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Inclusive Product Design with Ashley Johnson of Mohala Eyewear

“I got to experience what it’s like when a lot of different ethnicities are valued and celebrated. And so I think that’s what led me to see this need and see how different it makes a human feel when they are included and represented.”

— Ashley Johnson, Founder of Mohala Eyewear

TW: This episode contains mentions of rape and sex trafficking in reference to the film “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”

In this episode

Meet new SheEO Venture Mohala Eyewear! Founder Ashley Johnson joins SheEO Activator Vanessa Hall to tell us more about her business and how it got started, the need for inclusive eyewear sizing, and her time in the SheEO community so far.

They also discuss:

  • Listening to customers and designing based on what they need
  • Her personal connection to and desire for inclusivity
  • Mohala Eyewear’s partnership with Room to Read
  • Her passion for empowering girls
  • Upcoming trunk shows with Nordstrom and how Activators can support

We invite you to join us as an Activator at SheEO.World.

Connect with Dr. Vanessa Hall and explore her work with Crossroads ITG and #StrongSTEMGirls.

Take action and engage with Mohala Eyewear:

Attend Mohala Eyewear’s upcoming Trunk Shows, 10am – 5pm in the sunglasses departments at:

  • Nordstrom Downtown Seattle, WA – May 13th 
  • Nordstrom Bellevue, Seattle WA – May 14th 
  • Nordstrom Valley Fair, San Jose CA – May 17th 
  • Nordstrom South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa CA – May 19th 
  • Nordstrom UTC La Jolla CA – May 20th and 21st 

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

Ashley Johnson 0:00
I grew up in Hawaii, where 24% of the population is mixed race. And so I got to experience what it’s like when a lot of different ethnicities are valued and celebrated. And so I think that’s what led me to see this need and see how important it is and how different it makes a human feel when they are included and represented.

Vicki Saunders 0:25
Welcome to SheEO.World podcast, where you’ll meet women and non-binary folks who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable.

Vanessa Hall 0:36
Hello, I am Dr. Vanessa Hall, and I’m so excited to be here. I am the Vice President of Technology at PNC Bank, where we partner with SheEO with Project 257. I am a 30+ year technology professional with experience in banking systems, and loving the STEM community. I also own a coaching service for STEM for young women to teach them and inspire them to become the best version of themselves. I am passionate about the field of technology. And I’ve developed a program entitled The Inner Win where I go across the United States, performing sessions and speaking engagements to build our young women in the field of STEM. And that’s where I come to play here with PNC 257. With SheEO, supporting our SheEO ventures. Today we have with us Ashley from Mohala Eyewear. And we are going to spend some time with Ashley learning about her Venture. And we are so excited to have you here today. So Ashley would you tell me a little bit about the Venture your business and about yourself.

Ashley Johnson 1:55
Thanks, Vanessa. That was such a nice introduction. I love the work Vanessa is also doing for girls in a very important field. But yes, I founded Mohala Eyewear, we design inclusive eyewear and every pair sold sends a girl to school. You can find us at mohalaeyewear.com. M-o-h-a-l-a eyewear.com. And basically the the problem we’re solving is there’s a big myth that eyewear is one size fits all. And that’s factually wrong because other countries are designing eyewear in different sizes. But in North America, only one size is being offered for the masses. And it’s eyewhere designed to fit a slender Caucasian face shape, the standard of beauty face shape. And so what I learned quickly was this was causing pain points for women it was, eyewear was sliding down their face resting on cheeks, leaving imprints, hitting long lashes falling off. Because women were wearing eyewear that was not designed for their face shape. It’s the equivalent of if in the US, you could only buy pants in a size two, and you had to go to Asia, Africa, Latin America to get other sizes. That’s what has happened and has happened now. And so I have three different sizes. We have a traditional, a universal and a special low nose bridge to include all women and ensure we are designing for all different ethnicities and face shapes.

Vanessa Hall 3:26
Wow, actually, this is so groundbreaking and revolutionary. How did you even you know, with me being African American, how did you even think of this concept? To bring it to the World’s To-Do List?

Ashley Johnson 3:40
It was really women telling me that this is a problem. So I actually started with traditional eyewear. And I quickly had women tell me this doesn’t work and I had women tell me I can’t buy eyewear in America I have to go overseas to buy my eyewear because it doesn’t fit and and then I studied eyewear in other countries to see how it was being designed and how the nose bridge was different. And noticing how face shapes are different and pain points that’s being caused when you’re only looking at one face shape for design to and then I worked in my factory to make different prototypes and tested it on different women’s face shapes till we found designs that solved those problems. And I think Vanessa one thing I am really excited about that’s happening is there is this big inclusivity trend in America now. You know we saw it, we’re seeing that with Rihanna Fenty Beauty which she’s led with inclusivity in her makeup. Third Love is making finally bras for all skin tones. Nike’s making curve mannequins inclusive size runs, Christian Louboutin so even like the top luxury brands are making nude shoes for all skin tones. But one category that has been left out of the market is eyewear. And so we are fitting into this inclusivity trend perfectly, and proving our product market fit proving that inclusive, inclusive design is needed. We have become number two, the number two best selling eyewear brand at the Nordstrom store we launched in because there are no other frames in this Nordstrom that are offering inclusive sizing. And so I think that’s why we’re selling so well. And we’re working on a plan to roll out to more Nordstrom stores.

