Like many entrepreneurs before her, Wilglory Tanjong started making her bags “for fun” and soon, the venture turned into a six-figure business. She started Anima Iris, her luxury handbag company, as a side hustle while pursuing an MBA.
Today, her bags can be found online with big retailers like Nordstrom and Revolve, and on TV in HBO’s “Insecure”. Her brand is also “Beyonce-approved,” she said.
The success of Tanjong’s bag business is no fluke and can be attributed to her entrepreneurial background which helped her minimize mistakes at the early stages. She grew up watching her parents hustle. And when she was two years old, she and her family moved from Cameroon to Maryland.
Tanjong and her sisters assisted their father in his business, including helping him flip houses in the summer. The family also owned a laundromat. Tanjong’s mother, on the other hand, was a nurse who also managed a cosmetology studio out of the back of their home.
What pushed Tanjong into financial independence at an early age was when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was eight. And also, when she was 14, her parents divorced. She watched as her family struggled financially. “I’ll never forget the day when my mom told us that we were finally approved for food stamps,” Tanjong told CNBC Make It. “Having those kinds of experiences really pushed me to be financially independent as quickly as I could be.”
Despite the challenges, the Cameroonian native soldiered on and got admitted to Princeton University. In her senior year at Princeton, she lost her mother but that did not deter her from becoming a first-generation college graduate.
After her graduation in 2018, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia to start a career as an operational manager at a manufacturing and supply company. Her job came with a decent salary. However, she took a leave of absence after a year in the professional world.
She used her time to travel to Africa, starting from Ghana where she met young entrepreneurs and documented their experiences. She subsequently traveled to Senegal where she met artisans who made shoes and bags, and that was where she got the inspiration to start Anima Iris, her luxury handbag company.
“I realized that there was a significant gap in the market,” Tanjong said. “Women of color, and specifically Black women, have always been excluded from the luxury narrative. Building a brand that centers these women while also bringing forth African culture into the global landscape was like a bingo moment for me.”
She started Anima Iris in 2020 and formally quit her full-time job and moved to Philadelphia a month later. She first went viral after being featured in a Vogue article promoting Black-owned beauty and fashion brands.
And her brand’s greatest success came when it became “Beyoncé-approved” in August 2021.
“ANIMA IRIS IS OFFICIALLY @beyonce APPROVED!!!!!!! WOWWWWWWW THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO HAS SUPPORTED US. WE TAKING AFRICA TO THE WORLD. Promise 🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾🤞🏾,” Anima Iris shared on Instagram. The endorsement saw Tanjong record over $23,000 worth of luxury handbags and also became verified on Instagram.
Since launching in February 2020, Anima Iris has made over $700,000 in sales and has recently been making $100,000 in revenue per month. The 25-year-old designs the bags but is hand-stitched in Dakar, Senegal. Tanjong said she pays her Senegalese artisans twice more than the average artisan earns in Dakar.
“For so long, Black people have really defined the culture in America, but I’ve never actually gotten to reap the benefits of it,” Tanjong said. “It’s so wonderful to see so many Black creators finally being able to actually build their businesses, grow their businesses and for people to have other options outside of the options we’ve typically had that actually have excluded us.”