VoyageMIA continues to help hard-working, inspiring people tell their stories authentically and in their own words. This month, our very own LaToya Stirrup is featured in their latest Trailblazer series. This makes LaToya's second time being featured in VoyageMIA.
Meet Trailblazer LaToya
LaToya, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
KAZMALEJE (pronounced cosmology) is a company I started with my sisters to create innovative, lifestyle-amplifying tools and accessories for the natural hair care market. Our signature launch items are our patent pending Kurls+ Detanglers, which are hair combs specifically designed to minimize unnecessary breakage and ease the detangling process for women, men and kids with textured hair. 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 went first, then LaTasha and then 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 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, oily hair. Enter KAZMALEJE.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It definitely has not been a smooth road. The path to starting, building and growing a business is not easy. As a new product based business, we’ve faced challenges with our packaging production, finding the right manufacturers, figuring out the best sales strategy… I mean the list goes on and on. However, challenges along the way should be expected. What makes the difference is how you respond to them. If you are rigid and stubborn, the challenges may break you. If you are flexible and open to new possibilities, you may find a gift hidden in what seemed like a devastating set of circumstances. Oftentimes, challenges are there to help you course correct and realize your full potential. It’s up to you to decide how you choose to handle them because challenges, big or small, will always be there.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
My sisters and I started KAZMALEJE in an effort to solve our own problem. Like many African-American women, we went natural at a time when the marketplace looked very different than it does today. We did not have a wide variety of hair products to choose from or tutorial videos to watch on YouTube. Yet, even though the product landscape has drastically changed and stores are redesigning their shelves to feature brands that speak directly to our needs, there is still a lack when it comes to hair tools and accessories. Many women (and men) have ditched their combs and opted to use their fingers in an attempt to minimize breakage and reduce the stress on their hair while detangling. Yes, finger detangling can work, but it is time-consuming and may not be as effective. Therefore, we decided to take a different approach and redesign the comb to work with our hair instead of against it. Couple this with the fact that over 60% of the US population falls within the textured hair category and more consumers around the world are starting to embrace their natural texture, the need for solid solutions that work will only continue to grow. Additionally, consumers are looking for brands they can identify with, that speak their language and understand their struggles. We are able to hit every point because we are our consumers and we are building a solution-oriented business that is focused on creating quality products that work. We know they work because our customers lovingly tell us so. Receiving emails, DMs, comments, and reviews from women and men sharing how our Kurls+ Detanglers have changed their hair care routine keep us going.
What’s the most important piece of advice you could give to a young woman just starting her career?
Be open to exploration and the “failure” that comes with it. I put failure in quotation marks because as a society, we need to revamp our relationship with failure and what it means. True innovation is rooted in trial and error. When you try something, it may not work the first, second or twentieth time. However, that does not mean you stop. Learn how to master the pivot, listen to your intuition and keep moving forward.