Today Melissa Bradley is interviewing Kalilah Wright, founder of MESS in a Bottle, to discuss embracing our own MESS, taking that leap of faith, moving with intention, knowing when to pivot your business, and more.
About Kalilah Wright:
Kalilah Wright, born in Jamaica W.I., migrated to the United States at the tender age of 4 and was raised in Brooklyn, NY. She is the Founder and CEO of expressive brand Mess in a Bottle. As an accomplished designer and trained architect, she used her Masters degree from Morgan State University and Bachelors of Arts from Penn State University to establish the brand in January 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Mess in a Bottle brand was established to evoke change, question Kalilah’s audience and allow individuals wearing their messages to be vocal without saying anything at all.
Each item is designed and printed at her Baltimore in-house studio space.
Kalilah has participated in multiple pitch competitions and won the Wells Fargo Business Pitch competition in 2016 and the 2018 iFundWomen pitch competition in conjunction with the Baltimore Ravens. Mess in a Bottle has collaborated with numerous brands and created limited edition capsule collections with Warner Brothers Studios for their movie The Kitchen, YouTube, Roc Nation artist Rapsody, The TLC Network, BET, Google, and Target for their Black History Month collection. Celebrities such as Viola Davis, Serena Williams, Luvvie Ajayi, Lena Waithe, Yvonne Orji and more are all proud supporters of Mess in a Bottle.
Website: MESS in a Bottle
Podcast: WHAT A MESS
Twitter: MESS in a Bottle
0:00:05.1 Melissa Bradley: From Sermons Beyond Sunday and Kinetic Energy Entertainment, this is Founder Hustle.
0:00:10.1 Kalilah Wright: When I left my 9:00 to 5:00, I was just in a space where I don’t think I was doing great at art architecture, it felt like I needed to do something, it felt like it was time. And I tell a lot of other aspiring entrepreneurs, listen to your own voice, because for me, I was able to take this job, but I knew that I could survive, I could drive Uber, I could go back to architecture, you know it’s…
0:00:34.4 MB: Welcome to Founder Hustle, a podcast series by, for and about, the new majority entrepreneur. I’m your host, Melissa Bradley, founder of 1863 Ventures. In each episode, I interview a new majority entrepreneur to create a safe space for them to be honest with you about their journey. These founders will redefine and represent the true definition of what it means to hustle and their stories will demystify, uplift and educate anyone who is interested in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. As the general partner of a venture fund, I want to highlight the tools, strategies, lessons and support systems that are the blueprint for becoming a successful entrepreneur and shift your perspective on what it means to go from founder to CEO.
0:01:24.1 MB: Today’s founder is KALILAH WRIGHT, CEO of MESS IN A BOTTLE. That’s right, I said, MESS IN A BOTTLE. How many of you have ever gone through a day and said, “Whoa, that was just a hot mess”? How many of you have come home, looked at your kitchen or walked into the office and looked at your team and say, “Whoa, we are a hot mess”? Well, Kalilah Wright is helping all of us own our messes. If you are someone who has a creative idea or wants to try something new, or recognize that there’s something just missing in the world or just missing in your world, Kalilah gives you a road map on how to find the strength, how to take the risks and how to understand that who we are, particularly as founders of color, can leverage our culture as a competitive advantage and totally change how the world sees us, and more importantly, what are the messages they say about us.
0:02:23.7 MB: I am so excited, truly excited. I’m a huge fan, as I shared with you, I’m a little upset ’cause I had to be dressed for the day so I could not rock all my T-shirts.
0:02:31.7 KW: It was for me, it was for me, just that I’m not …, all good.
0:02:34.2 MB: But I will be like, “You’re looking sharp today. I like the little jacket or whatever.” So I’ve known you for a while, and I wanna talk about your business and how you got there, but tell me, what are you most excited about right now?
0:02:45.7 KW: I’m most excited about growth. Growth and peace, to be honest.
0:02:51.6 MB: Can you get them both?
0:02:54.4 KW: The growth will hopefully lead to the peace. That’s the goal of it. But I’m excited for even the unknown. I’m really excited about the possibility of switching on my dreams, changing things around, reaching higher, looking at the comfort level of what… Comfort isn’t always more, and comfort isn’t always like wealth. And so just finding what that happy medium is for me, I think I’m really excited about that. It’s almost like you’re eating something or waiting for something so good and you’re like… You taste it and I know it’s coming, but you gotta be patient, just wait on it. And so that’s how I feel right now.
0:03:32.8 MB: I like that. You gotta be patient. Alright. So I’mma go away from the business for a second, you just ran a marathon?
0:03:38.6 KW: I did, I ended up finishing under six hours and my last race was under eight almost, and so I was like…
0:03:46.2 MB: Did you? Progress to y’all.
0:03:47.9 KW: And that’s all I got.
0:03:48.8 MB: I’m so proud of you.
0:03:49.3 KW: Thank you.
0:03:50.4 MB: ‘Cause I must admit, I’m not on social media every day, but I must have missed it ’cause I was like, “I don’t know what happened,” and I was like, “I’ll just wait till I see.”
0:03:57.5 KW: Yeah, yeah.
0:03:57.4 MB: That is awesome.
0:03:57.5 KW: Yeah, no, it was good, it was good. And so I’m going to… And I think, again, you never know where life takes you, I’m not saying I’m starting the whole running group or a black girl running group, ’cause I know they have black girls running, I love them, but I feel like one of the missions I definitely… I had so many people messaging me and women, especially Black women who were like, “Yoo, I put on my sneakers for the first time in forever, and I went walking just one mile because I see you running 26.2,” and they were like, “You motivated me to just get up today.” And that meant a lot to me ’cause I was like, “Damn, you know like… ” Again, this stuff, everything that I’m doing, I just feel like has a huge… A much bigger purpose.” And so I signed up to do Antarctica in 2024, there’s a wait list. You don’t imagine it. A wait list.
0:04:40.0 MB: Oh my gosh, I mean, who wants to run in the cold? That don’t make any sense. Okay, 2024, okay.
0:04:44.8 KW: So I signed up for Antarctica, but I had mapped out for pretty much for the next couple of years like Zimbabwe. So Paris was supposed to be last year.
0:04:54.6 MB: Okay. You’d be like, “Forget New York, I’m going global.”
0:04:55.9 KW: Listen, listen, my goal is hopefully to run one on every continent before I die.
0:05:01.1 MB: Okay, you got a long way to go, girl.
0:05:02.5 KW: Listen, and hopefully my son will be old enough, we could run like one a… Yeah, you know the whole thing about this marathon, 26.2, it sounds like a lot, and it is a lot, but at the end of the day, I really feel like, what is life like without creating impossible goals, things you think are impossible, and I’m just like, that’s just where I’m at. If I’m not challenging myself and making things and making myself feel like it’s impossible, then it’s not worth it, it’s not worth living, you gotta live.
0:05:29.5 MB: Yeah. Well, I was inspired by you. I signed up to run the Marine Corp Marathon. I was inspired by Oprah, I was like, “Well, if Oprah can do it, I can do it.” And I was running all through the city, I came to DC to practice…Should have known there’s a reason you run in the street. I was running on the sidewalk and just tore my knee, and could not do it. So I’m always watching people going to your point, it is not whether you wanna lose, not even if you’re finished, it’s the journey.
