Many people dream of creating their own business and building it from the ground up, but very few people know the feeling of seeing their dreams come true. For Lola Banjo, her brand Silver & Riley took over a decade to see her hard work come to fruition. With the help of her brand ambassador Vanessa Simmons, I sat down with these two brilliant businesswomen to learn their top business tips to run a successful business.   


Lola your brand Silver & Riley is a luxury travel & fashion brand made in Italy. Talk to us about how you started your business and why you chose to have your products made in Italy.  

Silver & Riley is a decade long dream that finally came to fruition in late 2019 and I still pinch myself at times when I realize it is now real. While what would become the brand was born from my passion for travel and fashion, the concept was by accident during my internship travels while pursuing my MBA at Emory University. I encountered an uncomfortable situation on a flight that sparked the idea of creating a brand that addressed travel inconveniences and made moving around a smoother and more enjoyable process for business and frequent travelers like me. 

It started with travel blankets, but once I started researching and delving deeper into the travel goods market, this evolved into a desire to create the best travel bags possible. From my research and experience, I already had a hunch about the product design, but I wanted to validate it with the market, so I hired a consumer insights firm which surveyed 200 respondents with 80 questions I came up with around what people would want in their travel accessories, first to test the hypothesis on the need, and also to gather some ideas to augment my initial design concepts.  

During this process, one of the questions we asked was regarding consumer perceptions of the most prestigious market for leather production. Over 90% of respondents cited Italy, prompting me to set my sights on finding a partner in Italy to bring the vision to life. However, this was fraught with challenges. I had no prior contacts, substantial knowledge of manufacturing or the capital to take on such a project, so I was underprepared for the ride. 

All in all, I encountered 136 rejections before securing my first manufacturer. Once that happened, I put together a focus group initially for the concept designs, then to test the initial prototypes. It took about a decade of researching the idea and saving for it, then another year from when I first booked a flight to Italy to go door to door to visit potential manufacturers before we were ready to launch. 

I took the long road – I always say, I took the stairs and felt all of them. But it was worth it. I learned a lot in the process, and every step of the way, I remained steadfast in my commitment to excellence. I envisioned each piece to exude classic elegance and timeless appeal, mirroring the unmatched craftsmanship and sophistication synonymous with Italian design. 

Italy’s reputation for unparalleled quality and authenticity in leather production resonated deeply with my vision for the brand. I was unwavering in my resolve to uphold these standards, refusing to compromise on quality and fully harnessing the country’s renowned expertise in luxury fashion.  

The very first bag I produced was the Carryall Travel Duffle, and then I began adding work bags then fashion bags, following the same principle. All bags are designed with the principle of combining style with functionality, because I truly do not believe they have to be decoupled, and I am uncompromising on this.  

I want everyone to feel like they are getting the most out of their spend with us.  In essence, Silver & Riley epitomizes a fusion of my passion, perseverance, and pursuit of excellence, culminating in well-crafted products that embody the essence of Italian craftsmanship and timeless sophistication. 

How did you two meet? What made you want to work together on a business level?  

Lola: From the inception of the brand, I wanted the brand to align with the qualities of style, elegance and timelessness. So, when I began working with PR, I was asked to envision who might be ideal brand ambassadors to represent this image. I already had a target list in my head, and Vanessa was always on each list I came up with.  

Like many, I watched her on Run’s House with her family and always liked her laid back and relatable attitude. Her family overall represented upstanding citizens and just generally good, hard-working people, all qualities that I align with. 

Over the years, I have followed her on Instagram and felt she was a good representation of the Silver & Riley woman – polished, hardworking, on the go, accomplished and seemed to value style and timelessness over trends.  

When the opportunity presented itself to work on a campaign together, I pounced on it and that collaboration produced some of my favorite imagery to date. The campaign was also very successful, and since then, we stayed in touch and grew our friendship, which in turn, made it easy for us to enter a longer-term partnership.   

Vanessa: When I met Lola for that shoot back in 2022, it was such a great experience, and I genuinely loved the bags. I even went home with my first Silver & Riley from that shoot, which was the oxblood duffle bag. 

 I used it almost immediately on my trip back home to Los Angeles and I loved how it elevated my airport look. I was also inspired by Lola’s vision and her passion. I enjoy watching other successful female founders and how they conduct business because it inspires my own entrepreneurial journey. From start to finish, Lola was involved in the process and was incredibly prepared every step of the way. When she presented the idea to partner, I immediately said yes!  

Vanessa, what have you learned from your first fashion brand “Pastry” that you’re taking with you in your new endeavor with Lola’s brand?  

