In a world where shoes have become objects of mass production, Ama Yawson and her husband Charles have succeeded in creating a socially responsible brand that is not only an inspiration for the shoe industry, but also made of the highest quality for the babies who wear them.
Rather than make an expensive product that will not last long, Yawson, who co-founded Joojos, a little shoe company out of Brooklyn, is doing her best to create a product that is made to satisfy your child’s shoe needs and help children in Ghana. If that isn’t enough to inspire hopeful entrepreneurs and creatives, she also authored a children’s book all about the power of black hair.
Where are you from?
I think that I’m a child of the world. My parents and all of my ancestors are from Ghana, West Africa. I was born and raised in New York City and I been on five of seven continents and I hope to continue to travel the globe.
Quality. Unfortunately, we really live in throw away world. We throw away things, animals, and even people. Most shoes are only made to last one season. They are made to be discarded in three months! On the other hand, our goal for Joojos was to create a shoe line with quality materials, quality classic design, and quality workmanship, with a brand that celebrates playfulness and childhood. I believe that we succeeded. The shoes are made from Italian leathers and are partially handcrafted in Romania. We happily donate all of our children’s used Joojos shoes to children in need and they are always in good enough condition to regift.
Why did you choose children as your core market when it comes to the things you create?
It sounds cliche, but children really are our future and if we are going to create a better world, we have to really think about what we give to our children in terms of the clothes they wear, the shoes they wear, the food they consume and ideas that they learn. Through Joojos, we give quality shoes to children and through my publishing and consulting company, Milestales, we give children empowering stories that help them to soar.
Now that I do not have a 9-5, I am facing the real challenge: figuring out how to use my time and energy most wisely in order to make my business grow quickly. The economic, emotional and physical well being of myself, my husband and my two preschool aged boys, is at stake. I have to figure this out.
What inspired you to write Sunne’s Gift, a children’s book about a girl with special powers who is bullied about her natural kinky hair?
An experience with my older son, Jojo, really inspired the book. For about 6 years, I have had a quiet knowing that I should write children’s books. But as a busy wife, mom, and corporate attorney, I had not actually sat down to write anything. Then one day when Jojo was three, we went to the barber shop and I asked the barber not to shave all of Jojo’s hair, but to just make it shorter. The barber then proceeded to, in my view, shave Jojo’s hair. When I protested, he basically said that Jojo was a real “nig…”, he is African, his hair is not nice, and it should be shaved off. I was paralyzed by shock. In the same shop, there was a hair stylist with very obviously bleached skin and a bone straight lace front wig. The next day, I heard Joan Rivers insult Solange’s afro by saying that afros were not appropriate for the red carpet. I literally felt sickened by the self-loathing that African people experience and by the racist attacks that we experience. I wanted to create a fable that honored afro-textured hair, while providing a universal lesson about the beauty and power of difference. I prayed, and God used me to deliver Sunne’s Gift. All of the characters, including nature, are gender neutral. “He” and “she” are not used in the story for that reason. Sunne could be a girl, Sunne could be a boy. The story is truly intended to be universal.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I just quit my job making a large six figure salary as a corporate attorney to pursue my passion of teaching and publishing empowering stories through my firm Milestales. (These are my five steps to quitting your day job to live your dream). Quitting was hard. It required planning and most of all, it required courage. I could not sleep in the days leading up to it. But ultimately, I felt that I was not living as the highest manifestation of myself as a human being and I had to engage in a radical change in order to get on the road towards such a higher manifestation. But now that I do not have a 9-5, I am facing the real challenge: figuring out how to use my time and energy most wisely in order to make my business grow quickly. The economic, emotional and physical well being of myself, my husband and my two preschool aged boys, is at stake. I have to figure this out.
Society has pretty narrow standards of beauty that typically don’t include black women. How do you rise above that idea while creating work to inspire little black girls to love themselves?
You are absolutely right. I think that the barbie beauty standard oppresses people of all backgrounds, because it is rooted in the idea that there is only one way to be beautiful when in actuality, there are infinite ways to be beautiful. The idea that a girl has to be white, blue-eyed, thin and with long straight blond hair to be beautiful is bankrupting us physically, mentally, and economically. It bankrupts girls and women physically as girls and women starve themselves to be thin and use toxic chemicals to straighten and dye their hair, or use carcinogens to bleach their skin. etc. It bankrupts us mentally and spiritually as we constantly feel as if we are not enough and live our lives from that deficient position. It bankrupts us financially as money and resources that could be used for education and health are instead used on false hair, chemicals, diet pills, and much more. Please watch my TEDx talk on this very topic.
We overcome this by changing the images that we feed ourselves and our children. We have to surround ourselves with images and people who respect and honor our beauty. I rarely purchase mainstream magazines. I purchase books with African and African-American characters for my children and make them watch cartoons like Little Bill and Bino and Fino. I follow blogs like Pretty Period and Beyond Classically Beautiful which feature women like me. Each day, I see women and girls who look like me being affirmed in my Facebook feed because I’m apart of digital global communities of people who believe that dark skin and kinky hair are gorgeous. Don’t get me wrong. This is not very easy. The mainstream is very accessible because it is the mainstream. My kids still watch mainstream cartoons when I’m too tired or preoccupied to take my phone from them or when they beg hard to watch certain shows. But we have to at least make the effort to expose ourselves and our children to affirming images so that we can have a healthier self-image and live our best lives.
To get in touch with Ama Yawson about possible speaking engagements on this topic, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also subscribe to her website to get more empowering info about living the life you were called to live.