True luxury, made in the USA: we talk to JAMAH’s Founder, Nancy Gale.
Founded in 2000, JAMAH is an American Luxury Design House featuring the finest lambskin and exotic handbags, men’s bags and accessories.
In the next decade, Gale expects people will mention JAMAH in the same breath as the “big houses.” This may seem like a far-fetched dream, but our guess is, once you understand Gale’s story, you won’t be betting against her.
DLX: What inspired JAMAH?
Gale: JAMAH was a place for me to express my creativity and indulge my passion. I was fascinated by the concept of taking something that was pure utility and turning it into wearable art. I was drawn to shapes, textures, architecture, nature and lines. In 2008, after eight years in the mainstream luxury handbag market, the economy changed and many lines went out of business. I watched as depression crippled the industry and was extremely troubled that American craftsmanship had long lost its cache. For me, this was the time to dig my feet in.
After extensive research, my path was crystal clear. I began the journey to stake my claim as the first true American luxury handbag design house. Although grandiose, I knew that someone would ultimately fill this space. Who better than me? Afterall, I grew up in Detroit during a time of major economic prosperity, when manufacturing was rampant and well respected. I was determined to bring that back.
DLX: You’re clearly an entrepreneur. What is an entrepreneur to you?
Gale: An entrepreneur is a visionary; one who sees solutions to problems before most even recognize a problem exists. An entrepreneur is skilled at amassing the right people to execute their vision.
DLX: Jim Rohn once said, “you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” What’s your take on this? Are you spending time with the right people to help you execute?
Gale: I am now, but that is something new for me. Although the statement may seem obvious, I realized I had never explored its magnitude and how it pertained to my life. I believe often times we may be around great people, but perhaps not the right pieces for our puzzle. The right pieces for my puzzle consist of aspiring, inspiring, hardworking, honest “cheerleaders.”
DLX: So you’re also running a nonprofit called AMBITION. Are some of the people that are helping you run this program your cheerleaders?
Gale: Absolutely. When I started AMBITION, I was barraged with people asking me what I was thinking. They would tell me that I was crazy and that it couldn’t be done. Now when I discuss my vision and talk about the direction of the program, the response is positive and proactive.
DLX: Can you tell me a little bit more about AMBITION and the ultimate purpose behind it?
Gale: My ultimate vision was to create a cause that would counterbalance JAMAH. Although two separate entities, one would constantly uplift the other. I believe the most effective strategy is commerce promoting cause and cause promoting commerce, in a symbiosis.
AMBITION is a nonprofit, entrepreneurial program for underserved youth. AMBITION fosters solution driven, entrepreneurial thinking. In a nutshell, I wanted to bring my dinner table to those who didn’t have what I did growing up. I was concerned about where one would find access and exposure without having a plethora of entrepreneurs and successful people around as I did. I bring 10-15 mentors into the classroom every week to help me with my mission to expose our students to great levels of success. They are instilled with ideas, thought processes and values that will take them through a lifetime.
DLX: From the mentors that you’ve had, two in particular that come to mind and stand out. You’ve had Richard Branson and Bill Clinton meet with your students. How did this come about?
Gale: I believe that learning marketing is vital and spans all careers. This is a key focus of AMBITION. By teaching the students to market themselves, they gain the confidence necessary for whatever career they pursue. Celebrity reach outs are one form of many marketing projects that we teach. The first person we reached out to was Richard Branson. The students were instructed that they couldn’t simply throw together a video saying, “Hey Richard Branson, we’d love you to come to class.” They were instructed to compel and to make him feel that he would be missing out by not meeting them. The students made an amazing video and I sent it to someone I had just met at Virgin. She graciously offered to send it to Mr. Branson, something that she was not accustomed to doing.
Within three hours we were sitting with him at the Sunset Marquis in Hollywood. It was surreal. Instead of our guests coming to the classroom, we aim to bring the students to places that they feel are out of their reach. Richard sat with our students for an hour. They were absolutely enthralled and inspired. They realized that they are capable of incredible things.
DLX: What impact has this had on the program?