So much! Over the years working on Pastry, I learned a lot about production and the creative process as a whole. In some ways, footwear is different from the luxury fashion space, but it is certainly the same grind if you want to be a success at what you do. I’m looking forward to the journey that this new chapter will bring. 

How has your brand improved since adding Vanessa as a brand ambassador Lola? 

Vanessa and I hit it off right away so it’s been easy to transition into having her be an official ambassador for the brand. Vanessa has brought increased visibility and reach for Silver & Riley. Furthermore, her influence and connections in the industry will open up new opportunities, leading to enhanced brand recognition and growth. In addition, it’s been great to be able to tap into her knowledge and experience with Pastry as we think more consciously of global expansion.

For any entrepreneurs who’d like to add brand ambassadors to their business, what are a few tips you both recommend they use?  

Lola: I think it’s very important to identify ambassadors who align with your brand values and target audience. It’s easy to fall for the lure of just wanting to go for the biggest names possible, but if they are not authentic to your brand, it will not be a successful partnership. Authenticity is key, and these days with the popularity of content creation, consumers can often see through it if a campaign is not authentic. 

Also, I think it’s important to build a relationship first, which allows you to gauge if someone actually genuinely cares about your brand and product or if they just see the opportunity as a payday. I have been fortunate to meet many people on this journey who genuinely support the brand, but unfortunately, I have also had to learn the hard way in the past with identifying collaborators who were only in it for personal interest and it showed in their level of participation and involvement once they actually got paid. 

Next, I think it’s extremely important to nurture genuine relationships with ambassadors and offer value beyond compensation. Any collaboration should be mutually beneficial, not just financially, but intrinsically as well. An ambassadorship is a long-term agreement, so be sure to choose someone you can collaborate closely with to ensure brand alignment and authenticity in their promotions. Someone who is levelheaded and open to feedback and improvement, and that should absolutely go both ways. A collaboration should truly be a two-way street, and the best collaborations offer both parties an opportunity to learn and grow. 

And ultimately, of course, if your goal is brand awareness to generate sales, you’d need someone with reach and influence (this does not always mean the most followers), as you’ll need to leverage their platforms and networks to reach new audiences and enhance brand awareness. But also keep in mind that sometimes, your best ambassadors don’t always have to be the most popular.

I’ve had incredible success with ambassadors who may have 5,000 followers but each of those people are intently tuned into them. Whereas, someone with a million followers may just have a passive audience that doesn’t buy anything they are selling. It’s good to have both as you want both visibility and sales. But be realistic about your metrics and where they are coming from.

Vanessa: Speaking specifically for the talent/creator side, I think it’s best to build organic relationships with brands that you already support and/or align with your core values and interests. For me, Silver & Riley is in complete alignment with the things I love. The brand effortlessly blends with my personal style. If I had to sum up my current aesthetic, it would be chic, timeless and luxe. I also love what the brand stands for – Silver & Riley has built a fund called Buy 1, Give 5,  that allocates a portion of sales toward grants to support other female founders and their endeavors, which is also important to me. 

Lola, how did you get your brand into Nordstrom & Saks Off Fifth? What advice do you have for any entrepreneurs looking to get their brand in major retail markets?  

I’d first encourage any founder to ask what they hope to get out of a retail partnership and why it’s important for them at that stage of the business. Being in big retail seems to be the goal for most, but it’s not always the best solution. Perhaps being a direct-to-consumer brand suits you better, or maybe adopting a just-in-time manufacturing process is more compatible, which might not always sync with traditional retail models.

If you do decide you want to have a major retail presence, then here are some general tips:

Research and understand the retailer’s target audience, brand positioning, and product requirements – it should go without saying that not every retailer is right for your brand, but sometimes a brand might get desperate and accept any offer that they get. Be thoughtful about this and make sure there is true alignment.

Like with most anything in the business, it’s all about building relationships. So make sure you invest the time into building relationships with key decision-makers and buyers through networking events, trade shows, and personalized outreach. This is how I got my first retail opportunity with Nordstrom. A friend connected me with a friend who is a decision maker there when the brand first launched in 2019.

It was way too early at that time to have any credible business case for it, but I kept in touch and annually shared growth metrics, updates and press clippings. Then in 2022, we finally decided mutually that it was time to introduce the brand to the Nordstrom audience. It was a similar story with Saks. Point is, these things take time, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t receive a favorable response right away. Sometimes, what may seem to be a rejection could actually be a blessing, because you have time to work on the brand and improve to be better positioned for that or other opportunities in the future.

Present a compelling brand story, product offering, and marketing strategy that aligns with the retailer’s vision and objectives. Remember, this should be a mutually beneficial partnership, so you have to always be asking, what’s in it for them too and how can I make my case more appealing?

