‘Officially endorsed by Beyonce’, says the Cameroonian whose brand is making waves in the luxury world
Like many entrepreneurs before her, Wilglory Tanjong started making her bags “for fun” and soon the business grew into a six-figure business. She started Anima Iris, her luxury handbag business, as a side hustle while pursuing an MBA.
Today, her bags can be found online at major 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 accident and can be attributed to her entrepreneurial experience which helped her minimize mistakes in the beginning. She grew up watching her parents hustle. And when she was two, she and her family moved from Cameroon to Maryland.
Tanjong and her sisters helped their father with his business, including helping him move house in the summer. The family also owned a laundry. Tanjong’s mother, meanwhile, was a nurse who also ran a cosmetology studio in the back of their house.
What pushed Tanjong to financial independence at an early age was when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was eight years old. And also, when she was 14, her parents divorced. She saw her family struggling financially. “I will never forget the day my mom told us that we had finally been approved for food stamps,” Tanjong told CNBC Make It. “Having these kinds of experiences really pushed me to be financially independent as quickly as possible.”
Despite the challenges, the Cameroonian native persevered and was admitted to Princeton University. During her senior year at Princeton, she lost her mother, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a first-generation graduate.
After graduating in 2018, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia to start a career as an operations manager at a manufacturing and supply company. His job came with a living wage. However, she took time off 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 then traveled to Senegal where she met artisans who made shoes and bags, and it was there that she got the inspiration to start Anima Iris, her luxury handbag company.
“I realized there was a big 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 bringing African culture to the global landscape has been like a bingo moment for me.
She started Anima Iris in 2020 and officially 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 biggest hit came when she became “Beyoncé-endorsed” in August 2021.
“ANIMA IRIS IS OFFICIALLY APPROVED @beyonce!!!!!!! WOWWWWWWW THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO SUPPORTED US. WE TAKE AFRICA TO THE WORLD. Promise“, Anima Iris shared on Instagram. The endorsement saw Tanjong save over $23,000 worth of luxury handbags and was also Instagram verified.
Since its launch in February 2020, Anima Iris has made over $700,000 in sales and recently made $100,000 in revenue per month. The 25-year-old designs the bags but is sewn by hand in Dakar, Senegal. Tanjong said she pays her Senegalese artisans twice as much as the average artisan salary in Dakar.
“For so long, black people have really defined culture in America, but I’ve never really been able to reap the benefits,” Tanjong said. “It’s been so wonderful to see so many black creators finally being able to start their businesses, to grow their businesses, and for people to have other options outside of the options that we usually had that actually shut us out. “