BABE #239: JENNY NUCCIO - Founder, Imani Collective
Six years ago, Jenny sold all of her belongings and moved to Kenya to start Imani Collective, an artisan shop employing 60+ Kenyan residents and empowering women through education, opportunity and community. Through holistic programs and benefits, Imani Collective is making strides towards lessening the generational cycles of poverty that have impacted the women they employ. Jenny has built one heck of a community through dedication and hard work, and we’re rooting her on as she continues to propel Imani forward with big dreams, a good heart and a whole lot of passion.
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Current city: Mombasa, Kenya
Alma mater: Texas A&M University
Degree: Masters in Leadership Education and Communications; Currently pursuing a Doctorate in Education
Very first job: Host, Mama’s Cafe in San Antonio, Texas
Hustle: Founder, Imani Collective; Social entrepreneur and visionary; Blogger; Motivational speaker; Mother; Wife; Future author
Babe you admire and why?
I admire many entrepreneurial women, but I really admire my grandma because of the sheer grit she has. She has taught our family so much and she truly encompasses not only determination and passion for going after your dreams, but she also radiates love and immense peace to everyone she is around.
How do you spend your free time?
Considering I have two kiddos under the age of three, I do not have much free time. But when I do, I love a good book in a hammock followed by a nap. Funny thing is, I used to think naps were the silliest thing ever. Now as I get older and, I guess, lack more sleep, I love them and wish I had more time for them.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Jamba Juice Razzmatazz. My favorite. Ever.
What’s something most don’t know about you?
I have 12 tattoos. They know I have a few, but not that many.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Joanna Gaines, hands down. In fact, Imani Collective has been a part of Silobration the last couple of years and since I live in Kenya, I have not been able to be a part of it. I would love to just give her a hug and tell her thank you for being her. I love her authenticity and that she just does her. I always tell my girls, “do you.” I believe Joanna personifies that. Anyways, I would love to sit with her and just become her best friend really.
Tell us about your hustle.
I am the founder of Imani Collective, where I work with 60 artisans and staff in Kenya. Imani Collective gives our women access to education, to opportunities, to growth, to community and ensure they are empowered through it all. From the beginning, it was clear that to truly create change that would result in these women rising above poverty, we needed to be about impacting the whole person. Imani Collective empowers artisans to not just know, but to see their best self shine through to the world.
What does your typical workday look like?
Oh, man, every day looks very different. But a typical workday is me being side-by-side with the artisans in the workshop checking in on orders, production, shipment deadlines, customers, creating new designs, checking on supply and color, motivating and giving inspirational micro speeches throughout the day, enjoying a hot drink with our women, laughing—lots of laughing—and also throw in some dancing because that is a daily occurrence. I wear a lot of hats, but am always checking in on systems, creating new systems, checking on efficiency and quality and making sure all communication is clear across our teams in Kenya and in the States (Dallas). My biggest job is to make sure we are impacting in the way we desire. We care about the whole person, and so I am daily checking in on our women and checking up on their hearts. Making sure they are OK, thriving and living their best lives.
What inspired Imani Collective?
Imani Collective is rooted in hope, imagination and opportunity. It started when I saw the glimmer of hope and felt the desire for change in women who later have grown to be my friends, my community and my family. It was more than just a quick trip and a young girl wanting to “change the world”—I knew I needed to respond, to act and to use my resources to extend opportunities to these women. It was about creating a dignified space for women to grow and dream just as I did every day. I believed and continue to believe in their greatness, their aspirations and their incredible capacity and I wanted my sisters to be surrounded by a community that saw their highest selves and confidently stood behind them. I first went to Kenya in 2009 and continued to travel there to help with projects for the next four years. It was then that I decided to sell everything (including my truck, which is a big deal for a Texas girl!) to start Imani Collective. I used that money to purchase our first 16 sewing machines and in May 2013 our story boldly began to unfold.
How has the business evolved overtime?
As the founder, I have been able to see our story come alive, change and respond to our women over the last five years. What started as a program that taught basic artisan skills so that our women, my sisters, could provide for themselves has rapidly turned into so much more. I walked away from our first training class knowing that sustainable change required growth opportunities beyond just job skills. Seventy percent of our women had never stepped foot into a classroom—meaning they didn’t know their numbers, how to read or how to write. It was revelations like this that aided my understanding of why there were generational cycles of poverty and ultimately molded Imani Collective into what it is today.
