June 21, 2023

Breaking Boundaries, Shaping Beauty: LaToya Stirrup's Visionary Path in Hair Care

LaToya Stirrup, the co-founder of Kazmaleje, discussed her journey in creating innovative hair tools and accessories for textured hair. She explained how they redesigned the traditional comb to make it easier to detangle and style hair without causing damage. The company has seen success by diversifying its– sales channels between DTC and B2B spaces. LaToya also talked about the challenges she faced as a mompreneur, taking on the risk of going all-in with her business while raising a family. She credited her success to her supportive family, community networks, and organizations that exist to support founders like hers.

LaToya Stirrup, the Co-founder of Kazmaleje

Chris: Hey, LaToya! How's it going?

LaToya: Good. It's nice to meet you too, Chris.

Chris: By the way, we absolutely love your website. We've been discussing it.

LaToya: Oh, thank you!

Chris: That's fantastic. I really like the colors, the products—everything about it.

LaToya: Thank you so much.

Chris: We're currently working on ARTicles, our daily newsletter with around 10,000 subscribers. Our content focuses on e-commerce, DTC, and inspiring stories of entrepreneurs striving to achieve great things with their companies. We just have a couple of questions for you, in an informal manner. 

LaToya: Sounds good! I'm excited about it.

Chris: Alright, that's really cool. For the first question, we'd love to hear the story behind your brand, including its history, mission, values, and a brief introduction of yourself.

LaToya: Absolutely! My name is LaToya Stirrup, and I'm one of the co-founders of Kazmaleje. Together with my two sisters, we started this company to create innovative hair tools and accessories specifically designed for textured hair. Textured hair includes wavy, curly, kinky, and coily hair types. Our main focus is addressing the pain points related to detangling, overall hair care maintenance, and styling for these hair types. While the market has primarily focused on hair care products like shampoos, conditioners, and styling aids, we noticed a lack of emphasis on tools. That's when we realized the importance of bridging this gap.

We took the traditional wide-tooth tooth comb and completely redesigned it to mimic the action of finger detangling. The teeth of our hair tools are round, long, and conical in shape, enabling them to glide through the hair effortlessly without causing snagging, pulling, or tugging like the traditional wide-tooth combs or paddle brushes. We launched our products in 2019 and have been steadily growing our business ever since. In 2020, we secured a partnership with HSN, had a promotional run with Urban Outfitters, and entered Target market in 2022.

This year, we've expanded our presence with Target and are excited to announce our upcoming launch on Walmart.com in just a few weeks. It's a significant milestone for us, as Walmart is a major retailer in the beauty and hair care industry, catering to our target market. That's a little bit about our history and background.

Chris: That's amazing. It sounds like your business is thriving, especially with the growth of your retail presence and your focus on DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) as well.

LaToya: Thank you! Consumer purchasing behavior is evolving, and we're adapting to the changes in the market. It's an exciting time for us as we continue to expand our retail presence and embrace the DTC model.

Chris: Got it. So the second question is about the challenges you faced when launching your brand and how you overcame them.

LaToya: Absolutely. Being a non-funded brand, funding was a significant challenge for us. However, we utilized pitch competitions and grants to our advantage. Since 2019, we have raised over $300,000 through these avenues, which has been crucial in funding our growth. It's worth noting that we haven't officially fundraised or secured venture capital funding yet. These competitions and grants provided the necessary fuel to keep moving forward, especially during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chris: I see. That's impressive how you leveraged pitch competitions and grants to secure funding. It shows resourcefulness and determination.

LaToya: Thank you. It has been a journey, and we're grateful for the support we received.

Chris: Moving on to the next question, who are the individuals or groups that have been most helpful in supporting you to reach where you are today?

LaToya: Without a doubt, I have to credit my family for their unwavering support. From our parents to my partner and extended family, they have been instrumental in our journey. They've been our first fulfillment center, assisting with packing large orders for HSN. We even had packing parties where everyone would come together to help with pallets and order fulfillment.

