What Small Start Ups Can Learn From Kazmaleje
The beauty industry isn’t easy, especially for young entrepreneurs of color. While there’s no doubt that Black hair care is an extremely profitable business, the ones profiting often look nothing like the consumers. This leaves a huge hole in the market, a disconnect between Black women and the products meant to care for us. We’re realizing our power as consumers, and calling for hair care that actually represents our needs. Even better, we’re realizing our power as entrepreneurs. More and more, Black women are making it a mission to fill the gaps in the Black hair industry. They’re taking charge by creating products that are actually meant for us.
That’s why I’m so glad that I came across Kazmaleje (pronounced cosmology), a business dedicated to keeping your detangling process, and scalp, stress free. Its founders are three Black women who recognized a major issue with the combs and brushes we use for our natural hair.
Our hair texture has been around for millennia. Why are we struggling so much with trying to care for it?
After almost a decade of living with natural hair, Stirrup sisters LaToya, LaTasha, and LaTrice were sick of “flimsy hair tools that break easily or have extremely thin teeth.”
“I was thinking to myself,” LaToya explained, “...there has to be a better solution. Our hair texture has been around for millennia. Why are we struggling so much with trying to care for it? We are using good products, taking proper care of it...what is the issue? Then it hit me...what if it’s the tools we are using? In contemplating that situation more, I thought about how a vast majority of the things we (particularly women of color) buy are not made with us in mind. We often make do with what’s available at our local drugstore or beauty supply store because that’s all that exists. When you look at some of the tools on the market, you know they were not made for our hair textures. And yet, we buy it hoping it will work only to be disappointed. It was out of this frustration that the idea came to take matters into our own hands and create hair tools and accessories”
Kazmaleje was inspired by an issue many Black women have faced since girlhood. In fact, their products stem from their own natural hair journeys.
“...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 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.”
When the three sisters went natural in 2008, they had trouble finding products for their hair. Even when they thought they had it figured out, combing out their curls was always such a hassle.
“...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”
Fast-forward to 2015 and they have their first prototype. But taking their product from an idea to reality wasn’t so simple. Their journey to launching their business is one that a lot of start-ups can learn from. Each founder had to take on many roles, and their combined skills helped propel them forward. While they all have marketing and advertisement backgrounds, their unique talents are key parts to any small-run business. LaTrice is a self-taught photographer. LaTasha is a licensed cosmetologist and graphic designer. And, LaToya is an experienced speaker and strategist consultant. You can find her co-hosting Tech Beats & Bytes.
“Bringing Kazmaleje to life was very similar to giving birth. As a mother, I can say that because my son was born the same year we incorporated the business. When you are creating a business and product from scratch, there are many things you don’t know until you realize you didn’t know it. Luckily, with my years of experience as a producer/project manager, I have brought countless projects through the phases of creation, development, and launch to know the framework of how to get it done. I definitely relied on my background in tech, design, and branding to know when to tap certain resources at certain phases of the process. Had I not had this experience, I am sure it would have been way more difficult because developing a physical product is not easy. Coupled with having my sisters as co-founders with their various skill sets and backgrounds, we were able to figure out solutions as challenges presented themselves”
Getting Kazmaleje off the ground took a lot of know-how, and out-of-the box thinking. Although they had the genius idea to 3D print their prototype, actually manufacturing their combs was going to need a lot of funding.
“Being an entrepreneur and owner of a startup requires that you constantly solve problems and keep moving forward”
Although LaToya was a new mom, and LaTrice and LaTasha were working full-time, the sisters continued to fight for Kazmaleje. They began crowdfunding to help cover their initial costs, and they were lucky enough to come across an angel investor to meet what remained of their financial needs.
“The greatest lesson throughout this whole experience has been to keep moving forward and remember who/what/why you are doing your business. It is so easy to get caught up in your own feelings about your business and allow yourself to spiral down into thoughts of “I can’t do this” or the like. However, when you tap back into your why and remember the people you are serving through your business, you will find the energy and perspective necessary to move forward. The biggest challenges can be solved with a shift in perspective.”
Read more about Kazmaleje in our August zines. Expect to see their tools in our packages!