Wilglory Tanjong ’18, owner and founder of luxury handbag company Anima Iris, sat down for a Q&A on Sunday, November 13 at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Understanding with Max Jakobsen ’24, president of the Princeton African Students Association (PASA).
The event was co-hosted by the Black Business Association (BBA), PASA and the Princeton Association of Black Women (PABW).
Victoria Agwam ’23, co-founder and co-president of BBA, and Elizabeth Poku ’24, head of external relations of BBA, introduced Tanjong, who entered the room to the applause of the audience.
Jakobsen then asked for a minute’s silence in honor of PASA member Misrach Ewunetie ’24, who passed away last month. After the break, Jakobsen thanked the crowd and Tanjong encouraged audience members to ask for help.
“I certainly know that myself and other black alumni are thinking of you, we stand by your side, ready to support you. [you] in any way you might need us,” she said.
When she was an undergraduate in college, Tanjong majored in African American studies. After graduating, she went straight into the corporate world – but found that it was not the right fit. “I figured out what kind of car I could have, maybe what kind of house I could have,” she said. “I just wasn’t excited about it.”
Tanjong took time off from his job just months after he started.
Jakobsen asked Tanjong how she was able to go on leave which ultimately led to the inspiration to found Anima Iris. “A lot of people don’t know this, but a lot of these corporate jobs have – basically – insurance for you,” Tanjong told the crowd. “So it’s disability leave.”
After a few months of training while on leave, which she spent traveling around Africa and meeting entrepreneurs through a video series called “African Hustle”, Tanjong eventually found herself in Dakar, Senegal, where she met a community of artisans. .
“All of these materials come together, and they can make jewelry and can make my handbags and it was so amazing to me,” she said.
She fondly remembers her experience in Dakar. The artisans she met made 50 handbags which she brought back to the United States, where she resumed her corporate work for a few months before leaving to work full-time on Anima Iris in March 2020.
“I closed my laptop and didn’t look back,” she said.
Tanjong also spoke about the challenges she faced while earning her MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied while simultaneously running an intercontinental business. For a given week in 2019, she would attend her classes and on the weekends, she would fly to Senegal to be in the field with her artisans in their workshop. “I would do this twice a month, I would go to Africa for the weekends,” she said.
Describing his approach to creating Anima Iris as a brand, Tanjong emphasized the importance of the brand’s Afrocentrism.
“We can change the way people see Africa through luxury retail, create jobs, and take the money from the people who buy these bags and recycle it back into these families,” she said. “It could change so much.”
“I had this vision of building the next great Gucci, Chanel, etc. – but coming from Africa,” she continued.
Notably, Beyoncé posed with the bag on Instagram in 2021.
Chisom Nwadinobi ’25, who attended the event, told the Daily Princetonian that she felt inspired by Tanjong.
“His idea of creating [an] The black African luxury brand is very inspiring and makes me want to mobilize and use my time at Princeton and make sure I come out of here with something bigger than just a degree,” Nwadinobi said.
For Jakobsen, Anima Iris facilitates African pride. “I think a lot of Africans share this experience of having parts of your culture that don’t feel valued and don’t feel celebrated,” he said.
“What your brand does,” Jakobsen continued at the event, “is it makes people proud of their heritage and proud of their country. People are proud that it’s a handmade bag. in Senegal, Africa.
After the event, Camille Reeves ’23, editor emeritus of Tiger Trends, the Princeton fashion magazine, told the ‘Prince’ that she saw West Africa as the ‘next big market in the world. ‘fashion industry’.
“I’m so glad [Tanjong] was able to make this point, and really say, not only is it important to take African designs into your inspiration, but it is equally, if not more important, to employ and empower African communities in your work,” said Reeves.
On Wednesday, November 16, Tanjong will lead a promotional campaign for Anima Iris, where she will drive around New York in a branded truck, using a megaphone to encourage people to come to her pop-up shop. At the event, she remarked on how much it reminded her of her time as an undergrad.
“I was on a megaphone [at Princeton],” she laughed. “I was doing student activism, yelling at President Eisgruber.” Tanjong was involved with the Black Justice League (BJL) while at Princeton, a group of black student activists who led protests on campus, including a 32-hour sit-in at Eisgruber’s office in Nassau Hall.
Anima Iris’ pop-up shop will be on Friday, November 18 and Saturday, November 19, and PASA plans to organize a trip to visit.
Hope Perry is the podcasts editor-in-chief and a “Prince” news writer who has covered USG, American politics and student activism. Please direct any requests for corrections to the corrections on dailyprincetonian.com.