Vanessa Hall 5:24
That is amazing. What an awesome model. I mean, you’re covering it — in inclusiveness, they left the eyewear out. Okay, so you finish it off by completing that process. So that is just an amazing feat. So tell me something sharing your reflections on becoming a Venture and joining the SheEO community. Tell us how that came about and how you feel about this community?

Ashley Johnson 5:50
Oh, the SheEO program has been amazing for me. So in telling, like how we got to where I am today, I worked 14 years in HR and retail operations. I had a company that had really great mentors. And so I got to see really strong women in business. And I started side hustling my Mohala business for about five times while working full time. And then I just left my full time job 10 months ago to do Mohala full time. And things that helped me to grow the business were accelerator programs. So one was Mana Up, a Hawaii based accelerator program, which connected me with Shopify for startups, which is a, Shopify is my ecommerce platform, and Shopify for startups sponsored my membership to SheEO. And that was how I found out about SheEO. And when I first joined as an Activator, I saw the Venture program and I was like, Oh, that would be my dream to be a Venture for SheEO this organization is so amazing in their focus on empowering women and non-binary people and how they’re doing it in a way that like, works with women’s strengths and how we like to collaborate and work together. And so I, you know, I don’t know, I thought I wouldn’t be good enough, I definitely had that like, Oh, these, these ventures are just so far ahead of me, I don’t think I can do it. And so I was so it was like a dream come true when I got picked to be a Venture this year. And I’ve had an amazing experience. Just this week, I did my first Venture circle where Activators came together. And I have these incredible Activators in my group, one worked at Nike, two are like Angel investors. Another one is with PNC and banking. And they just gave me great advice on fundraising and different — because that’s the next step I need to grow, I really need to raise capital. And they had really a really good network and and resources to help with that. So, and Loren, my coach and MJ, they are such talented, high caliber women that you have mentoring you. So it’s been a wonderful experience being a Venture in the last few months.

Vanessa Hall 8:10
Wow, that is amazing. I really love that part about the mentoring, the coaching, how valuable do you feel that is? What has that brought to your organization?

Ashley Johnson 8:22
No, that is extremely valuable. One of the, I think it was the second day of our Venture retreat. They did a coaching on negotiations. And I had never, I think I’d been to maybe like listened to a seminar, like a one hour seminar, but I’ve never had real coaching on that. And they were able to quickly identify what each of our strengths and weaknesses were in negotiating and like, I give in too easily, was one of the things I learned. And so it was really good. It was clear strategies and where you have to work on and negotiate because that’s so critical. In being an entrepreneur you’re always negotiating. And so I think that that’s one example of where the coaching has been really strong. And then I have never, I’m bootstrapped. I’ve never raised any capital. And so it’s very new to me. And Loren has a lot of experience, you know, working for startups that have raised millions of dollars. And so I think her knowledge is like, is so valuable in that area.

Vanessa Hall 9:25
Yes, what I find with SheEO is that they’re a community of support. But in addition to that support, they put feet to fire and make things happen. You know, that’s so powerful to make happen. You know, you can find support in a lot of different arenas, but making it happen. That’s the next level. And I love the model and I love what you’ve done with your eyewear Venture.

Ashley Johnson 9:47
Vanessa, if there’s another thing I can share of like why I’m here today too, is I think one reason that makes me so passionate about inclusivity is I’m from Hawaii, I’m mixed race, my mom is Japanese and Chinese. My dad is Caucasian, and I grew up in Hawaii, we’re 24% of the population is mixed race. And so I got to experience what it’s like when a lot of different ethnicities are valued and celebrated and coexist, mix very freely and comfortably, but then I went to college in California at a campus that was not —that was very segregated. And not, I don’t think in a malicious way, but that was just how it was. And I didn’t feel included. And I didn’t feel, yeah, I didn’t feel included, is the best way to to say that. And so, I have a sensitivity and empathy towards that. And so I think that’s what led me to see this need, and see how important it is and how different it makes a human feel when they are included and represented. And so that makes me so passionate about inclusivity and product design. And then I forgot to talk about this. But I’m really passionate about empowering girls. And you and I had talked about your program that you did with girls in schools. And so Vanessa has this amazing program for girls in STEM and I have since launched a program in Hawaii for because my strength is like business and my network of leaders in Hawaii who are entrepreneurs. And so I’m bringing a different speaker every week to this Hawaii Public School. We have 14 girls who volunteer during their lunch break. And we do a different topic like grit, confidence building, teamwork. Oh, Maya, Maya Soetoro, Barack Obama’s sister is coming to speak tomorrow. She’s, I’m obsessed with her. She’s my friend. And I love her. And so a different speaker to spend time with these girls. And hopefully, you know, teach them some really good skills and open their mind.

