When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing thousands of Northeastern students off campus last year in line with health and safety protocols, Mya Brown packed up her belongings for delivery to her family’s home in Atlanta.
“I shipped three massive boxes, and only one of the three arrived,” says Brown, a recent graduate from Northeastern in international business. “The boxes with my clothes and shoes are the ones that didn’t make it.”
Her favorite clothes had been lost by the shipping company. With no better option, Brown rummaged through the back of her closet for things she hadn’t worn in years. She began altering them with scissors and a sewing machine. And so, much sooner than expected, she found herself acting on her long-term dream of creating a clothing line.
Soon her fashion startup, JET NOIRE, was born.
“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason,” says Brown. “I don’t know if I would have been as motivated to push myself to start my brand if I’d had a closet full of clothes. I was already locked down during COVID. It was the perfect time to launch my brand.”
In support of her startup efforts, Brown has received an inaugural $2,500 Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative. The awards recognize 19 women who are graduates or current students at Northeastern. The organization is distributing a total of $100,000 in grants to help fund 17 ventures.
Brown recently moved to New York to begin a full-time job at Saks Fifth Avenue as an executive trainee in the retailer’s ready to wear department. She continues to operate JET NOIRE early in the morning, after work at night, and on weekends.
The Innovator Award has helped Brown fund a production run in Brooklyn of JET NOIRE’s newest line of clothing. The manufacturing component will enable the business to grow, says Brown, who had been making everything by hand with recycled materials.
“I basically buy fabric that has been discarded, and that’s part of our story,” says Brown of JET NOIRE’s sustainability mission. “Everything is super limited. When the fabric is gone, that piece isn’t going to be available anymore.
“So much of what I do is personal. Every piece is handmade, and you are investing in our story. Once you become a JET NOIRE girl, you’re part of our family, our community.”
JET NOIRE pursues a fusion between fashion and identity. “Mya is known for empowering women to express their identities authentically through fashion,” its website reads. “Just like any other art form, fashion can be shaped to reflect emotions.”
Brown has been a sole proprietor in every sense. “I handle everything from outreach, customer service, logistics, fulfillment, social media, design, user experience, marketing, philanthropy, and more,” says Brown, who learned to sew at an early age and recalls trying to alter her private school uniforms. “I started the brand with a white sheet tacked to my bedroom wall, my little sister as head photographer, and $200 for the licensing. There was no marketing budget, no materials budget, no budget at all.”
“Mya is a force,” says Hauck, who mentored Brown at Northeastern. “Not only immensely talented, innovative, and entrepreneurial, she is incredibly kind, compassionate, and committed to social justice and bettering the lives of others. During her time at Northeastern, she made an impact on our community that will be felt for many, many years to come.”
JET NOIRE is approaching 300 customer orders, and has attracted more than 2,000 Instagram followers.
Brown was 19 when her mother, Tiesha, died after a 12-year fight against non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that starts in white blood cells. In the darkness of her loss, she says she coped by helping her family in all kinds of ways—from cooking to carpooling—as her mother would have done.
“I was able to be strong for myself, and now there’s no challenge too great to conquer,” Brown says. “I wish she was here to see this. She would be by my side. She would be so proud. She was always my biggest supporter.”