Additionally, our network of fellow founders has been immensely helpful. We have built strong connections with other founders who are in similar stages of their entrepreneurial journey. We share resources, and opportunities, and support one another, understanding the challenges and triumphs we all face. It's a cooperative and collaborative environment that has made a significant impact.

Lastly, various organizations dedicated to supporting founders have played a crucial role. Communities like New Voices Family, Black Girl Ventures, Black Ambition, and iFund Women have provided us with valuable programming, mentorship, and access to capital. Being part of these communities has opened doors and provided invaluable support on our path to success.

Chris: Alright, I understand. So coaching is also one of your passions, right? Besides your other endeavors. Would you like to discuss coaching a bit?

LaToya: Absolutely. I engage in coaching at various levels. One of my coaching involvements is with a community organization called Overtown Connect, which specifically focuses on assisting founders in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami. Drawing from my experience in the CPG industry, brand launching, and retail entry, I guide these founders in navigating their own journeys. This includes helping them refine their pitches, create pitch decks, and explore funding options beyond traditional equity and venture capital channels. It's a wonderful opportunity for me to contribute back to the community by sharing my knowledge and the lessons I've learned while building Kazmaleje.

Chris: That's fantastic. I can imagine the impact you're making in those coaching sessions.

LaToya: Thank you. It's fulfilling to be able to support and empower other entrepreneurs.

Chris: Shifting gears a bit, I'm currently browsing your online store. Could you share which product is your bestseller and what sets it apart from your other offerings?

LaToya: Certainly. Our best-selling product is the Kurls Plus paddle comb. What makes it stand out from other brushes and combs on the market is its unique design. We refer to it as a paddle comb because it combines the shape of a paddle brush with the teeth of a wide-tooth comb. This dual functionality allows for effective detangling, curl definition, and clumping during the styling process. It's a favorite among our customers because it not only looks different but also delivers excellent results.

Chris: I'm looking at the Kurls Plus paddle comb on your landing page, and I must say, it's impressive!

LaToya: Thank you. We've put a lot of effort into organizing our landing page and ensuring a seamless customer experience.

Chris: It definitely shows. I believe your landing page has a great conversion rate. Well done!

LaToya: Thank you. We're pleased with the positive response we've received.

Chris: That's great. Can you provide more insights into the company's growth? Specifically, I'm interested in hearing about your sales growth over the past few years and any key strategies you've implemented to achieve that level of success. I believe you've expanded into various distribution channels, right? Could you elaborate on that?

LaToya: Absolutely. Diversifying our sales channels has been a crucial factor in our growth. Particularly in the wake of the iOS update, where social media ads have become less effective, we've seen many founders and indie brands struggle to replicate their previous success. DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) is not performing as it used to, and even established brands like Warby Parker and Glossier are shifting their focus toward retail.

Initially, we started in both the DTC and B2B spaces, and it proved beneficial for us. While DTC experienced a decline after the iOS update, our existing retail partnerships helped support our revenue. Having those established retail distribution channels truly saved us. Without them, we would have been scrambling to secure outlets if we had relied solely on DTC as our primary revenue stream.

Chris: I see. By the way, you handle the business development, right?

LaToya: Yes, that's correct.

Chris: It's remarkable how you excel in that area, considering your expertise in vision, strategy, and your ability to connect with entrepreneurs in the DTC and eco-spaces. We've talked to many entrepreneurs, and you truly stand out.

LaToya: Thank you for your kind words. My background in advertising, specifically in account management, production, and project management, has been instrumental. Having experience in managing teams and executing end-to-end campaigns and projects has translated well into building and growing our brand. It's important to recognize that I can't do it alone, though. We have an incredible team of consultants who work with us. We have a fractional CFO, a retail strategist and manager, and a dedicated marketing team handling our social media and website assets. By bringing in experts who possess the necessary knowledge and experience, I can learn from them and make informed decisions as we move forward.

Chris: That's awesome. It's clear that your collaborative approach and the expertise of your team have contributed to your success.

LaToya: Thank you. We value the collective effort and the synergy it brings to our business.