0:05:53.3 KW: Oh, for sure, even the training.
0:05:56.3 MB: And I learned so much about myself.
0:06:00.6 KW: It just it prepares you… Running is such a thing, it prepares you for just life. People just really don’t understand. You’re stressed out, this business entrepreneurship. You need something, you need that therapy and running, you need something. And that’s my thing, I’m like, “You definitely need moments that’s gonna pull you away, force you to do something different, challenge you, get your mind out of your day-to-day.” So that’s what it is for me.
0:06:23.1 MB: Absolutely. So you clearly inspired a lot of people just by running, but let’s be clear, that’s you every damn day. I mean, I first met you and I was like, “Who is this sister with these bottles, and what is the deal?” And I remember meeting you in Baltimore at the museum, and now, every time I see you, I’m like, “I remember,” but you inspire people every day, and so talk about MESS and the inspiration. And was that what you really hope to do, ’cause now everybody… I’m just happy I had it when, everybody’s wearing your shirt now.
0:06:49.5 KW: You’re like, “I’ve been there, I’ve been there before… “
0:06:51.5 MB: Right, but I had it without the bottle, yo! Like come on! So talk to me about what is inside of you that said, “I want to inspire the world?”
0:07:04.3 KW: I think that this is honestly something just natural just from childhood, MESS IN A BOTTLE was created to give a voice to the voiceless, and I know that I’m a person with a voice, but I know that I could be sitting next to someone who feels like their voice is stifled and that they can’t speak out. And so I think that the wonderful thing I tripped up on this clearly for me, it wasn’t something planned out, I didn’t start it with any intention, with the knowing who I would impact and stuff like that. And I think that’s the beauty of it everyday. But I tell people all the time, the shirts I make are, honestly, for myself, is to give myself a MESSage. The fact that the world loves it and the world receives it, it’s like that’s the added bonus. But when I wear a shirt that says, “I’m just a bad chick with a bald head living life,” is because I really am…
0:07:47.6 MB: You are a bad chick.
0:07:50.4 KW: And that’s what I… Listen, but then to have a woman going through chemotherapy and having cancer treatment and her saying, “Look, I needed a pick-me-up-er, and your shirt gave me that,” like that, or somebody with alopecia who’s like, you know… And I didn’t know that that’s what I was creating. I had no idea, or when a little boy might wear “A Black woman created this” and feel really inspired, or where my gay white friend might be like, “Look, my black… This Black woman I know wore this, and I’m like, “Damn, thank you guys.” Or something I designed that I had no idea. Like a woman wore my T-shirt dress to a rock concert, and again, that wasn’t the vision that I had in my mind. Seeing it, but then she paired it with boots and did the… And I was like, “Sis! Yes!” Things like that, and that just makes me… I’m like, that’s again, the beauty in the dream. And that is what I try to tell other entrepreneurs, that’s the beautiful part of entrepreneurship. I think so many people get caught up in the financial aspect of it, or making sure it has a message, it has a mission, it has a purpose, and you need those things, but the great businesses are the ones where naturally just spews from the company or spews from the owner as well, from the founder.
0:08:58.5 MB: MESS IN A BOTTLE. Why the name? Why the bottle?
0:09:04.9 KW: So the name came about at that time I was working at… Working as an architect, and my life was a mess. I was going through a divorce, things was messy. I’ll tell you that much. It was a mess. And I was looking at a rapper’s album cover, it was Chance The Rapper. He has an album called Surf. And the album is just a little squiggly line, and it was a bottle sketch. MESS IN A BOTTLE was created during the time of the Freddie Gray uprising in Baltimore. Freddie Gray, a Black male died while in police custody, and my neighborhood was on fire, it was a mess at that time.
0:09:40.4 KW: I lived on Druid and Roberts, and that’s when MESS IN A BOTTLE was created and started. And I knew then that our people, we needed a voice, we needed to be able to articulate how we felt. And going to work and working at an establishment that was outside my neighborhood. They were like, “Is everything okay over there?” And I was just like, “It’s not.”
0:10:00.4 MB: “You need us to drive you home?”
0:10:01.3 KW: Right. And I was like, “You know what,” I needed to create messages to say how I truly felt about what was happening within my community. I may have a voice. And I started creating MESSages and T-shirts, but I had no idea what it was called, and literally when I saw the sketch and I saw a bottle, I was like, “That’s it.” It’s a MESSage in a bottle. It’s a 21st century version of creating messages that would come packaged in a reusable bottle. And so of course, I’m Googling, and I’m like, “Message in a Bottle, T-shirt company,” and then I kinda saw that. Okay, yeah. That’s a popular phrase, and I was like, “But it’s a mess, and I’m a mess.” So I was like, “It’s a Mess in a Bottle,”
0:10:36.8 MB: And it worked.
0:10:38.5 KW: And that’s how I started. And I started out by going to the IKEA, buying these glass bottles, it had a really wide opening. And I would stuff T-shirts in there, and I envisioned jelly beans, people putting… I love jelly beans, so I was like, “You could put stuff in these bottles afterwards,” and I could put plants in it, and that’s just how it blossomed.
0:10:57.7 MB: And the message continues.
0:10:57.8 KW: Yeah.
0:11:00.5 MB: I love that.
0:11:00.5 KW: Into this thing, and I even saw this lady, she just sent the picture to me, her kids put little notes and they put it, put messages in a bottle and they every Friday open it up and read a message to each other, and I’m like, “Look at this!”
0:11:14.4 MB: That’s cool.
0:11:15.4 KW: Yeah.
0:11:15.5 MB: That’s really cool.
0:11:16.0 KW: So that’s how this thing evolved and started, and that’s where the name came from.
0:11:18.5 MB: So you’ve been very intentional about your MESSages. Very intentional about the bottle. What is the experience and feeling you want people to have when they pick up your product and they open it up?
0:11:31.7 KW: When I first decided to create this MESS IN A BOTTLE, I really envisioned it being in a bottle. And I think that’s been a really cool part, and on it, it says: “Messages that evoke change, give a voice to the voiceless and create a community of unapologetically authentic humans.” And it’s just like, I want you to feel like this gem. So we do these cute things where when you receive a shipment, it says, “Your mess has been dropped into the ocean and look out for it on the other end of the shore.” And so I think the really cool part is… And it says on the cap, it says, “This message is for you.” And we created MESSages that even for someone who may have lost their loved one, we have ones that say, “My mom was everything, and then some.” It’s like I want people to receive it as a message, get it, and then open it up, really inspect it, and… So it goes beyond, it’s not just a T-shirt, it’s honestly a love letter, it’s something that I want people to receive and for you to feel like, “Damn, that message was really for me.”
0:12:37.1 MB: Yeah, I love that, ’cause every time I wear your shirt, I feel the love. And I feel the love because I know what it took for you to get it to me. And because again, you get the head nods and you realize that connection has been made.
0:12:51.6 KW: Right.
0:12:51.9 MB: I love it.
0:12:52.4 KW: And that’s the whole premise of it. I wanted people to have this thing that they can keep after, that they could put flowers in, that they can keep as a keep sake. And for even if you brought a MESSage to your grandmother or someone. Like it provides an experience for them to really open up and see that message…
0:13:11.4 MB: And experience it.
