Eyewear entrepreneur shares success to encourage others
By Kara Hackett | Input Fort Wayne
Fort Wayne native Jamal Robinson has gone from bedazzling mall kiosk sunglasses at home to selling shades to the rapper Soulja Boy.
For the last 10 years, the Northrop High School and IPFW graduate has been around the country, selling his stylish eyewear DESIAR (pronounced des-e- air)—a company that began in his college dorm room.
Robinson began pursuing fashion around the year 2008 after taking a scholarship to The University of Central Florida and leaving a failing business behind.
After seeing a video of the entertainer R. Kelly sporting diamond studded glasses, Robinson decided to create his own pair by bedazzling his glasses with Swarovski Crystals.
A music lover, he would attend concerts and nightclubs around Orlando, Fla., where people would comment on his glasses and even take pictures with them.
From there, his love of fashion and creativity pushed him to keep improving and innovating.
With no background in design, he took to YouTube videos to hone his craft, finding multiple European-influenced designers to emulate.
With all the people remarking about his custom eyewear, the word “desire” was floating in his head, so he decided to call his brand DESIAR.
Once DESIAR began, Robinson took every opportunity to show off his glasses to anyone who would listen. He always carried extra pairs on him, just in case.
His big break came when he snuck backstage after a Hot 107.9 concert in the winter of 2008.
“Always look like you’re supposed to be there; nobody will ask questions,” Robinson says, with a smile in his voice.
Once backstage, he met Soulja Boy, who liked his glasses so much he called Robinson the next day and asked for more.
Establishing relationships with celebrities and knowing friends in the industry boosted his business tremendously. But it wasn’t all an uphill climb.
At age 21, Robinson went to Luxottica, the world’s largest eyewear company, to sell his brand, telling the business they should buy his product while he was still making glasses on his parent’s kitchen counter in Fort Wayne with the help of his friends.
They politely brushed him aside. But Robinson never gave up.
“The more life experiences I have, the more perspective I have on how I can be better,” Robinson says. “I put myself around people that are better, smarter, more talented than me and just try to soak it up.”
Four years later, after working with mentors and creating sunglasses that could be mass-produced, he returned to Luxottica, and they purchased DESIAR’s product.
In 2012, DESIAR released its first collection at the Randolph Street Market in Chicago, Ill., featuring natural wood temples and a combination of acetate frame sunglasses. The collection included three core, gender-neutral styles: a classic wayfarer, flattop, and Aviator.
However, Robinson soon found himself stuck with inventory and an over-reliance on large retailers.
That’s when he turned to his hometown Fort Wayne, and realized it offered exactly what he needed for his business: small-scale manufacturing.
“Fort Wayne is always home,” Robinson says.
He began his own manufacturing in Leo-Cedarville.
Today, the company has partnered with Longe Optical, where they are available for purchase.
They have also opened retail kiosks in Houston, Texas.
Looking toward the future, DESIAR wants to continue improving self-manufacturing and developing new styles, as well as custom experiences, particularly for online shopping.
But DESIAR is not all Robinson is doing to improve northeast Indiana. He is also the founder of the non-profit institution called Believe in a Dream, Inc., which focuses on educating children in the greater Fort Wayne area in entrepreneurship and the arts by teaching them skills in business, math, science, and the performing arts.
“I realized a lot of my peers didn’t have the same home environment that I did with my parents where anything is possible, believe in your dreams,” Robinson says. “I asked my dad after my freshman year (of college) if I could come back and start talking to my peers about believing in their dreams, and that was how it started.”
Robinson mentions that he has another special announcement to make in the next few months. But for now, lips are sealed.
To other Fort Wayne hopefuls interested in entrepreneurship, he encourages them to follow their dreams and “just do it.”
He admits that even he still second-guesses himself sometimes, but it’s all part of the process.
“There will be failures, but you will move forward as you challenge yourself,” Robinson says.