LaToya Stirrup and her sisters LaTasha & LaTrice set out to solve a problem in late 2015—they wanted to curb excessive hair shedding and breakage when detangling textured hair.
Re-imaging what wash days could be like, the sisters took inspiration from finger detangling and designed hair tools that are not only more gentle on kinky, coily, and curly hair but also cut back on detangling time.
What’s been their secret to success?
LaToya, who has over 15 years of experience leading teams through the process of ideation, creation, development, and launch for some of the biggest global brands such as Bacardi, Nickelodeon, Converse, Volvo Cars, and Adobe pulls back the curtain to show you just what it took for her and her sisters to build KAZMALEJE from the ground up.
Validate Your Idea
After testing prototypes on their hair and realizing how much quicker and gentler KAZMALEJE tools were for them, the sisters began sharing prototypes with friends and family to validate their ideas. From friends and family, they graduated to taking the tools on the road to hair expos and events.
“Our first customers were people we met at these shows who invested in our vision and pre-purchased the tools while we were manufacturing them,” LaToya says.
Have A Plan
LaToya believes having a business plan has played a significant role in bringing KAZMALEJE to life. “Having a plan and a vision for the business gave us a roadmap,” LaToya says.
The sisters’ process to get from idea to tangible product was heavily influenced by LaToya’s experience as a Digital Producer and Project Manager. “Our process essentially moves an idea through six phases of creation which include: Ideation (fleshing out the idea), Strategy/Planning (developing a plan for the project), Design (working on the look and feel of the brand and product), Development (prototyping/manufacturing), QA (testing the product), and Launch,” LaToya says.
It’s a process she teaches others too!
“We also received a breakeven analysis and manufacturability report from our product design firm, Prototype House, which provided insight into what our business would look like once we began to sell our tools.”
LaToya and her sisters started their business with capital from family, friends, crowdfunding, self-funding, and business credit cards.
“Once our tools were in the market and we had a story to tell with market traction, that’s when pitch competitions and grants came into play,” LaToya says. “Being in programs like the SheaMoisture Next Black Millionaires Program has been a game-changing experience for us,” LaToya says.
She notes the program not only equipped KAZMALEJE with capital but also gave them the tools, and resources needed to accelerate their business. The docuseries, she says, brought KAZMALEJE a new level of visibility too.
Work With Strengths And Experts
LaToya notes that going into business with family can be a delicate situation, but she believes if you keep communication open and set clear roles and responsibilities, it can be fun.
“One of the best things about being in business with my sisters is that we are very similar in ways that allow us to make decisions when the other may not be available; and different in other ways which creates opportunities for each of us to own specific parts of the business. For example, LaTasha is a licensed cosmetologist and great with design so she can lean into marketing and product development. LaTrice likes to be in the details, so she enjoys logistics and customer service.”
When it came to building their team further, LaToya leveraged her background as a Project Manager and Resource Manager to find SMEs (subject matter experts) who could fill specific roles like retail management, financial strategy, etc.
“Have we had people or firms join our journey who are no longer here? Yes. It’s all a part of the process. Sometimes you have to try a few people to figure out what works and what doesn’t. However, having a clear sense of the role you are looking to fill and the skillset required to accomplish the job is key in mitigating the risk of making the wrong hiring choice,” LaToya offers.
Protect Your Business
“As soon as we decided to take our idea and turn it into a business, we secured a business attorney and an intellectual property attorney,” LaToya says.
The Stirrup sisters wanted to create a strong foundation to ensure they were making the right decisions early on for the future growth of the business.
“Google University will only take you so far. When it comes to building your business, be sure to seek the right advice from experts as early as possible. I would also note that it is key that Black inventors protect and have ownership of their intellectual property to ensure they’re maximizing their profitability, and protecting the work that they have spent so much time on. We as a community have so many amazing ideas that could and do benefit society. Be sure to protect your intellectual property so you can get your flowers.”
Learn How To Have Tough Conversations
One of the biggest obstacles the Stirrup sisters faced during the early stages of their business was navigating the supply chain delays due to the pandemic. In 2020, when COVID shut the world down, LaToya says KAZMALEJE was just one year into its public debut and getting ready to launch on HSN (the Home Shopping Network), their first major retail partner.
“We were going through the onboarding process and placing our inventory order when production in China came to a screeching halt. It turned our world upside down. Anxiety kicked in. We had this major launch coming up but could not fulfill the order. As a small business, you feel everything when situations like this occur because resources are limited.”
What the sisters learned from this experience was the importance of communicating early and often with partners.
“You may have to have some tough conversations but the earlier you have them and show that you are willing to work together to find a solution, the better.”