0:13:11.6 KW: Pull it out, yeah.
0:13:14.8 MB: So your MESSages are just every time spot on. Every time I wear your shirt, somebody says “Girl, where did you get that shirt?” I’m like “Right here.” [laughter] I just have your website on my phone.
0:13:18.5 KW: That’s what my friends say. They say the same thing.
0:13:19.6 MB: But the most popular ones that I was wearing this summer was the financial literacy ones. That financial wellness is self-care.
0:13:30.1 KW: Yes, Tiffany and collaborations, yes.
0:13:32.6 MB: Julie, so you got collabs… Look at you…
0:13:35.7 KW: Fancy, fancy.
0:13:36.6 MB: So like how do… Where do the messages come from? In that case, you collaborated, but you’ve like…
0:13:41.8 KW: Just do it.
0:13:42.3 MB: OMW. On my way to therapy, where do those come from?
0:13:45.4 KW: Me.
0:13:46.0 MB: From you?
0:13:46.0 KW: Yeah, I mean, I have a design team now, ’cause now we gotta get…
0:13:50.5 MB: Fancy.
0:13:51.3 KW: Yes, gotta get fancy. But it’s more to bounce ideas off of and making sure that… Again, I tell everyone this, the MESSages, they’re about love, life, career, current events, but they come from a Black woman’s voice. They come from an immigrant Black woman’s voice. So again, and I think that the dope thing about this is it’s very authentic and it’s my reaction to certain things. Sometimes I bounce the idea off to make sure like… The MESSages are created for you to question it. It’s created for dual kind of… People are like, “What does a Black woman created this mean?” And it’s the fact is that it’s supposed to have multiple meanings. So having a rainbow “Queen, don’t be afraid to rule like a King” jacket, it’s not just for the Pride community, it’s for a shit…. I love colors and I wanna radiate in these colors. And so people questioning all the time the messages, and I think that’s the fun part about it. It’s supposed to be for you to question. It’s supposed to be for you to ask the person, “Well, what do you mean by that? And why did you wear it?”
0:14:50.5 KW: And I think that it’s to force the conversation. It’s something that we lack these days. And it’s also created so that you can know someone in the room might be standing in solidarity with you. Having people give you a head-nod as you walk in the room when you’re wearing something, they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, you’re a part of our team.” Like that’s what MESS IN A BOTTLE is truly about.
0:15:10.6 MB: Yep. How many inspirational messages don’t make it on t-shirts and where do they go?
0:15:16.5 KW: Yeah, so just today on the drive here, I had a thought and I was like, “Oooo!” And you know, I shot it to my design team, I’m like, “Put this on an idea board.” There is a slew of designs, ideas, things I think about, things that just… It honestly just comes out of me, and that’s been the fun part. That’s when I knew that this was almost like my magical place because it connects with so many people, and it just feels so natural. Like I’m an architect by trade. I was trained architect, then I worked for Under Armour for many years. And it just felt like with architecture, things didn’t connect, it didn’t feel like it was my place. Like I love architecture, but it didn’t feel like the right space for me. And now that I’m doing something that’s so like… And I’ve realized that early on, I wrote something down and somebody’s cackling in, and they’re like, “Girl, how do you know that’s me?” And I was just like, “Wait, I might have something here.” And I was just like, “But that’s just my thought.”
0:16:15.1 MB: ‘Cause that was me and it was you and it was you from other people.
0:16:16.4 KW: Yeah, yeah. And that was the beauty of it. So a lot of messages don’t make it on to a shirt. But they go on a little box and they might be the perfect message for sometime soon in the future.
0:16:29.1 MB: When did you decide to leave architecture?
0:16:32.9 KW: Architecture still hasn’t left me. I ran past a building by Frank Gehry in Paris, and I was like, “How I’d make this MESS back into architecture?” And that’s where I could see it. I know it’s going back there, I definitely do. I have dreams. You were one of the first people who really told me dream bigger. You really did. I remember that you were like, “You’re not thinking big enough.”
0:16:54.7 MB: Because you’ll become a T-shirt company.
0:16:56.2 KW: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
0:16:57.4 MB: I was like, “Yeah, you’ll be a T-shirt company.”
0:16:58.2 KW: Yeah. And I think I said a number. I think you gave me a number, you was like, how much or something, how much would you sell this for, how much would you… And I gave a number, you’re like, “Girl bye… What are you thinking about it?” You’re like, “That’s the number you came up with?” And I was like, “Oh, I gotta add more zeros,” and you were like, “Yeah, a lot more zeros,” and I remember that. And so right now, and I’ll say it here, ’cause I don’t think I’m gonna… I want a hotel, like I want a message hotel. Like that’s where… And I could see architecture being back with the MESS and like…
0:17:24.9 MB: A message, yes.
0:17:26.3 KW: Yeah, it’s definitely…
0:17:27.3 MB: But it’s already happening.
0:17:27.4 KW: It is.
0:17:28.3 MB: I mean, you would be taking it to the next level because…
0:17:29.5 KW: Spaces.
0:17:29.8 MB: You go to all these places, and now all of a sudden people have things painted on the wall. And there’s messages because they realize right when you walk into a space, you want it to feel like you, you wanna be connected. When people put on that T-shirt, I’m connected to that message, and then I realize, “Hey, alright girl, yep.” And the head nod, you’re like, “We’re all connected.”
0:17:48.6 KW: Yeah, so that’s my goal for…
0:17:49.2 MB: Alright. And I’m looking forward. In Baltimore or wherever?
0:17:53.0 KW: I’ve been thinking about different types of ways to create these boutique styled spaces, and it might be in a force near you, who knows?
0:18:00.9 MB: Okay. I like it, I like it.
0:18:02.0 KW: It might be like you. Really architectural spaces, and I’ve just been thinking about how to get there. So I don’t think architecture is far from me, but when I left my 9:00 to 5:00, it was when… I wouldn’t say it prematurely happened, but I was just in a space where I don’t think I was doing great at architecture. Like it just… It felt like I needed to do something, like it felt like it was time. And I tell a lot of other aspiring entrepreneurs, “Listen to your own voice,” because for me, I was able to take this jump, but I knew that I could survive, I could drive Uber, I could do… I could go back to architecture.
0:18:38.0 KW: So I told myself, “You’ve got 365 days, I’m giving you… ” I told myself, “That’s my contract to me.” I had a son, he was only three years old, and I said, “You have one year.” I was like, “If in this year, you can survive the year, and if you’re not evicted, you still have a car,” and mind you it was very close, they came a knocking.
0:18:55.9 MB: Oh oh.
0:18:56.5 KW: Okay, there were so many things, I got close. But then things started to peak, it started to change. And I just told myself, “If you can survive this year without losing everything and without living with one of your friends or going to dad’s house and trying to sleep in the basement with your son,” I was like “You could do another year.”
0:19:14.9 MB: Yeah.
0:19:15.3 KW: If not, I was like, “The worst thing that could happen is I could go back to a job being an architect.”
0:19:19.4 MB: Right, and so now you’ve got a fabulous space in Baltimore.
0:19:24.6 KW: I do.