Gale: When your first special guest, within months of launching your program, is Richard Branson, suddenly all the people who said you couldn’t do it, remind you of how they were the ones who always believed in you. It most definitely ignited the program. And what better way to follow-up a knight, but with a former president.
I was commissioned to design and present JAMAH bags to Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. I had the honor of spending over ten minutes, one-on-one, with Bill Clinton. We talk to the students about creating opportunities and I thought this could be an incredible one. I brought my student with, just in case an opportunity to meet him presented itself. During my time with him, I spoke about AMBITION and he was very excited. I told him about the students and that I had a group of them with me to watch his keynote. Before I could finish my sentence he yelled over to Secret Service and announced that he wanted to meet with us in the kitchen after his presentation. For 15 minutes we listened to Bill Clinton telling stories about when he courted Hillary and what it was like to be president. The students were in awe.
This was extremely significant for both JAMAH and AMBITION, as it was clear that we were attracting real leaders.
DLX: You talked about pivotal experiences and this was probably one of the most amazing ones. You’ve had some very pivotal life experiences that have affected you, can you share some of them?
Gale: My mom spent a lot of my teenage years in the hospital, not expected to survive. This took my independence to a place that defined me. I was already quite independent, but this propelled me to take my independence to new heights.
I believe I was born with a great deal of resilience. When I was in my 20s I was raped and recognized the real power of my resilient nature. I am not convinced that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that we have the ability to make something positive come from even the worst experiences.
When I was in my 30s my father passed away. We were incredibly close and, once again, my resilient nature served me well.
Recently, my mother was brutally murdered in a home invasion. My world was rocked. If I had taken a second to think about it, I would have questioned if I could get through the shock and pain. Thankfully, my resilience kicked in, full throttle.
For the next two years, I focused a great deal of attention on my creative desires and on AMBITION. If I ever needed to rely on my resiliency it was then. In coming out of such a dreadful experience, I made shifts in my life. Shifts that had been a long time coming, but not clear until experiencing the magnitude of such a tragedy.
I’ve always liked things to be conflict free and fluid. After the experience with my mom, it was clear that I needed to take a look at the partnerships I was choosing. This was when I discovered the vital importance of all the puzzle pieces needing to fit. I recognized that I was not enlisting the best partners, professionally and personally. By no means is this a slight to the amazing people who surrounded me, but that does not guarantee a fit. Instead of following through with those feelings, I would try to maneuver everything to make each situation work. I have learned as an entrepreneur and running my own businesses that you can’t maneuver things to make them fit. They have to fit first and then you refine, and you may even redefine, but you can’t put a square hole into a round peg and force it to fit. You must start with something that fits.
DLX: Resilience is thematic in your life. What are some other themes, core values, and principles?
Gale: I live by the belief that if one can visualize something, then one can achieve it. With laser focus, hard work and the right support system, anything is reachable, even if not in the exact way it was anticipated.
When I was younger, people would constantly call me a Pollyanna, and begrudge me for seeing the world through rose colored glasses. I don’t see the world through rose colored glasses, I believe the world is rose colored. This attitude has propelled my belief that I can create anything I work to create. Making the choice to see things in a positive light is one of the most important traits serving my endeavors.
DLX: It is clear that problem-solving is a theme that is key to AMBITION and JAMAH. Sharing the same principles and core values, they are a reflection of who you are. How did this play a part in your choice to go after the luxury market?
Gale: Absolutely. I was disappointed by its disappearance. Luxury was an experience defined by craftsmanship, authenticity, and timelessness. The language surrounding its definition had faded and its vernacular changed. Words of beauty were replaced with words inciting dreariness. “Manufacturing,” “factory” and “production” became the defining vocabulary. Luxury is about an experience and I am determined to bring it back to its roots.
DLX: What’s your definition of luxury?
Gale: My definition of luxury is a personal experience one has achieved beyond one’s goals. Luxury is JAMAH. JAMAH, for the moment, you have arrived.
Just named a Top 10 Fashion Classic, taking a seat next to Birkin, I can proudly say that JAMAH has arrived!
Edited for clarity.