MSU friends focus on eyewear in starting new company

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Morgan State Alumni Tracy Vontélle Green and Nancey Harris launched their Vontelle Eyewear line as the first African American owned and operated eyewear company to offer ethnic and cultural patterns in October. (Courtesy photo)

By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
mgray@AFRO.com

Tracy Vontélle Green and Nancey Harris are Morgan State graduates whose vision for corporate success is to integrate their passion for statement making eyewear that’s attention grabbing.  Green and Harris are partners looking to make a statement in a $22 billion industry where Black-owned companies generate only $3 million annually.

These surrogate sisters met on their first day and shared the bond that many New Yorkers build when venturing south for a Black College Education on Cold Spring Lane and Hillen Road in northeast Baltimore.  They immediately bonded while living in adjacent Tubman and Harper dormitories and their friendship became family, which ultimately led to their business partnership.

“Trust and belief in each other is what fuels our relationship,” Harris said to the AFRO.

In October they launched Vontélle, LLC as a startup eyewear manufacturer launching a unique brand into the luxury eyewear space, company offering ethnic patterns reflecting African, Caribbean, and Latin cultures.  Green is the co-founder and CEO, who set the direction on the overall vision of the company, while Harris serves as COO, with a focus on operations and product design. The two offer a highly-effective balance of leadership and executive skills. 

“Our eyewear is original, authentic, distinctive, and invites a conversation,” Green said. “Vontélle will add a cultural richness to the marketplace.”

The vision for the sassy designs began during the early 1980’s thanks to Green’s interest in the Sally Jessy Raphael syndicated TV talk show.  Raphael became synonymous for the fashion statement with her oversized red frames, some would argue, even more than the guests or topics during her 19-year run on daytime TV. That talk show caught Green’s eye when at 13 years-old she was dealing with the adolescent crisis that comes with learning you have to wear glasses for the first time.

“I’ve been wearing glasses, frames, specs, eyewear since age 13. I remember how upset I was to have to wear them. I said okay if I’ve got to wear them, I want them to make a statement,” Green said. “I begged my mom to buy me a pair. So started my journey of wearing glasses, not only to see the chalkboard, but to be fashionable.”

Meanwhile Harris didn’t get her first pair of prescription glasses until after college.  She was working for  an optometrist as a public relations coordinator and began having difficulty with night glare while driving.  Once she learned she was nearsighted, another bond was formed because they each now needed an extra pair of eyes.  They also shared the frustration of keeping up with their glasses that often didn’t fit and lacked design diversity, which allowed for urban expressive eyewear.

In 2019, after they conversed about their issues, Harris and Green went to fashion week in Paris to learn where their most fashionable ethnic contemporary designs were and the idea for their company was born.  Nearly one year to the day later, Vontélle launched in the throws of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While their style makes a fashion statement, the impact goes beyond just accessorizing the look.  The unisex eyewear is priced under the high end retail markup and they offer flexible replacement options in case of loss or broken frames. 

Vontélle is also partnering with WIN (Women In Need) a New York City organization with 11 shelters to provide proceeds and eyewear to women and families in need.