Joanna Lau has never been one to wallow in the status quo. Even as a youngster, she prized standing out over fitting in. “I grew up in a family that always championed dreaming big,” she says. Some businesspeople might rest after establishing a successful career as a banker, but Lau kept going. She’s the founder, designer, and CEO of JEMMA, a chic handbag company that she started in January 2016.
Originally concerned that she couldn’t find a work bag that was both fashionable and functional for the office, Lau decided to create her own. Forget plain totes: these bags radiate confident couture, while acknowledging that women need a place to stow goods even when not in the most stylish places. Hence, her line includes an Italian nylon gym bag (with ventilated shoe compartment and laundry bag so you can enjoy an “après burpee” Frappuccino) and a leather backpack tote that can be adjusted to be worn crossbody or carried as a purse. Bonus: Those who loved Julie Andrews’s never-ending inventory pulled from her carpetbag will appreciate that the backpack is named Poppins. “Women do care about how the bag looks aesthetically and the way it’s carried—whether our bags can be carried in different ways,” says Lau.
It’s no surprise that Lau thrived in two different industries—banking and entrepreneurship—that are typically male dominated. Her youth in Singapore positioned her for success. “For school projects, I would always come out with an idea much crazier than what was expected of me,” Lau says. “In middle school, I was interviewing CEOs of major corporations for my school project when everyone else was sticking to their immediate circle of family and friends.” Now based in New York, she’s focused on her rapidly growing company: “I live for the thrill of not knowing what tomorrow’s challenge is going to be.”