Chris: That's fascinating. One more question for you. As entrepreneurs, we often face numerous risks along our journey. So what would you say has been the most significant risk you've taken so far?

LaToya: The biggest risk I've taken is undoubtedly going all in on the business. Around 2019, I made the decision to shift my focus from consistent independent contractor work to fully dedicating myself to the brand. I realized that if I didn't prioritize it, nobody else would. I wanted to transform it from a mere hobby into something that could thrive and grow. It was a gamble, as I bet on myself and the potential of what we were building. Taking such a leap was exceptionally risky, especially considering that I'm not in my 20s and we have two sons. In fact, the same year we incorporated the brand in 2016, I also became a first-time mother. Balancing the roles of a mompreneur and taking such a significant risk was undoubtedly challenging.

Chris: I can only imagine how scary and challenging that must have been. We're entrepreneurs ourselves, but being both an entrepreneur and a mom adds another layer of difficulty.

LaToya: Absolutely. It definitely amplifies the fear and uncertainty. If I were in my 20s without any major responsibilities, it would be easier to navigate. But at this stage, there's more at stake, and the pressure to make it work is significant. This venture needs to succeed, and we need to push through and see it flourish. Fortunately, we've already experienced some incredible milestones and accomplishments during our relatively short journey. I'm confident that the road ahead will be equally fantastic.

Chris: Indeed, now it's about embracing and enjoying the ride.

LaToya: Exactly.

Chris: Two more questions for you. Firstly, what do you love most about your current job? And secondly, what aspects of running your own business keep you motivated?

LaToya: What keeps me motivated is hearing from our customers through reviews, emails, and DMs. When they share how our products have transformed their hair care experience and how it's exactly what they've been looking for, it's incredibly fulfilling. Initially, when we started discussing the idea of combs, some people questioned its importance and viability as a business. However, we're not merely selling combs; we're revolutionizing how individuals care for and style their hair. For women, especially, hair is a significant part of their identity and how they present themselves to the world. It's more than just a comb; it's a lifestyle and a form of self-expression. Being able to contribute to and enhance that experience for our customers is truly rewarding.

And as for running my own business, it all began because I wanted to change my personal hair care experience. That motivation drove the idea forward because I knew other women struggled with the same issues. Being able to make a positive impact and provide solutions is what keeps me going.

Chris: What aspects of your job do you currently enjoy the most? And what keeps you motivated as a business owner?

LaToya: The freedom, flexibility, and creative control are what I love most about my job as a founder. Unlike a traditional nine-to-five, I have the autonomy to manage my time and explore my creativity. However, the challenge lies in not having big brand budgets. While I have grand visions and ideas, the limited funding can be a drawback. But it's also exciting because it requires a scrappy and innovative mindset. I have to find creative solutions and think outside the box to achieve what I want with a limited budget. It's a different kind of fun, and it pushes me to approach creativity in unique ways.

Chris: And instead of working 40 hours a week, you end up working around 72 hours. Now, my final question would be: What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?

LaToya: My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs would be to leverage your existing knowledge and experiences. Often, we try to distance ourselves from our past when starting something new. However, everything we've been through has prepared us for where we are now. So, use all the training and skills you've acquired from previous jobs or education. They are the building blocks for your future business. Embrace your experiences and appreciate how they contribute to shaping your brand, app, or whatever you're creating.

Chris: That's fantastic advice.

LaToya: Thank you, Chris.

Chris: Thank you, LaToya. It was great talking to you.

LaToya: Nice to meet you. Have a wonderful day.

Chris: Goodbye.

Final Thoughts  

In conclusion, LaToya Stirrup's journey as the co-founder of Kazmaleje showcases the power of innovation and determination in creating solutions for textured hair. By redesigning the traditional comb and introducing new hair tools and accessories, Kazmaleje has revolutionized the way people detangle and style their hair without causing damage. LaToya's success is not only attributed to her entrepreneurial spirit but also to the support she received from her family, community networks, and organizations that champion founders like her. Her story serves as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs, highlighting the importance of resilience, strategic thinking, and a strong support system in achieving their goals.

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