LaToya Stirrup is the CoFounder of KAZMALEJE and this week’s Woman in Business
In her words: KAZMALEJE (pronounced cosmology) is dedicated to creating innovative solutions and lifestyle-amplifying tools and accessories for the natural hair care market. Our signature launch items are our line patent-pending detangling combs. We have designed 3 different types of hair tools (a paddle comb, comb and pick) to reduce the stress and breakage many textured hair consumers experience when trying to detangle their tresses. However, that is just the beginning. Ultimately, we envision the brand augmenting the natural hair experience by providing tools and accessories that speak to the lifestyle needs of textured beauties and gents. We’ve launched novelty tees to generate buzz and content, but we see this aspect of the brand expanding into a line of leisure wear perfect for at home pampering. In addition to retail, we also plan to generate content that shines a light on issues within the hair/beauty community (both on the business as well as consumer side) while providing new perspectives/solutions.
Please tell us what being a business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?
I became an entrepreneur in order to take more control of my time and have the ability to determine how and with whom I spend it. For nine years, I worked in the advertising industry and managed award winning campaigns. My experience during that time was invaluable and laid an excellent foundation upon which I currently stand. Due to my professional career, I know how to take a concept from idea to launch. I know how to manage teams, timelines and budgets. I understand the dynamics of leveraging the strengths of others to successfully move towards a common goal. And now, I am able to channel everything I’ve learned and experienced into launching a company with my two sisters. Being able to bring creative solutions to market that solves real, everyday problems is amazing and is the cornerstone of what it means to be an entrepreneur (in my opinion). While our line of detangling combs is just the beginning, it is the foundation upon which we look to grow our solution-driven brand.
What or who has been your greatest influence in business and why?
My pioneering great-grandfather, E. W. Franklin Stirrup, has always been a huge influence in my life. Even though he passed long before I was born, the work he and my great-grandmother did to create affordable housing solutions for immigrant workers during the founding years of what would become Miami, FL continues to be a source of inspiration for me. The fact that he was able to not only become a real estate titan, but also own multiple other businesses in the late 1800s/early 1900s motivates me to continue pursuing my dreams and leave all excuses behind.
What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
Over the years, I have received many awards, professional recognitions and appointments. However, I am most proud of the fact that I have been an entrepreneur for over five years. To some, that may sound trivial. But to those who know and understand how hard this road can get at times, can relate to my sense of accomplishment. The “stick-to-itness” that is required of us who have chosen to be entrepreneurs is demanding and unforgiving. It can make you doubt yourself at times and feel as though you are alone on a dark and scary road. And yet, it can be the most rewarding experience (if you stick to it), because you can really see who you are and what drives you.
What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?
The best advice I have received in business is to always be prepared. The summer going into my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to land my first internship at Burger King Corporation working under then VP of Diversity, Vincent Berkeley. One day a group of students were doing a tour of the headquarters and Vince was speaking to the group. At the end of his presentation, he asked me to come before the group and share a few words of encouragement with the students. We had not discussed this beforehand, so I did not have anything prepared. However, I quickly rose to the occasion, spoke to my experience and shared why it is important to pursue one’s dreams. After the students left, he expressed how proud he was of me to handle speaking to the large group of students on the spot and that he intentionally did not prepare me for it in order to impart the importance of always being prepared. In business, you never know when an opportunity may spontaneously arise. If you are prepared, you’ll be able to seize the opportunity with confidence and grace. If not, you’ll stumble through and may walk away disappointed. Ultimately, the choice is yours.
What has been the most effective marketing initiatives or programs you have used to promote your business?
To date, the most effective marketing initiatives have been the launch of crowdfunding campaign this past June and then continuing our pre-order efforts after the close of the campaign by exhibiting at different trade shows and expos to increase our exposure, brand awareness and pre-order sales.
What one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?
The one thing I have learned as a Project Manager that has served me extremely well as a small business owner is to be agile. With any project, timelines are going to shift and unforeseen things are going to happen. It’s inevitable. The best way to handle those moments are to stop, take stock of where things are and make the best decision you can from that point. Yes, you may have to change course a bit, but that doesn’t mean you lose sight of your goal.
Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business?
There are so many great tools and apps out there to help streamline various aspects of your business. Some of my favorite resources and tools that we use regularly are:
Fiverr: This is the perfect resource for bootstrapping entrepreneurs looking to get creative work done on a budget. From logo design to voice-overs, you can find just about anything.
Google Suite: I am a huge fan of Google Suite. Email, cloud storage, cloud documents all in one place. It just doesn’t get any better.
Automate.io: This is a great way to create custom, automated functions connecting various apps you may use for your business. For example, let’s say you collect data via a Google form at an event. You can use Automate.io to automatically import any new users from that form into MailChimp. That’s a really basic example, but you can create single function or multi-function bots to automate things you may be doing manually.
UNUM: Instagram is one of our leading social media platforms in terms of engagement. UNUM allows us to collaborate on posts, organize our grid and post from UNUM to Instagram. It also allows you to create hashtag groups so that you can easily create the hashtags you use for certain posts, group them and copy/paste easily into the post message on Instagram. https://unum.la/
Unfold: This is another great tool to give your Instagram page a little design boost. We mainly use Unfold to give our stories more of a designed touch. One of the best features is their stock photography library that you can easily select images to use in your story. They have different templates that allow you to further customize the way your story looks. http://www.unfoldstori.
Continual: This app allows you to take a longer video and cut it up into 15 second clips to post to your Instagram story. The clips will be ordered in the appropriate sequence making it easy to post them up properly. https://itunes.
Do you have any new projects coming up?
We are very close to completing manufacturing and shipping out our first orders. This is a huge milestone for us as we started this journey in late 2015 with an initial sketch of our vision for an improved wide tooth comb that works with textured hair and not against it. From there, we went through various rounds of prototypes, product design, brand design, packaging design, intellectual property protection, crowdfunding, trade show exhibitions to finally get to this point where we will have our first orders shipped out to customers. We are so thankful for everyone who has been a part of journey, believed in our vision and decided to invest in our efforts. Our manufacturing partners have been great to work with and have exceeded our expectations to date. We are on track to deliver our first orders in December. When these orders go out, there will definitely be a celebration.
What do you do for fun/relaxation?
I absolutely love spending time with my family and friends. My family is very close and we are always together for the holidays and/or on any random weekend having fun. For relaxation, I am all about self-care and getting regular massages is something I am committed to doing. A good massage goes a long way to help melt the stress away.
What is Number One Business Goal you plan to accomplish over the next year?
I definitely want to land at least one major distribution deal with a large retailer.
You want to write a book on _Surefire ways to increase your productivity and get the most out of life_ (fill in the blank and feel free to explain).
Believe it or not, the strategies, tools and methods of project management apply to many more aspects of life than just business. In my professional career, I would always hear how I had a very unique approach to managing projects, teams and clients. Many of the things I learned and did while employed, I’ve carried through to various other aspects of my life. I want to share some those strategies and help others find creative ways to blend their work, business and personal lives into something they can be proud of.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
What’s the best way for the readers of WE Magazine for Women to connect with you (feel free to include the links to your social networks and websites)?
The best way to connect with me is to follow me @latoyastirrup on IG, Facebook and LinkedIn. For KAZMALEJE, you can find us at www.kazmaleje.com and @
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