Beyond Cool: Jamal Robinson by Jim Johnson

I had the privilege to have lunch with Jamal Robinson of Desiar at the end of October.  What is Desiar (pronounced “desee-aire)?  Here’s what Jamal says from his website, www.desiar.com:

“a new revolution of eyewear for the fashion-forward who want to become style legends”
“progressive eyewear line for the bold, the confident, the expressive”
“Desiar is the framework for individuality”
“FUTURE CLASSIC”

desiar 1

desiar 2

Jamal and I met at a mentoring program hosted by IPFW (Indiana University/Purdue University at Fort Wayne) where business leaders (Jamal and I) spend time with IPFW business students to help them connect, network, and create a context for their current learning journey.

Jamal began Desiar in 2011 after early adventures into entrepreneurship.  He has designed clothing for a magazine in Florida before he began to focus on eye-wear.  As the idea for Desiar matured in his mind, the designs moved from “glitter” to working with mediums not normally seen in glasses – wood.

So how did Jamal create and develop Desiar?  He used his resources to figure out how to start up this growing business.  He worked for an import/export company here in Fort Wayne and learned valuable lessons that he has directly applied to Desiar.  His work/mentoring experience here helped lay the foundation for Jamal.

I asked him how he came to find the overseas factory.  “The internet.”  Jamal is genuinely curious.  He is not afraid to research and learn. In fact, that is a primary characteristic of this young business man.  If he didn’t know something, he jumped in and found the answer.  Not knowing did not create obstacles that stopped him.  He pushed and climbed and questioned and researched.  He found his answers, and he moved forward.

He didn’t stop there.  As he developed his eye-wear line, Jamal would go to concerts and get back stage to meet the artists (if possible) to present his product and simply ask if they would wear them.  He asked for the business.  But he did it intentionally.  He would approach the artist and say, “I design glasses. If I gave you this pair, would you wear them?”  They did.  His “fashion-forward” eye-wear had to be in the hands of individuals who were already setting fashion trends – people that other people would and do take notice.  Smart, smart moves.

Those first glasses were made by Jamal himself.  But he soon he realized that he could not keep up if he wanted to broaden the scale of his business.  He knew he had to go overseas to bring scale to his production.  So how did he find a production company on the other side of the world?  “The internet,” Jamal answered.  He did his research.  He spent nights reading, talking with manufacturers, making connections. 

His fashion line developed into glasses made of wood and other mediums.  His business grew.  But now, he is about to launch (first of November) a new line of eye-wear made solely of wood.  And they are beautiful!

So did Jamal look overseas for a manufacturer to make these all-wood glasses? No.  These are made down the road (from where we ate) in a small town.  Who makes them? A furniture maker.  Only 2%-3% of eye-wear is made in the US.  And to Jamal’s knowledge, none are made in Indiana.  But he just changed that.

As he met with potential investors, he explained that his glasses would be “made in Indiana.”  They didn’t think that marketing line was a good idea.  Who would buy glasses from Indiana? It’s a state of farms, race cars, auto manufacturing, and Amish.  Wooden glasses exist in a different atmosphere, right?

wooden glasseswooden glasses in a row

Made in Indiana?  Jamal is “pretty pumped by that.”  He’s proud of this.

“By fate and a blessing”, he was called on by a company to help them. In doing research for them, Jamal learned about the kind of machinery that HE needed to produce his all wood glasses.  Through this experience, Jamal shared his vision and his designs and this company was able to produce the necessary machinery needed to manufacture the new Desiar line.  He then found a furniture company who is now producing his wooden eye-wear.

CollaboratePartner with Talked toLearned from.  This is Jamal’s path to success.  Just 15 minutes into our interview, I heard these words over and over again.  Sure, Jamal is incredibly gifted in the creative process.  He has a very strong vision for his business.  He is passionate about it.  But he knows that HE must work with others. HE must find partners to help him fulfill his company’s vision.  HE must do the hard work of research to find the answers to his questions.

Jamal explained to me how the wooden glasses are made.  He knows the process.  He knows how the wood has to be manipulated to form the correct bend. He knows what kind of machines are needed to do this. He is intimately aware of his products processes.  He knows his business.

Jamal is currently in China to meet his overseas partners.  Knowing Jamal, he will come back with more ideas, improved processes, and new connections.  It’s not a sight-seeing trip.  Jamal will turn it into gold.

I asked Jamal if he ever wakes up in the morning to ask himself, “how did this become my life?”  He reflected on his China trip.  “The world has become smaller.  I find it easier to make connections.”  He uses those connections to build his business.

Did Jamal begin Desiar as his sole source of income? No.  He bussed tables at a restaurant.  He worked a year and a half with one of his mentors who runs an import/export business.  He got a “real world perspective” from this.  And all from our town, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Jamal has mentors from all over.  Import/Export.  Online music equipment sales/service.  He’s learned why they are great at what they do.  He’s captured why they do what they do.  His desire is to have Desiar known just at Sweetwater is known in the music business.  Jamal listens, absorbs, and applies.

What keeps him up at night?  Not much. He’s not worried about tomorrow.  Jamal shared with me a question he asked himself – “what are you doing today that made the business better than yesterday?”  It’s about positive movement forward.  It’s about not settling.  His agenda daily must be involved in the things that truly help his business to grow.

He sets goals with his team.  But it’s not about the goals.  It’s about results.  What did they learn from their results? Did they miss the goal? Why?  What do they need to do to hit the results the next time.

I asked Jamal if he ever struggles with self-doubt. He stated that he wouldn’t be human if he experienced “hesitation” from time to time. He listens to a lot of motivation podcasts and videos.   He explained that he has learned some techniques over the years to deal with this.  When a self-doubting thought comes up, he simply says, “Thank you, but I’m not on the list for you today.” 

He explained it’s good to have a dream/vision.  But you have to write it down.  Look at it.  Talk about it. Bring life to it.  Always learning.  Always willing to be stretched.  Always being positive.

This young business man is grounded.  Solid family.  Solid beliefs.  Confident in his abilities.  Faith.  A vision beyond eye-wear.

This is Jamal Robinson.  This is Desiar.

Discover Desiar here:  www.desiar.com

Jamal Robinson

 

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