 Be thoughtful about your pricing strategy. This was a misstep I made initially when I launched the brand as I priced the products too close to cost. I wanted to truly be a consumer’s brand, so we only retained just a little bit of margin as profit. When I first got into retail, that strategy came back to bite us, as I ended up losing money initially as we had not accounted for the retailer’s margins in the pricing. So try not to make this mistake in your pricing.

Out of all the products Silver & Riley offers, which are both of your favorites?  

Lola: It’s always hard for me to pick favorites as I designed each product and they all mean something to me, but I am really having fun with our scarves right now. They are our latest product category, and they incorporate a lot of my experiences and journeys around the world. Some are made with pictures I’ve taken on these journeys, for example, the Queen of the Cape scarf incorporates a picture of a lioness I snapped while on safari in South Africa, so they combine the three things I love the most – travel, photography, and design.

Vanessa: I have several favorites – starting with the oxblood duffle bag that I have since I travel a lot for work, so it’s perfect for weekenders or quick trips. I also love a good oversized bag, so my current obsession is the Grande XL New Yorker. Again, it’s perfect for the airport or a business day, and it has a slot for your laptop, and tons of space to put everything you need for a long flight, or if you’re going to be traveling for multiple days. 

As we head into summer vacation season, what are some fashion trends you think will be popular this year?  

Vanessa: Quiet luxury is a good way to go. It looks so clean and polished – I’m not sure if this is considered a trend, but I’ve been watching a lot of Sex and The City lately, and I still really love the Carrie Bradshaw vibe. Some of her choices were bold! But I loved how she had an edge by adding statement pieces, so I want to do more of that this summer – simplistic, clean looks with a bold accessory or fashion piece. 

Lola: Bold Stripes: Bold stripes are like the classic songs of fashion, always catchy and in style, adding energy and vibrancy to outfits without overwhelming them, making them perfect for summer. They’re versatile and timeless, appealing to various tastes and preferences, which is why they’re featured in the Silver & Riley scarf collection like with the Venetian Velvet – 90, Santorini Blues – 90 and the Hawaiian Embrace – 90 that incorporate bold, colorful stripes that are contemporary yet add a timeless and classic touch.

Graphic Prints: Prints that incorporate real pictures create unique, one-of-a-kind pieces, turning wardrobes into scrapbooks of memories. By incorporating travel photos into scarf designs, the aim is to evoke wanderlust and adventure, offering consumers a meaningful fashion statement. For example, in designing our scarves, I wanted each one to be connected to the brand’s theme of global travel as well as to incorporate a bit of my personal story.

Having traveled to over 100 countries, I’ve been photographing the world for many years, and I’ve been fortunate to take many beautiful pictures along the way. There’s a story behind each piece. For instance, the Cartagena Sunset – 90 scarf captures a picture of a family admiring the city at sunset while visiting Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, and the Murano Stallion – 90 features a picture of a glass horse that I took, shortly after it was molded by the amazing artisans in the glass making capital of the world, Murano, Italy.  

Florals: Florals are a timeless print that brings a romantic, feminine vibe to summertime fashion. From delicate ditsy florals to bold botanical prints, they evoke nostalgia while keeping fashion fresh and fun. Silver & Riley scarves like the Hawaiian Embrace – 90 and the Tahitian Temptation – 90 feature these vibrant prints.

Additionally, fringe and cowboy-inspired styles are undoubtedly staging a comeback, and we owe a tip of our hat at least partly to Beyoncé’s album, Cowboy Carter. This fusion of music and style has reignited our love affair with fringe and all things cowboy. Think swaying tassels on jackets, skirts, and bags, alongside cowboy boots stomping down the runway. Definitely big kudos to Queen Bey for inspiring this revival of Western chic.

 Do you two have anything special in store for the brand this year that you could exclusively share with Galore readers?

Lola: We are excited to introduce some new product categories this year and of course, expand within our current category as well. Exclusively, I can say you can expect to see rolling luggage from us in the near future! We’ve had such a big demand for this since we launched.

Additionally, our fragrance collection which has been in development in France since 2019 (but stalled due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021) is finally dropping late this year or early next year. We are so excited to continue to grow the brand and create more relevant and exciting products for our customers. We appreciate you continuing to stay tuned!


Feature Editor: Taylor Winter Wilson (@taylorwinter)

Photographer: Cyndi Brown

Hair Stylist: Sebastiana Black

Makeup Artist: Taye Hyder

Stylist: Lola Banjo

Set Assistant: Gloxina Brent

Photo Assistant: Dominique Sturm

Light Technician: Demarcus Williams 

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