0:19:25.3 MB: And you just re-did it or just moved, so talk about that process of, when did you know it was time to keep going?
0:19:33.2 KW: So I started out in this really small, probably 500… So where I started in my row house was probably about… It was a super small room in the row house and my son’s room became flooded with boxes and bottles and I was like, “Okay, we gotta do something. It’s starting to get real cluttered in here real fast.” And then we moved into a small space and it was probably 500 square feet, real small. But that space was cool, and I’m guessing, you know the robbery happened and…
0:20:01.5 MB: Yeah, you’ve been very public about it, but in case people don’t know, do you mind sharing?
0:20:06.8 KW: Yeah. In 2017, I always forget now, but I think it was 2017. I had just moved into from my row house to this really small cute space. And so I always joke that the 7-Eleven across from where the space was, they were like, “Hey, we’re packing up.” And I’m moving and they were like, “Because of robberies.” But here I go thinking it’s just bad kids stealing chips and everything else, not really thinking, armed robberies. And so I think back to that time, and I do think I was just very in my own world. Because I’m thinking about entrepreneurship, and then I think, ya know, I don’t wanna say silly me because I’m from the hood, and so I know kinda hood code, but I think because…
0:20:53.4 MB: It’s like the culture got me. They know me, these are my people.
0:20:56.9 KW: That’s what I felt. But I was like, “Look, you’re from Brooklyn and you’re not really… You don’t know Baltimore. You don’t know Baldimore.” Let me say it right. And I think that they had some housing projects not far away. And so again, it’s one of those things where on your block, they respect you and they know you. I wasn’t on the block long enough. And so it just felt like, again, it was an unfortunate incident where two young men they came in to the shop, they pulled out a gun, they asked me to get down and to give them money. And I’m like, “Do you all know I’m an entrepreneur? I don’t have none. I have no money.” It was just a very traumatic situation. I’m kind of downgrading what happened here, ’cause I’m in a space where I hope I’m a bit healed from the situation. But my therapist had to remind me, she’s like, “You weren’t just in a robbery.” They held me there for a certain amount of time, ’cause they took my bank card, they went to an ATM, one came back. I was in there for a minute. And so that was the thing as well to… I had to tell myself to almost not belittle, I wasn’t on the street and someone grabbed my bag and ran.
0:22:09.4 MB: Right.
0:22:09.9 KW: That sometimes that’s a robbery or that’s a… And that was kind of how I…
0:22:14.4 MB: But you were there. It wasn’t like they broke a window and took your stuff. You were there.
0:22:17.2 KW: Right. I was actually there and then so that was very traumatic for me. So, we had the robbery and that was unfortunate. And then I moved into a space that was 1000 square feet, and then that space was okay. And what I noticed, ’cause I was healing from the robbery, the space was in a basement area, it was very… It was a beautiful building with a brick wall and all this other stuff, but it was very secure. And I realized recently through therapy, that was through healing, I was probably like I wanted to feel sheltered. And so it wasn’t the easiest space to… You couldn’t get to where customers are like, “Where is your space? I can’t find it.” And I’m like, “Good.”
0:22:52.9 MB: I’ve walked around the block five times, I ain’t coming back.
0:22:56.0 KW: Right. And so that was… I went from that 1000 square foot space and my lease was up. And this was right before the pandemic and everything, and I was like, “Alright, you’ve been in the space for two years.” And I couldn’t even imagine it was two years. And I didn’t have to move, but something was pulling at me and it was like, “Look at spaces. It’s not gonna hurt.” And I was like, “Okay, well, if I move to a space, it gotta have glass floor to ceiling glass wall. It has to have this brick wall.” And I did this whole drawing and a sketch and I was like, “This is what I wanna move into.” And lo and behold, I find the space and I signed the lease. I signed the lease in March of 2020. And then the pandemic happened, and it was April, and it was like, oh, all businesses are closed. Nothing is going out. I was like, “Wait, what? I just signed this lease, I just gave money, I put a down payment.” I’m like, “Wait, what do I do?” And so I ended up staying in the space like my old space until around May, June, and then I finally transitioned into the new space. And what happened with the new space, it was the…
0:23:57.4 KW: I had initially, they had two sides, two spaces next to each other, and I just knew. I said, “You know what… ” I started to think bigger. And I told myself, “You’re moving from 1000 and you’re going into 1000, you’re gonna need more space.” So I ended up moving to a 2000 square foot space, knocking down a whole wall and joining the spaces. ‘Cause I’ve already told myself I was gonna have a staff, we’re gonna need a break room, we’re gonna need… I’m gonna need an office, I’m gonna need production space, we’re gonna need a retail space, and that’s what I created. And I literally using my architecture skills, made this space into a beautiful dream retail space, and now I’m here.
0:24:38.9 MB: Well, it looks stunning on social media, I can’t wait to see it.
0:24:40.2 KW: You gotta come.
0:24:41.1 MB: I remember when you all opened up during the pandemic, I guess shortly thereafter, and you had the big opening and everybody showed up. The pictures, and I’m sure they were just a small percentage of who was there, but the whole community…
0:24:54.7 KW: Yeah.
0:24:55.3 MB: Showed up. You’re like a fixture in Baltimore. How does that make you feel?
0:25:00.5 KW: It’s really interesting because I think that you’re kinda thrown into this like. Alright, … little bit of celebrity. I try to not give myself the full status yet.
0:25:10.6 MB: Oh, please. Girl, you’re in a commercial. Come on.
0:25:14.2 KW: But you’re thrown into this space and because I do share some things on social, my son, he comes home and he’s like, “Mom, they said you’re famous at school.” And I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “Yeah, my teacher said you’re famous.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?”
0:25:28.5 MB: But you are famous!
0:25:29.2 KW: And it’s an adjustment and it’s beautiful, and I own it and I love it. I’ve had people come up to me and have cried and said, “Hey, you changed my life when I was going through this transition by saying and giving me this MESSage.” And things like that, and I’m learning to still really embrace it, but it’s beautiful. I’m happy I was chosen. I think that again, this thing that I was fighting for as a child, feeling very lost in art, architecture and trying to find my space, the fact that I’ve been able to touch people’s lives and change. And also, again, I’m trying to root for the person who’s been at their job for a really long time knowing that there’s something else that they just don’t know how to venture into it. So I think it’s just been beautiful and I’m happy that Baltimore… I remember… I feel so bad. I’m from Brooklyn. I was born in Jamaica, but I rep Brooklyn. And I met someone…
0:26:23.2 MB: Yes, thank goodness there’s now T-shirts that prove that you rep Brooklyn. I was like, “When we get this New York, Baltimore battle, come on now, where are the Brooklyn shirts?”
0:26:30.9 KW: Listen, I try to…
0:26:32.1 MB: I’m waiting for Harlem. Hint, hint.
0:26:34.2 KW: Okay, I got you, I got you.
0:26:35.5 MB: Okay.
0:26:38.3 KW: And so I try to… I love Brooklyn, celebrate Brooklyn. But I had to really realize that Baltimore is home and Baltimore embraces me. You can’t tell them that… I won’t say I’m from Baltimore, but they will…
0:26:51.8 MB: They claim you.
