I stay motivated by… remembering that the challenge I am looking to solve is bigger than me. We are seeing communities of women, men and kids across the globe deciding to embrace their natural texture, even in the face of stark criticism and discrimination. You have young girls in South Africa being told that they can’t wear their natural hair to school. Actresses in Brazil being taunted by the media for wearing their naturally curly hair. Even though the natural hair community is quite large in the US, many of us are still faced with remarks and/or looks that make us question our natural hair and beauty. It’s these experiences and people that we want to support. We want to empower women, men and kids across the globe to feel good about their hair and walk proudly in their truth.
Three adjectives that describe me are… creative, adventurous, passionate
If I could have dinner with one person it would be… I would love to have dinner with Annie Malon, the woman who gave Madame C. J. Walker her start. I would talk to her about what inspired her to start her beauty business in the early 1900s, the challenges she faced as a black woman and how she felt when Madame C. J. Walker left her company to become her competitor. I would ask her about her vision for future generations and if legacy making was a part of her dream/goal. I would ask her about all of the important activists that were alive during her time and how her efforts fit within that narrative. I imagine our conversation would last for hours and be one of the most important dinner conversations I would ever have.
The most exciting innovation to me is… I am totally going to toot our own horn and say our detangling combs are the most exciting innovation for me right now. We took an innovative approach, leveraged 3D printing technology to design and change a tool that has been around for centuries. And it worked! When we did our first rapid prototype and compared it in a side by side detangling exercise with a regular store bought wide tooth comb, the amount of hair that was left in our prototype comb was significantly less than our store bought comb. It was at that moment that we knew we had to take a chance and move on our idea.
I am a huge fan of the technology we have available to us, like 3D printing, because it allows dreamers to try their ideas and test it out without having to make a huge investment. Before, research and development for product design required significant resources and was not a feasible undertaking for someone who was not an engineer (for example). But that has all changed. Today, we are able to design, test and tweak rather quickly and at a reasonable cost. No one should feel as if they are unable to take a chance on their dreams. The tools and resources are available, you just have to begin the process.
How did you come up with your business idea? What inspired you?
My sisters and I started KAZMALEJE in an effort to solve our own problem. To give a bit of background, like many black women in America, our hair was permed for most of our lives and we were very well versed in how to take care of and maintain chemically straightened hair. However, in 2008, we each started “going natural.” I (LaToya) went first, then LaTasha and LaTrice. But going natural isn’t like getting a new haircut. No, we are talking about reacquainting yourself with a hair texture you have not seen, touched, combed since you were little. And back then, you weren’t even the one doing your hair. Most likely, your mom was your everyday hairstylist. It is for this very reason that “going natural” is often referred to as a journey, because each day presents you with something new, especially in the beginning. As naturalistas who underwent the journey of embracing our natural texture at a time when "natural hair care products" were not so widely available, we had to trial and error our way to find what worked and what didn't when it comes to hair products, styling techniques, etc. Fast forward a bit into the journey, we have somewhat of a regimen down. However, the detangling process was always a pain (both literally and figuratively). There would be hair in the comb, on the floor, on the couch or wherever. So, we purchased all kinds of combs and brushes to see if we would get a better result when detangling our tresses. Some would work better than others, but we never found that one. That’s when an idea came and we decided to try designing a comb that was created specifically for curly, kinky, coily hair. Enter KAZMALEJE.
Tell us more about it!
At KAZMALEJE (pronounced cosmology), we are creating innovative, lifestyle-amplifying tools and accessories for the natural hair care market. Our signature launch items are our patent-pending detangling combs, which were designed to reduce the stress and excess breakage many textured hair consumers experience when trying to detangle their tresses. However, that is just the beginning. Ultimately, KAZMALEJE will be the brand that plays a supporting role in the lifestyle of our consumers by creating solutions that directly target the unique needs of those with curly, kinky, wavy hair.
What motivated you to become an entrepreneur? Is having your own business something you always wanted?
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. Did I grow up knowing that I would choose an entrepreneurial path? No. I actually saw myself climbing the corporate ladder at a major ad agency and becoming a part of the c-suite. However, early on in my career, I realized I wanted more room to flex my creativity and have more control of my day. That need for autonomy and the desire to find creative fulfillment is what led me to explore different business ideas. And here we are today.
What were you doing before this? How did it prepare you for the entrepreneurial life?
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.
How far are you willing to go to succeed?
One of my favorite songs to listen to when I need get in my zone or re-energize myself is Imagine Dragons’ song “Whatever It Takes,” because I will do whatever it takes to achieve success. For me, KAZMALEJE is much more than a business. We want to impact and change the way women, men and kids around the world embrace and care for themselves and their hair. While things are certainly changing in the US and the mainstream marketplace is taking note of the natural hair movement, there is still so much work that needs to be done. When you look globally, there’s even more to do. As women, our hair is a huge part of who we are and how we express ourselves. Diane von Furstenburg, who has naturally curly, wavy hair, has been quoted for sharing how she used to be very insecure about her hair texture because she lived in a country where everyone had blonde, straight hair. It is time for this to change and we want to be a part of making that change happen.