Yolanda James, Owner of Insight Opticians, Washington, DC
How it Began.
“I started as a retail manager and buyer in Richmond at Linens and Things, and I later moved to DC and did the same thing for Woodward & Lothrop. As Woodies was about to close, I applied for a job as a manager and buyer of Oh Goggles - a Sunglass shop in Georgetown Park.
That was my introduction to high-end eyewear. I thought to myself, “who would pay $150 for sunglasses?” Turns out, lots of people.
"I worked later at Georgetown Opticians for a brother-sister team, and they trained me. They liked that I could sell, but didn’t like that I was a black female, so he didn’t really like my ideas.
He didn’t pay close attention to what women had to say. Although the job paid well, it ended up being a #metoo situation. He said racist things essentially.
"One day the owner was helping a black couple, but he had to leave. He said, ‘oh Yolanda can help you, she’s my favorite slave.’ Yeah, he said that. We were all in shock. The couple encouraged me to ‘handle it’ so later we had a meeting about it. He tried to say our perceptions of the word were different. But I knew it was time for me to leave. I wanted to start my own business.
"I lived in the same building as (civil rights icon) Dorothy Height in DC, and I’d run into her every morning. She’d speak and smile, and we had casual conversation. She took note one day that I didn’t seem so happy, and I shared with her what had happened. She encouraged me and told me that I’d be okay.
"Also encouraging me was a white woman who had been into the shop several times. She knew I wanted to start my own business and told me about a spot opening near where her mom owned a store. So I went to check it out. I presented a business plan and the rest is history.
"In 2017, one of my customers suggested I do a photo shoot for my business, and mentioned that he knew Derrick Rutledge, Oprah’s make-up artist. I arranged for the photographer and he arranged Derrick to do my makeup. He’s so talented.
He wouldn’t take payment so I offered him a pair of glasses. He chose a pair, and shortly after, Oprah saw them and asked where he had gotten them. Fast forward a bit .... Oprah asked for me to come to NYC to show her some glasses. What? Uhh, yes of course, I said.
"I boarded Amtrak, the Acela, with my travel case, met up with her in her hotel. She tried on several pair. She really has a calming effect. She believes God brings people together for a reason. She chose some and before we left, we got a photo together – with my phone!
Advice for Black Business Owners.
"We need to be more diversified. Especially now. Black owned businesses should cater to everyone. I have White people coming in saying I need to let people know we are black owned because with the Black Lives Matters movement, there is interest in supporting us. Let’s take advantage of that and we can thrive.
Also, this doesn’t come easy. Work hard, and have passion for what you do."