What can consumers do to contribute towards breaking the generational cycles of poverty?
They can purchase our products to help be a part of the movement, and donate to a particular holistic program we offer. I encourage individuals or groups to help sponsor a group of kids in school, or provide for our food program, or give back to our general artisan equipment fund. We have a lot we do and a lot to give back to.
How do you decide where to source your products?
I always make sure they have the same values as us and I source everything locally in East Africa. I do not get any supplies shipped, as I strive to give back to our local economy and empower through our sourcing. I look for companies that are ethically and environmentally responsible as well an give fair wages to their workers and care about a holistic approach.
How do you balance the management of operations in Kenya along with operations in Texas?
Pure luck. Just kidding. I work a lot within Google. Google Drive, Calendar, Google Hangouts. Most of my meetings for my girls in Texas happen at 8:30 p.m. for me, as we are nine hours ahead of Texas. Luckily, I’m a night owl so late night aren’t bad. I keep boundaries around my times, so 9:00 to 5:00 is time in our workshops with the artisans in Kenya; 5:00 to 8:00 is family time and dinner; 8:00 to 10:30 is meeting with people in the States. Then, at 10:30, I do some quiet time, meditation or yoga and just take time to be grateful and decompress from the day. By midnight I’m snuggled up next to the hubs, ready to take on the next day.
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
I can tell you I have learned most of what I do from experience. Experience is the greatest tool to growth and success, but my academia in leadership and human resources (I also received a graduate certificate in nonprofit management) has really helped me in the process. I was an undergraduate when I first began Imani in 2011 and then the women’s program, Imani Collective, was developed in 2013. It has been a process. The best part about starting this while still in school is that I was able to apply everything straight from the classroom directly onto my field of work. Having practical application really helped me see concepts come to life.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
When I decided to rebrand—and here’s why. October 2016, I almost shut my doors for good. We had been struggling for three years and I was tired. I began to enter into these big markets in 2016 and although everyone loved our story, they didn’t want to buy our products, which was disheartening to say the least. After New York in August 2016, I was burned out, tired and wanted to give in—and then I went to a women’s retreat in Israel in September of 2016. I spent time getting poured into and used that time to refocus. I am so thankful for that retreat. When I came back I knew we need to change, so in October of 2016 I hired my first stateside staff, Hailey, who is our VP of product development and design. I asked her to redesign our whole look. It was then that we worked hard over three months to redesign, develop and rebrand to Imani Collective. This is a pivotal point in my career because to see how far we have come in two years is mind-blowing, and all it took was courage and faith to change and try something new.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
For sure being a woman in Kenya has been challenging, as most people think my husband is the founder of Imani Collective. I laugh every time. But, I love being a woman founder because it creates a statement of our hustle, work ethic and grit. This road as a woman entrepreneur has not been easy, especially in securing startup funds. In fact, we have not received any startup capital and have grown organically, and I’m proud of how far we have come with our organic growth so far. It will be six years in May since starting Imani Collective, and two years since the rebrand, and I feel like people are now starting to listen and take me seriously.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry?
I view my industry as “entrepreneurial.” I see the growth of female founders, but I see many female founders fail due to lack of secured funds. I believe this is a common factor for many female company startups. They’re not taken seriously and then fail because of funding issues, versus ideation or concept issues. Investors and stakeholders need to start to listen up and actually hear the vision, plan and thorough execution.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
I think many people see where Imani Collective is and think we’ve “made it,” when in fact I don’t think we will ever get to that point, because I will always be dreaming of the next big thing. They also think I’m just sitting back or something, because many people are shocked to see me work a market, call a customer or be on the ground washing wool with my artisans. I’m no better than anyone who is a part of our collective. I always immerse myself in the work and wear many hats. I also want our women to know they are loved and I’m right there with them when we need extra hands to help. I carry the water, I put together the boxes, I attach the labels, I call customers, I will always be the one fighting for us the most, so I will always be in the action. That will never change. Being with my people reminds me daily of why I do what I do, and why Imani Collective was created in the beginning. It’s always about the people before the product.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
You just have to start. Choose courage over comfort, always, and live your best life.
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