of wisdom and insight; we had to split the article into two parts! Be sure to stay tuned for Part 2 where you will discover more about Jamal, his vision and his key advice for those following their dreams.
Part 1: Be Inspired | An Interview with Jamal Robinson
V-of-G: To get started, tell us about Desiar.
Jamal: The name came from ‘desire’. It started in my college dorm room, basically bedazzling sunglasses with Swarovski Crystals. I saw a video with R Kelly; he had diamond glasses. I couldn’t afford to buy them so I decided to make them myself. I bought a couple packs of crystals and started prototyping. I would wear them to nightclubs and people started commenting on them. They would take them off my head and take pictures with them. And that was really the start.
I did that for several years; I was really interested in fashion and music and the whole lifestyle. I would sneak back stage and try to get a pair of glasses to a celebrity and one of the times it worked; that celebrity was Soulja Boy. It was really a confidence booster to continue the journey of designing.
Desiar in a nutshell, I always kept the core the same: ‘Design with innovation with unique materials. How can we incorporate those things into the product?’ It started with custom sunglasses. And then I realized I couldn’t make a lot; I was working with a partner at the time who said let’s make the glasses overseas. Now, the core is still the same: Design, Innovation, Unique Materials. I’m always looking for how I can differentiate from typical eyewear.
V-of-G: How has Desiar evolved since its infancy?
Jamal: From a product standpoint, we are always improving and focusing on the quality of the product. I still have the first glasses we made and tons of samples from the crystal line. At the time, I was so pumped about those glasses like I am with our current line. Our product line is always getting better; I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from a manufacturing standpoint.
From a growth standpoint, I went to pitch to Luxottica, the world’s largest eyewear company. At the time, I was buying glasses from the mall kiosk and bedazzling them on my parent’s kitchen table. And I went to the world’s largest, most reputable eyewear company and I told them we were the hottest thing and they needed to buy our products. I was 21 at the time. They kindly laughed me out of their offices, but I told them I would come back.
4 years later, I did come back and they purchased our product. We were sold throughout the US through their channels. It was a sign of never giving up; it was a small win and a big win because they bought our product. I’m understanding the distribution portion of our business better and better every year.
I will never say I will never have it all figured out. I am enjoying the process of learning of how can I be better, how can I take care of our customers better, how can I represent brand better. For evolution of me, it’s ‘How can I be better?’
V-of-G: How have you evolved?
Jamal: I’m intentional on progress. I don’t take success as accidental; I don’t think it’s lucky. I may get a break but I’m just intentional on being better every day. That’s something when I started Desiar, I just didn’t know or have the experience. But the more life experiences I have, the more perspective I have on how I can be better. I put myself around people that are better, smarter, more talented than me and just try to soak it up as much as I can. I try to learn as much as I can and I’m intentional about that. I don’t take it for granted, nor do I think things will come to me. If I hear or see something that could be of benefit, I take action. You never know which opportunities could go by you if you don’t say something.
V-of-G: Tell us about your slogan. ‘Dream. Believe. Do. Repeat!’
Jamal: It’s a motto I have about life; it’s a saying I love to talk to young people about – just believing in themselves. With my parents being encouraging to think outside of the box, I knew that if I wanted something, I could go do it. If I worked hard enough, I could get it. When I went off to school, I realized my peers didn’t grow up in that same environment. I started speaking at my high school. My speech was around these 4 words.
If you can dream it, you can believe it. If you can believe it, you can do it. If you have done it, you can repeat it.
The only thing that stops us in life is ourselves. If I were to fail, crash and burn with Desiar – if I stop — that’s on me. But I’m going to repeat the process. I’ve had left and right turns with Desiar but as I get those right turns, I continue to grow. I repeat the process so I keep growing. I never stop dreaming because if I do, I put a limit on where it can go.
V-of-G: What has been your biggest challenge or hurdle? How did you overcome it?
Jamal: Personally, being prideful is a challenge. When I was younger I wanted things because of what they looked like and I would do things to show off, which wasn’t the right reason to be successful. I didn’t overcome it; God did. God can humble you quickly. Pride can be something that can kill you quick and I’ve seen it and experienced it. For me faith is a driving force for my life. God is definitely continuing to work on me and make sure that the aspect of pride is quieted. If not, it can distract and has distracted me.