0:26:52.5 KW: Yes, they claim me all the way. And I had to be proud of that too. I started this business in Baltimore. Baltimore is where I became a woman. Baltimore is where I’m learning a lot of lessons about life, about who I am. And so though I rep Brooklyn really hard, I’m like Baltimore, Baltimore is home.
0:27:07.7 MB: But it is. And you have transpired, unfortunately the negative images of things like The Wire to know that good things can actually happen in Baltimore.
0:27:16.6 KW: Definitely.
0:27:17.6 MB: You mentioned that your MESSages, ’cause I won’t even say T-shirts, ’cause it’s bigger than that, have helped people through their transitions. Who helped you after the robbery?
0:27:27.5 KW: Great question. I ran my first marathon that year after the robbery. It was one year later, and I ran the marathon because I was just like, “Okay, I really needed to transition myself through this difficult time and the scary thing that happened to me.” And I was just like…what better way than to kind of run and do something you don’t think that you actually could do. And so I have a mentor, Nicole Walters, and I’m big on therapy. I was going to therapy before the robbery, but having my therapist, Desyree Dixon, in Baltimore, she’s Black-Jamaican woman. And so having her really helped me through the transition of having this traumatic thing happen, I think that was… It was key, and I don’t think that a lot of people realize how important therapy truly is. There’s been a lot of great conversation these days around therapy and I’m…
0:28:19.4 MB: Took a long time though.
0:28:20.2 KW: Yeah, it did. It did. And even still, especially even in the Caribbean community…
0:28:24.5 MB: That’s right.
0:28:25.3 KW: It’s really difficult.
0:28:25.7 MB: The pride.
0:28:26.2 KW: Yeah.
0:28:27.3 MB: I got this.
0:28:28.0 KW: And so I think it’s been really beautiful for me to really talk about therapy, so that’s where I get my, “On my way to therapy. Be right back”. That shirt came about. And so it was really helpful. I think therapy was a huge part of my transition. But I think, again, what really healed and kinda helped me through the robbery was the fact that I had MESSengers who reached out to me from all over the world, other celebrities put it on social media because they heard. I’m very vocal about my day and what happens, and so I ended up sharing it on social. And so celebrities posted about it. And when they did, their followers, their people… So I wanted to shut down the business when the robbery happened, ’cause I didn’t even wanna be back in the space anymore. And I ended up receiving thousands of orders. The community was just like, “You cannot close, we’re not gonna allow you to close.”
0:29:19.5 KW: And I’m like, “Do ya’ll know I just went through this traumatic thing, I need a whole moment.” And so I probably cried for two days, and then I said, “Alright, get up. You have to.” I realized with the robbery and the only reason I’m probably able to talk about it as candid as I can right now, is because it made me realize there’s gonna be things in life that happen that you don’t ask for. The death of a spouse, the death of a parent, or you have health issues, a stroke, who knows what. You don’t ask for these things, it’s not what you want, but it is how you decide to get back up the next day. And if I didn’t wanna get up and I decided to stay in that for a while, I had all right to. But I had to tell myself it’s not where I wanted to stay in, and so therapy and healing and running a marathon and doing whatever things it did to allow… And the time it would allow me to heal from it, it’s kind of where… That was the message that I got from it.
0:30:15.7 MB: That’s amazing. It’s so funny, you struck me because people have different beliefs, but you always, at least in my house, it was like, “Oh, everything happens for a reason,” and when bad things happen, you gonna go, “What the hell was the reason? ‘Cause this was not the right time or the right place.”
0:30:31.1 KW: But it was, in the sense of …what it did was it tested me in that moment, but it allowed… I think that, again, it broadened my reach. And I didn’t want the robbery to happen, but it definitely opened me up to a new audience. It allowed me to meet new people and for other people to share my story and for me… Some of my growth was because of the robbery, and so those were things that I’m like, “Ah, okay.” It was part of my story, but it wasn’t part that I wanted. But it was part of my journey.
0:31:04.7 MB: Right. Well, I love that you embraced that because another part of your journey was Target. The Target commercial, being on the Target shelves, you sold out.
0:31:15.0 KW: We did, we did.
0:31:15.9 MB: Everywhere. I know, I’ve tried. I had to go to more than one Target to get my stuff. How did that come about? And what’s happened since then?
0:31:22.3 KW: It’s been really cool. I always kinda shout out Essence because it’s just the connection of these Black communities and it’s always a Black woman in a boardroom, and they’re like, “Okay, what about these companies?” And they’re like, “No, what about MESS IN A BOTTLE? What about this Black woman owned company?” And that’s exactly what happened. I did different events at Essence Fest and other places, and I learned this was during the Target commercial, that they’ve been watching me for quite some time, and I had no idea. And it was funny because there were many vending events that I did by myself, where a box fell on my toe, I’m like, “I wanna go home, I don’t wanna do this anymore.” And I still stuck through it, smiled all the way.
0:32:02.8 KW: And not because I knew anyone was watching me, I had no idea, but I just knew I had to show up and I had to be there, and I had to fulfill my commitment. And I had a young woman who is from Jamaica as well, I believe she was from Baltimore also. And we exchanged numbers and it was just like, “Hey, just saying hi, and nice to meet you.” And she was like, “I work at Target and I’m just saying hello,” and I was like, “Oh, nice to meet you.” And she’s like, “Here’s my number. Keep in touch.” And I did a little, “Hey, I don’t wanna be too annoying, but just saying hi,” and we kept in touch for some time, and I let the conversation kind of drift and just let it go and I was like, “Oh, whatever.” And it was just like, it was a pleasure to meet her, and several years later, she reached out and she said, “We’re ready,” and she was like, “You’re ready.” And she was like, “We want you on Target for 2021 Black History Month.” And I was like, “What?” And I had to create MESSages.
0:32:52.4 KW: And even that process was very… Imposter syndrome kicked in because I was like, “Me and Target? What am I gonna say? Are they gonna be okay with the MESSages I create?” And I remember Target being really supportive and they’re like, “Look, you put what you think that the… We came to you for a reason.”
0:33:06.9 MB: Right.
0:33:07.9 KW: So don’t feel cookie cutter, don’t feel like you gotta create these MESSages that are so PC, they’re like, “Come with it. We are supporting you, we are backing you.” And they did, and we received some backlash, some people didn’t love some of the things that were on the shirts and Target supported us, they stood with us.
0:33:24.8 MB: What did they not love?
0:33:26.7 KW: Some people, it’s hard, I’ll say this, and because it’s Black History month, number one, for some people, they didn’t know what MESS IN A BOTTLE was. And Target though they had other smaller collaborations, we were one of the main Black History Month things that they did. And they purposefully did this and put us in the middle with a banner and all that. But some people really didn’t understand what we were, they didn’t understand who MESS was, they didn’t understand how… What kind of MESSages we really give out to the world, it didn’t connect to them fully, and so they… And again, they were looking for Target-type things.
0:34:00.0 MB: Gotcha.
0:34:00.4 KW: And so it was a little confusing for them. And again, even though there was a big picture of me being a Black woman…
0:34:06.5 MB: And there was a commercial.
0:34:08.2 KW: Some people, I guess they still didn’t connect it. And it also felt like… And I think that this is the hard thing about working with even larger brands…a lot of people felt like, are they monopolizing off of just Black History Month and are they kind of raping the culture? They don’t understand that… How do you get the conversation even started if we don’t…
0:34:28.0 MB: You don’t have the chance to be there.
