One year ago, Jassma’ray Johnson launched an incredibly successful business from her dorm room at Iowa State.
Her business Simply Sámone offers homemade, organic-based chapstick and vegan-based lip gloss. Her goal is to encourage Black women and make them feel beautiful. In the process of developing her business, Johnson has also rekindled entrepreneurial and creative passions she had from a young age.
A creative at heart
Growing up, Johnson (’23 psychology, communication studies) loved to create, whether it was cooking, sewing or writing her own songs and stories. One of her many creative endeavors included making her own lip gloss on the kitchen stove as a fourth grader.
But without funds or the encouragement to pursue her creativity further, those early memories of innovation and invention faded away until her freshman year at Iowa State.
In February 2020, Johnson was scrolling through social media and was inspired by the many Black creatives, artists and other leaders she saw recognized during Black History Month.
Johnson decided it was her time to invest in herself and used a school refund to launch her business idea. She had been bullied about her lips at a young age, and lip gloss became a key part of her personal style and confidence. She wanted others to feel confident and beautiful, too.
“I want to encourage people who look like me,” she said. “I remember being the Black girl who felt insecure and walked over. I remember being ignored in different spaces. I want to make people feel good about themselves and for other Black girls to know they are beautiful.”
The magic of a maker
The behind-the-scenes of running a business is “crazy,” Johnson said, and requires constant creativity to keep her product line fresh.
“People see the finished product and assume it is easy and cute,” Johnson said. “It is a lot of planning, organizing and physical and mental groundwork that goes behind my brand. I create everything myself. Simply Sámone is magical, and I create that magic.”
It takes research and experimentation to perfect the specific details she wants in her lip gloss products, such as color and consistency. Once a product is ready to produce and market, she fills lip gloss tubes using a syringe and pipette. She makes as many as 800 to 1,300 lip glosses per restock.
While the process is complicated, her marketing strategy is simple: stay true to herself and brand. Her authenticity connects her in a special way to her customers.
“I love getting sent pictures of my beautiful clients and hearing their stories,” she said. “Seeing other people’s joy brings me joy. I also love how I have a platform to speak on issues and educate others, while being able to create opportunities.”
By centering Black women and other Black, Indigenous and people of color in her photoshoots and storytelling, she hopes to uplift and inspire others who may have often felt unseen or unrecognized.
“If I inspire anyone, I want it to be little Black girls and other Black women,” she said. “I hope I continue to inspire them and create opportunities and safe spaces to make them feel heard, loved and valued.”
Creating opportunity and joy
As she has built her business, Johnson rediscovered her childhood creativity and a new sense of drive.
“Simply Sámone is bigger than me,” she said. “I do it for my people, my past and the future. I aspire to continue to use my voice to shed light on the issues that have been left in the dark. Everything I do behind my brand and in my life is intentional, and I will continue to fight for the fallen, the silenced and the ones who fought before me. There will never be any room for hate here, and I will spread radical love with everything I do. I am, and always will, represent something bigger than myself.”
In the future, Johnson hopes to expand her business while using her psychology and communications majors to create opportunities in mentoring, activism, art and cooking for residents of low-income neighborhoods and students of color.
“I also want to be a therapist and mentor, and my program will have mentors of color and offer representation that shows young children they can be anything they want to be and that they can create their own sources of happiness, joy and income.”
Three tips for students who want to start something
Save up for your dream
Even saving $10 at a time can help launch your dream, Johnson said.
“You have to have money to make money. Many people say, ‘Chase your dreams, just do it,’ but leave out the reality. We have to address the lack of funding and aid in Black and Brown communities. If you have a dream, idea or a vision, slowly start that savings fund specifically for your dream.”
Research doesn’t have to mean reading business books at the library, she said. Johnson encourages students to meet with other entrepreneurs, use online resources and ask good questions.
“Watch YouTube videos, use resources like the internet and social media and ask people around you for tips. Do you know an entrepreneur? Ask them for advice. Do not be afraid to mess up and do more research. It is all part of the process.”
Invest in yourself
Remember to nurture your own well-being, even as you nurture your dreams.
“Take time for you,” Johnson said. “Simply existing is hard enough, let alone creating! Make sure that whether you are starting out or have been working for a while, do not get so consumed in the world around you, that you forget about you.”
If you are inspired to launch a big idea of your own, LAS has a new program for students. It was not available when Johnson started her business, but will open for undergraduate students in Fall 2021. The LAS Dean’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I+E) Academy will help students launch their big ideas while connecting them to mentors and resources for success. Learn more.