I’ve also failed a lot. I tried tons of businesses before Desiar. I’ve lost investor’s money. It’s the dark side of being an entrepreneur. I’ve learned a lot through these trial and errors. The first line I ever did had a lot of details, the adhesive was faulty. It was all the money I had to invest. Being a 20-something and having all my eggs in, I couldn’t even sell 1/3 of the product. That is something I learned and had to get through.
Every time I step up to swing, I swing for a homerun but don’t always hit it. I’ve learned a lot between the lessons and failures but I think that gives me the eye of distinction of what I do today. I’ve never given up and I won’t give up. From what I’ve seen about the people I read about, it’s perseverance. I believe in it; I’ll figure it out. I’ll work harder and learn more.
V-of-G: What keeps you moving forward in the face of adversity?
Jamal: I could be naive but my vision is way bigger than the obstacles that come today. I have a beautiful girlfriend, a family, 10 nieces and nephews. They all look at me; I imagine my own kids one day, I’ll never give up. If I quit, what does that show them? If I win big or if I lose big, I always keep my word, even in my losses. I’ve always remained honest with myself and others in my successes and failures.
The reason I do what I do is bigger than me. It comes down to Legacy and Family. And if my nieces and nephews and one day my children and wife, God willing, can be okay with what I’m doing and where I’m at in life, I’ll always fight for them and persevere for them.
No matter what the outer world thinks, I fight for myself because I know what God has given me and I won’t let those talents go to waste.
Hearing about other people’s journeys help too. That’s what I love about bio’s and memoirs, reading up about people, studying people. Steve Jobs left Apple at 1 share and got kicked out of his own company at age 30. Elon Musk left Paypal with $180B and invested all of it in new projects and he ended up having to borrow money for rent! And Walt Disney, too. For those people to get where they got, it was by no means overnight. I just have to continue to remind myself to never let my highs be too high or my lows be too low.
V-of-G: What has been your biggest success thus far – in your company, in your life?
Jamal: For Desiar, distribution to Luxottica. I mentioned the story of going in there 4 or 5 years earlier and them saying no thank you and coming back and placing an order for distribution. They typically don’t do that with independent brands. Along with that, I’ve had partners along the way that have believed in my vision that have supported the venture financially. I have a lot of skin in the game, and my partners have skin in the game. Having people that believe in where the business is going and your vision as the leader has also been a success. You can’t survive without having the capital. I started with no money. I literally started from nothing. Again, to go through the journey, having support has been a success.
For my life, enjoying the process and understanding this is all a process. That has been the fun part to me. It’s never ending. That’s maturity or understanding; life is a process. That is the biggest success.
I’m on this journey but God is in control. I can plan all I want, set goals all I want, be committed all I want but at the end of the day, I’m not in control. It’s knowing that but being intentional about what I can control.
V-of-G: What do you attribute your success to? What are the keys to success?
Jamal: Perseverance and really believing in myself and my vision. No matter if it’s a business or raising capital or in life, a lot of people said no. If had stopped, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. Perseverance has a lot to with that and I also believe in what I do. And since I believe in what I do, I make it happen.
V-of-G: What volunteer or extra-curricular activities are you involved with?
Jamal: I’m very passionate about the youth. I take that from my dad. He worked in Ft. Wayne Community Schools for 20 years which included my high school. I hated it at the time but now I hear stories that my dad really helped a lot of students get through school or family or relationship issues; he was a conflict mediator. I get that passion for youth from my dad since I’ve seen that he has made over people’s lives.
When I started my for-profit business, at the same time, I started my non-profit which is called Believe In A Dream, Inc. I am the current Chairman of the board and Founder of the organization. We have 3 core areas: Business Education, Math and Sciences, and Performing Arts. We primarily focus on Northeast Indiana with that core mission.
I’m also on the board of Ft. Wayne Black Chamber of Commerce, Ft. Wayne Community School Foundation Board, United Way of Allen County Board and The Doermer School of Business (IPFW) Alumni Association Board.
V-of-G: What’s next for Desiar?
Jamal: We are opening our first retail kiosk in Houston, TX in August. It’s a part of our distribution plan. We are looking to open 2 by end of year and 5-10 in the Southeast by next year. We are also in final stages of doing a revision for the Made in Indiana line. I’ll be able to get out the second version by the fall.
***Stay tuned for Part 2 of Jamal’s insightful interview and learn more about creating, expanding and developing possibilities in your life and business.