0:34:28.7 KW: If we are not even in a space! It just didn’t makes sense. So I think there was a little bit of backlash. Not much. Again, Target the whole… It was for the good. It was more beneficial.
0:34:39.2 MB: And they’ve proven to be ride or die, when the whole backlash against Bee and Honey Pot, they stepped up.
0:34:44.7 KW: They did.
0:34:45.2 MB: Luckily, they stayed in it with you.
0:34:47.1 KW: Great brands, amazing brands and it was good, it was amazing to do, and it was a great experience. And even now, Target is still… They cared about the business and not just like, “Oh, this Black History Month project.” They wanted to make sure that they can help MESS IN A BOTTLE, how can we push MESS forward, and what things can we do to really make sure, housing, manufacturing, what things do you still need help with? Where are you within the business, and those things were really important to me.
0:35:16.8 MB: So will we see you again at Target?
0:35:18.2 KW: You might, you might. And even in a bigger way.
0:35:21.4 MB: Alright, good. I hope so.
0:35:25.3 KW: We work it right, we hanging in there you know?
0:35:27.1 MB: Right and everytime I went I was like, “All my shirts are gone,” luckily there’s a Target on every doggone block but I was like, “How many stores I gotta go to?”
0:35:32.6 KW: Yeah. We’re working on it, so I’m excited about the unknown of the future.
0:35:38.8 MB: Your entire business is about MESS/MESSages, you call your fans MESSengers, and it’s not just T-shirts, it’s cards, it’s a bunch of stuff and it’s also a podcast, tell me the name and tell me about the podcast.
0:35:52.0 KW: So the podcast is called WHAT A MESS. And I started this probably maybe a year and a half ago, pre-COVID, and I just wanted… I wanted a place to… My mentor, she’s like, “Okay, I’ll give you this passion project.” ‘Cause the things I wanna do cost thousands and millions of dollars, and she’s like, “Alright, hold on, let’s just start to… “
0:36:14.3 MB: Scale it back a bit.
0:36:14.8 KW: Yeah, scale it back a whole bit. And again, it’s part of it for the art, for the love for me, something for me. And so though it goes back to the business, it’s definitely a place that I could go and put headphones on and speak freely. And so I have a couple of people who will send me a DM every Friday and I’m like, “Look, I listened and… ” They’ll spew out how they feel and what they feel, and it’s good ’cause it’s just I’m not doing it for monetary reasons, I’m more doing it because I want people to learn what’s behind the MESS. And so I started, then and I started a little YouTube, it’s similar, again it’s called WHAT A MESS and I’m just dabbling with… I think it’s important as a founder for people to learn who I am, what I am, and because then you’ll understand the MESSages a lot more as well. And so that’s kind of where I am, I want… I think that it’s important for you to really connect with the founder.
0:37:09.2 MB: But in your case, it’s who you are… Right? To know, I mean I don’t think I remembered that you are an architect, and so your entire disposition was creating things for other people to see and experience, right? And now you’re still creating things people wear or touch, to experience, so it makes complete sense that you would have a podcast and maybe like a television show and some other stuff coming so I love it. I love it.
0:37:31.8 KW: Thank you.
0:37:32.8 MB: So when I think of you, I think of culture. So I went to look up the definition. It says culture is defined as the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively, and the customs are social institutions, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Your MESSages have created a culture for Black people… I see on social media, everybody’s wearing your shirt, was that the intention to rep the culture?
0:38:00.9 KW: Yeah, you know, it’s a good question because sometimes I have white women who they love the brand, they rep hard for the brand as well, and it becomes real …not torn, but especially in the movement that we’re in, especially with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and things like that, it’s just people are like, “You’re for us.” They’re like, “You’re ours and nobody else.” And that’s why I stress that again the MESSages come from a Black woman’s voice, they come from an immigrant woman’s voice, because I want people to know how important my perception… My view of even American culture is a lot different than what, though I was raised in America, I still have huge Jamaican roots. So when I create a MESSage or say something and it’s maybe a little bit touchy, is a little bit controversial. I want it to be. Because that’s my view, that’s my perception, that’s my voice, my eye, and so I rep hard for the Black woman. Because a lot of the times we know that in this world, in this society our voice is stifled… We’re not allowed into a lot of spaces, we’re shunned in many ways. And so I think that it’s important for me to keep repping and be unapologetic for the voice of a Black woman as well. Sometimes I try to make the shirts and I think that that’s where it becomes a little sticky because sometimes I don’t want to “maybe offend” or you know but I might…
0:39:22.7 KW: F it! Offend them! Have the conversation. Let’s talk about it. Why are you offended? Are you offended because I said something bad or are you offended ’cause I said something true? And then that might be the thing too. And so I think that that’s where again, pushing myself to create MESSages that are a MESS for you to really think and for it to not be offensive because that’s not my, I’m not…
0:39:43.2 MB: That growth doesn’t come if things are neat. So for that MESSage, you get to unpack and you get to share and you get to have conflict.
0:39:50.2 KW: Yeah. For sure. And so I’m okay with shaking the table a little bit. If it’s not shaking the table enough, I’m like, ah, let’s scrap it. Let’s try again. Let’s come back with…
0:40:00.2 MB: And you have the whole idea board. So you got lots of options. Lots of options. So now you were all over the news, all over the media, you were in Target as part of their black history month. In a good way you are blowing up. What is the greatest challenge you’re having in keeping up?
0:40:18.6 KW: The greatest challenge is just kind of… I’m not gonna say believing in myself, but trusting the process. I think that I’m hard on my own self. It’s not even about looking at my peers or looking at what’s going on or… I’m just tough on myself. Even a marathon, I’m like, ugh, I gotta go see my therapist ’cause I finished and I’m like, I coulda did better than that! And my friends are like girl…
0:40:43.3 MB: But you took two hours from your prior time.
0:40:45.4 KW: Look. Exactly. So glad…
0:40:47.1 MB: It was still light out when you finished. Right? That’s progress.
0:40:48.3 KW: Listen therapy is needed. Okay. Because this me. At this point, I’m convinced, I’m looking at me like I’m the therapist, like girl, relax, you did a thing. And I have to tell myself, like you finished, you have no injuries, you are good. And so it’s trusting the process. I think that not that I wanna be further doing more because, but just allow myself… I wanna do everything and I wanna do it yesterday and I wanna accomplish everything and finish it. And I’m like, no, calm down. Maybe this is 2023, maybe it’s 2024. And I’m starting to really talk to myself like that and say, don’t rush the process it’s needed because even everything that I’m enduring right now, even with MESS IN A BOTTLE is because I needed to go through certain things to get, to unlock the key, to open the door for the next thing.
0:41:31.1 MB: Yeah.
0:41:31.7 KW: Because sometimes you don’t understand that making these premature decisions will be detrimental to you and the business. I can be asking for something that I’m truly not even ready for. You could be opening a door to Pandora’s box is something bigger that you need to really be mentally prepared for to actually be able to accomplish what you want to do. So I think that’s really it, is just trust in the process. I realize also working with my operations person that I also have… through the uncomfortableness of financials and doing certain things and also being honest and true with yourself, like, okay, you might have spent a lot in Europe. Like you might have did…
0:42:12.6 MB: We saw it on social media.
