- Hogoè Kpessou is a designer best known for her eponymous brand of backpacks emblazoned with bees.
- To Insider, she talks career beginnings and her entrepreneurial journey.
- This is part of Insider’s entrepreneur series Star, Rising which highlights early entrepreneurs.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Name: Hogoè Kpessou
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Business: A luxury brand known for backpacks emblazoned with bumblebees.
Backstory: Black entrepreneurs continue to stand out in the luxury industry, which is estimated to be worth 297 billion by 2026, according to research firm Global Industry Analysts. Continuing that trend is Hogoè Kpessou, founder of the eponymous brand that sells handbags and accessories.
Kpessou was born in Togo and immigrated to the US when she was six, where her peers ridiculed her name and heritage. When she launched her brand last October, she named it after herself to wash away the negative association she harbored toward her name. Now, it’s an emblem of luxury.
“I have people asking me how to say my name properly and asking how to spell it,” she told Insider. “That was a good choice on my part.”
Growth: Kpessou used $US10,000 ($AU13,518) from her mom to start the business and expects to hit seven figures in revenue by the beginning of next year.
Since its launch, the company’s made nearly $US500,000 ($AU675,898) in sales, seeing a 3,900% transaction increase, according to documents seen by Insider. Meanwhile, social traffic has grown 31,000% and direct site traffic climbed 50,000%. Additionally, she released a collection of bags adorned with fireflies and expanded the color selection of her bumblebee backpacks this year. Now, she’s prepping to show at New York Fashion week before jetting to Paris and Milan for their respective fashion weeks.
Next, she plans to enter wholesale, create apparel, and catch the eye of Beyoncé, whose nickname is Queen Bee. “That would just be perfect,” Kpessou said.
Before the brand: She sold candles and poetry books online while working as a sales representative at the insurance company Florida Blue. She also held weekend shifts at a local restaurant and delivered food for Uber Eats.
Challenges: Kpessou’s challenges are learning to separate her brand’s identity from her personal one and establishing boundaries between herself as a person and as a founder.
“I’ve always been a yes-ma’am, no-sir type of person,” she said. “But I can’t rely on people who don’t necessarily know the challenges of starting something from the ground up telling me how to proceed.”
Business Advice: “Keep the vision of what you want your business to be at the forefront.” she said.
Business mentor: Tavia Kelly, a business planner, taught Kpessou the importance of branding, while consultant Reka Naomi Szabo taught her the ins and outs of the fashion industry.
Why is now the best time to start a business: Kpessou points to a few facts: First, there has been a rise in the number of Black-owned businesses launched since July 2020, while self-employment continues to increase, and customers continue spending money at companies they support. “We’re entering a renaissance,” she continued. “I think it’s a beautiful thing.”
On hiring: She runs the company alone and is looking to hire at least five more people in the next two months to help with customer service and packaging.
Managing burnout: Kpessou writes and sees her therapist often. She also enjoys learning new languages and taught herself Korean. Next, she’s trying to get back into exercising. “I need to find out how to make the gym my comfort zone again,” she said.