Vanessa Hall 11:56
Ashley, your Venture is so exciting. But can you tell me more about Room to Read?

Ashley Johnson 12:03
Yes. So Room to Read happened because while I was building Mohala Eyewear, I watched this documentary called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. And it told three stories. One was in Sierra Leone, a rape case of a teenage girl and and how there were no consequences for the rapist. The second was sex trafficking in Cambodia. And the third was the lack of value in educating girls in Vietnam and the work the school Room to Read was doing in Vietnam. And it was a gut wrenching, the stories were, you know, I just cried through the whole documentary. But and I often feel like when you hear those stories, helpless, and like, what can we do for these massive problems with the gender gap, and but it was perfect, because I was building this business and I thought, okay, I can do something, even if it’s small. And I reached out to Room to Read and I pitched them before I even had product that I was building this the sunglasses brand, and I wanted to partner with them. And would they allow me to be a cause marketing partner, and donate one week of school for every pair sold, but use all their their assets, and legally, and all of that, and they agreed. And so since then, we have donated over 95 years of school to Room to Read girls education program. They operate in eight countries across Africa and Asia. And they have helped over 2 million girls through their program so far. And I’m super passionate about empowering girls, and about social entrepreneurship and businesses also having missions to do good through their business. So thank you so much for asking that question.

Vanessa Hall 13:57
That is astronomical, you are just kicking glass out there. As I would say it, you are making a difference in this world and I can hear your passion. And you’re right when you’ve been that little girl who needed that so much. You have that compassion to go back and give and I can feel that in everything you do. And that’s why your Venture is so successful. And that’s why it was selected because the words lift off the paper. We read about you and what you do in the community and around the world. So that is just amazing. If you have an ask for your listeners in the community, what would that be?

Ashley Johnson 14:43
Yes, so my goal is to expand in Nordstrom because that could be a huge sales channel for us. And so we’re doing Nordstrom trunk shows. So May 13 downtown Seattle, May 14 Bellevue, May 17 Valleyfair in San Jose, May 19 Costa Mesa, Los Angeles, May 20 and May 21, La Jolla, San Diego. And so my ask is if you are in those areas, I’d love to see you at our trunk shows, they’re 10 to 5pm in the Nordstroms. If you know any brands or influencers or organizations like that support founders or BIPOC founders in Seattle, San Jose, LA or San Diego, I would love to connect with them. Because my goal is now I need to market this event and get people to show up. Because if we hit our goals, then I can get into these top sunglass stores in Nordstrom, So this May 13 Nordstrom downtown Seattle, May 14 Nordstrom Bellevue Square, May 17, Nordstrom Valleyfair in San Jose, or Santa Clara, May 19, Nordstrom, South Coast Plaza Costa Mesa, May 20, Nordstrom La Jolla at UTC, May 21, Nordstrom La Jolla at UTC. If anyone is in those areas, I would love to see you. And also, if anyone knows people to partner with influencers, brands, I want to do some free gifts with purchase, some giveaways and help to connect with their communities. That would be amazing. Thank you.

Vanessa Hall 16:17
Yes, thank you. Ashley, can you also just share how individuals can contact you or go see these great pieces of eyewear you have. Where can they go and just see them?

Ashley Johnson 16:31
Yes, thank you so much for asking that. So mohalaeyewear.com is where you can shop Mohala Eyewear, you can also shop on Nordstrom.com. Also you can text JOIN to 1-855-218-6133. And that we will send out all the info on our trunk shows any sales we have. That’s a great way to connect with us. Text Join to 1-855-218-6133. Also follow us on Instagram at @mohalaeyewear and also Facebook at Mohala Eyewear. My email is [email protected] If anyone wants to connect as well.

Vanessa Hall 16:32
Thank you so much. You have an amazing Venture, you have an amazing vision, you have an amazing product. And we just look forward to your growth as you just expand your vision into the world. And I will be connecting on all of those platforms and following on Mohala Eyewear. You are bringing light to the world. So keep shining and keep soaring. You are light to the world.

Ashley Johnson 17:43
Thank you.

Vanessa Hall 17:45
I’m so glad I had an opportunity to speak with you. We just love what you’re bringing to the SheEO community and to the world.

Ashley Johnson 17:53
Thank you Vanessa. That was so nice. Thank you.

Vicki Saunders 17:59
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe, and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women and non binary folks at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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