0:42:13.6 KW: You might have did a little bit too match over there.
0:42:17.1 MB: I like the MESS coupled with the Gucci and Louis.
0:42:19.9 KW: But you gotta also remember that this you for yourself that you can… Listen, I’m also learning. I’m in a space too where who I am right now, and this is what my therapist said, in life in all facets right now, the person I am right now is so concerned about who I’m going to be and who I was that I’m not allowing certain things to naturally…
0:42:44.5 MB: Happen right now.
0:42:45.8 KW: Correct. And I’m not enjoying the moment of right now. Because I’m like, but I want in the future for me to have this and for that. And she’s like “…all of those things…” And I’m like “But I don’t wanna make the mess that I’ve made before…” And she’s like, “but number one, you’re wiser. Number two, the mess is there. I can’t mitigate everything. You have to make the mess to make sure that like that’s what…”
0:43:06.8 MB: But you learn from that mess?
0:43:09.8 KW: And, but the mess is part of the beauty. It is. And I have to trust that and be okay with it. And I also have to know that I am growing. And so I think that I do things with my old mindset. But I could take the Greyhound bus and it’s like, girl, you don’t, like you can fly now. You could do certain thing. Like you could buy maybe one of the things you want from Gucci maybe now, but you could buy one. So it’s just things like that. It’s like, don’t put yourself in such a… because I’m so used to depriving myself of certain things and it’s like, no, you could eat a little bit now, you are right. So it’s just those things. But I think that’s the hard part.
0:43:42.1 MB: So there’s so many things. Whew. That you said that was huge. One..It was so funny. I was driving to dinner with one of my daughters yesterday and we were… She was saying that the kids in her class were stressed out. And I’m why she’s like, ’cause they’re thinking about next year. She was, I don’t wanna think about next year for like we just trying to make it through today and tomorrow. And I do think as entrepreneurs because we’re always thinking like where’s our business trying to get to, that we end up projecting and probably missing some opportunities.
0:44:06.3 KW: Oh for sure.
0:44:07.0 MB: Right in front of us. But the other thing that you said is that being comfortable in the mess, it’s not perfect. And before we started, you were talking about the growth of your operations. And let’s be honest, that’s the stuff that’s not sexy, but you’re really. And it’s like semi manufacturing. I mean, I watch like you guys are like pressing, folding, folding. But talk about like, what was it, how did you move from being the creative and the architect, right? Where you build the outside and then somebody else sometimes does the inside. How did that manifest in getting this, what it appears to be a seamless line of massive production of MESS messages.
0:44:47.2 KW: Yeah. I think the part I did and the most about architecture was like those details. That’s why my professor used to be like, girl, you ain’t gonna make it over here because you don’t wanna… You wanna worry about how pretty the building is, but you don’t know where the bathrooms gonna go, you don’t know how the building is gonna function. I’ll be like, I’ll figure that out later! And my operations person, she’s really forcing me to look at the details because that’s what strengthens the business, the foundation, solidifying some systems, making sure things are running well. I also know, again for me to focus on the pretty stuff, I really gotta do the dirty work. I gotta go through the mess. I have to go back to some of the things that I really don’t wanna look at that I really don’t wanna confront.
0:45:28.0 KW: That is not… It makes me super uncomfortable, but those are the things that I’m like, all right, hold your breath. But you gotta go through it. You gotta do it. And so I think that that part of it has been, it’s been interesting and it’s not the most sexy, like you said, it’s not the most fun. And also admitting to yourself, like you said, manufacturing, doing certain things. I’ve gotten to a place with that, but it may… It’s right now it’s not the place we’re staying in. Because we’re scaling, we’re growing and if it’s getting bigger and we’re trying to get better, is it the best decision? Is that where we need to be? So I have to answer some of those questions. And I think what I realize is my mentality was really stuck in my row house that I started and where it was me by myself. So when my staff is asking me certain questions where they’re like, well, How do I make this design… And it was something that I started with, there was no one else in the room with me, and now I have to consult…
0:46:24.3 MB: Right. What do you mean why?
0:46:26.1 KW: ‘Cause it’s my design and I have to consult others or ask questions for them to really understand certain things. And then now there’s… I’m being challenged with… People are now… There’s pushback, before it was like, “Hey girl, you wanna do this?” and it was with myself. And now it’s actually people who are like, “No, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” And I’m like, “Why not? I know the business.” And now my operation is like, “Well, what about the financial part?” And I’m like, “Financials, financials, who cares about that part?”
0:46:50.7 MB: I remember that, I remember that part.
0:46:51.9 KW: And she’s like, “No, you gotta remember, you gotta think about that.” So it’s just those type of things, and I’m realizing growing is a mess. Scaling it’s a mess. And it has to and it’s gonna be uncomfortable. And I’m at a place where I’m like…I try to just breathe through the uncomfortable-ness of it and just be like again, just like the marathon, you’re prepared. You’re prepared if you get muscle spasms and it stops you. You know what you have to do to make sure you fix things and that’s kind of where I am. And so I spoke about this recently, I’m like, I think right now I’m in a space where you know a crash is gonna happen, because that’s what happens in business, things are gonna happen. And so it’s more like I’m bracing for the impact, but I’m also prepared, to I have my seatbelt on, I’m like, Alright, we got this, and I’m driving as safe as I can, but know that I’m gonna probably crash sooner than later. And I gotta just prepare and be ready to fix things. And scaling and growing. And I’m probably doing this on such a small level where other founders who may have… So I get it, and a lot of people don’t understand that transition is, it’s huge, but I need to get it to the next step. I need to go from the row house, we’re I’m making all the product or even in shop where we’re making all the product, like now we’re at the next level, the next part of this chapter.
0:48:07.3 MB: Yeah, there’s a vulnerability in what you’re talking about. So share if you can the process of being vulnerable and letting other people into your mess. How did you find your team… ‘Cause usually when you say mess, people be like, It’s my mess. I don’t want nobody to know I have a mess, I’m gonna keep it to myself, I’m gonna put it under the couch when people come over. And you’re like, Nope, here I am, here’s my mess, and you’re inviting people in… What was that like?
0:48:33.2 KW: Yeah, it’s funny you say that ’cause today, I was telling my ops person, she’s one of the close closer people to me right now through this, and we had a couple of voice notes and I was getting all sassy and I’m like, “Look, I’m mad at you.” And she’s like, “You gonna be mad because that’s what this is about. I have to tell you the truth of what’s happening with the business.” And she’s like, “If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t tell you, and I wouldn’t go this over and beyond, and I wouldn’t be trying to fix things.” and I… You know what.
0:48:56.9 MB: And you wouldn’t want her in the business.
0:48:57.9 KW: Exactly, and I think that I have been extremely blessed. And I think that it just goes back to probably my character and who I am. It is a road… It was a messy road, I talk about this in my podcast and stuff too. Like I had the young girls and the young girls were just not doing what they were supposed to do, you know, I had a group… ‘Cause I was like, Oh, I want young, you know? Fresh.
0:49:18.1 MB: Like hip.
0:49:18.5 KW: Yeah, like the girls that’s like me and they were like, “Yeah, we’re not gonna work today.” And I’d be like, “Wait, y’all gotta do this. What do you mean?” And then my transition to that. And then I had another team, and then now we transitioned again and we have another team. And I would tell you this, I have some very, very loyal people on my team. And it has been by luck that, I had a volunteer that came to volunteer with me, and she came and she said… She said, Look, I’ve only seen a little bit of this, but she said, I have a sister and my sister will put your whole business together. And I was very reluctant. I’m like, Girl, please, everybody says that.
0:49:52.9 MB: Like, I’m good, I’m good.
0:49:54.7 KW: Yeah, I’m good, I don’t need no help. I don’t need no help. And so then the sister called and said, “Hey, my sister told me about you, just following up.” and I said, whatever. And she followed up a second time, so I said, Come in, let’s talk. And when I tell you she been with me for a year and a half and she whips me into shape.
0:50:11.3 MB: I love it. I love it.
0:50:12.3 KW: Okay. I be scared. And so she whips me into shape. She is a Black woman and she is amazing, honestly, and she comes from a very corporate environment and she knows a whole lot about manufacturing and not even… She didn’t even know a lot about e-commerce, she had retail experience. But when I say she is a hard worker and she has learned this business inside and out… It’s been a pleasure to have her on my team. So from there she was an amazing asset. And then I also reached out to one of my sorority sisters, and I’m like, Look, I need somebody who has manufacturing experience, ’cause again, I’m coming from this as a designer. I’m just a designer! I’m not everything else that everybody thinks I am. And I always would be like, Look, I need help, I need help with the financials, that’s where I’m the weakest… When I told my sorority sister and she was looking at her job. I won’t say what her full-time job is ’cause you know everybody, you gotta find a good resource somewhere.
0:51:09.8 MB: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.
0:51:10.1 KW: And so she found someone and she said, Look, can you help her? And this man, again, pro bono, he has been with me for the last couple of months, and he works for a very large company, and he has been giving me more resources than I could ever ask for, and he is, again, pulling things together for me and doing an amazing job. And then outside of those two really integral people, I have now a team. And again, I lucked up on them. I have dedicated people who again, where it’s like, Hey, school’s out right now. My son is home, I’m leaving him alone for three seconds, can you go watch him? That’s the type of team that I have who are like.
0:51:48.8 MB: Ride or die.
0:51:48.9 KW: Where he at? What he need, let me go get him. And they not only hold me down, they hold the business down, so there’s no more of where I have to make shirts anymore, I don’t have to like… They got it. And they want me to stay out of it. And then my customer service person as well, the same thing. She’s like emails don’t go to you if it’s customer-related, it’s not for you. I got this. And they make sure they protect me, and I have to even… Saying this out loud, I’m like, again, I have to give them an extra thank you because they protect me on all fronts, like the operations person is protecting me. She’s like, Oh look, I got you. We’re not gonna let this fail. All of the people, they’ve been really, really great because they’ve seen how I’ve thrown myself on the sword for the business, and so right now I don’t even know half of some of like….customer issues, issues that might…
0:52:39.5 MB: That’s good.
0:52:39.9 KW: It doesn’t come to me. And they make sure that it doesn’t. And so for that, I’m grateful. I just lucked up with some really good people that ride for the company, and it’s been good.
0:52:50.0 MB: Well, good people attract good people. So that makes sense. How did you come to trust them, ’cause when I first met you, you were like, Y’all can’t tell me nothing.
0:53:00.1 KW: Girl, I sure was. I sure was.
0:53:01.2 MB: I’ve got this. And so now, they tell you, get out. Sit down, don’t do that. So how did you build that trust?
0:53:07.8 KW: I realized, probably maybe two years or a year ago, that if you want this thing that you’re creating, to become something… There’s no way you can do it all by yourself, okay? And again, I have the confidence that I know that if stuff becomes a mess, that I can fix it. Well, that’s the confidence I have with myself. And I also feel very confident that I started this by myself and if I needed to pack it up on up and start it that I could. And so for me, I feel comfortable with saying, “Here’s your lane. Let me stay in mine, let me figure out…” And so slowly I’ve been peeling back and just letting them take over certain things and it’s been feeling good. And I think also what I’ve realized in the last couple of even months is my greatness is much bigger than, like I said, manufacturing, production. There’s just so much more things that I have. I love speaking, I love this part of it, I love being able to pour out what I feel about business, entrepreneurship, that stuff is fun to me. And so if I’m gonna be touring and doing stages and stuff, I can’t be worried about… Who’s order number 734 didn’t ship. It doesn’t make sense.
0:54:25.1 KW: It’s really finding value in what I’m great at and honing in on that and making sure that that’s what the world sees. And if I’m behind the scenes trying to fix everything else and think for everyone else…and even for my staff, I’m like, Look, this is… Let’s even get you guys bigger than what you even think you’re capable of. And so those are the things that I think that I’ve been more focused on. And again, I’m in a space where I’m just like, look harder, is not… You don’t get more medals. You might get more scars, and I don’t want them… I’m at a place where I’m just thinking that peace and growth that I was talking about, I wanna be able to flourish, look at things. I think, again, as Black women, we feel like we have to carry everything on our shoulders and just feel like you gotta work really hard. And I think I’ve been honestly looking at some Black women online, a Morgan from Blavity, or Bozoma St. John or even Luvvie and how people are putting self-care like at first, and it’s not just sitting on a beach and enjoying. But it’s even making sure your work days aren’t longer than they need to be, making sure that you just aren’t not eating and stressing yourself.
0:55:33.6 KW: I’m like, The business is not built for that. And even for me coming back from Europe and coming back to America, I started having anxiety because there was so much that I knew I had to still… We have Black Friday coming up, we have a bunch of things happening, and I’m like, I gotta catch up on emails, I gotta look at this and look at that, and I was like, Okay, you have to… I told myself, I’m like, I have to fix that. Because I’m not working this hard, to work this hard next year. So I’m like, Alright, so I have to be in a place where if I wanted to be in Europe for six months, I don’t have anxiety about the work and what happens, and those type of things. So I think I’m trying to get better with that. And so the only way to get better with that is to release control.
0:56:14.9 MB: Yeah, yeah and that’s hard for people to do…
0:56:16.7 KW: It is.
0:56:16.9 MB: So I congratulate you.
0:56:18.4 KW: Thank you.
0:56:19.1 MB: You spend your days giving people MESSages. What’s the best message or advice someone’s ever given to you?
0:56:27.0 KW: Failure is progress, it’s one of my favorite messages these days, because…
0:56:33.4 MB: I don’t think I’ve seen that on a shirt…
0:56:33.7 KW: Yeah, it was, it was.
0:56:35.4 MB: Oh, I missed it. Okay, okay.
0:56:36.4 KW: It might have dipped in, I might send you one.
0:56:38.3 MB: Okay, okay, okay, okay… We need to bring that one back ’cause that’s real.
0:56:40.4 KW: Yes, yeah. Failure is progress…
0:56:42.4 MB: I like that, I like that.
0:56:42.9 KW: I think it’s one of my favorite messages because it’s about failing forward, you’re still making baby steps forward, and a lot of us don’t give… You don’t give yourself enough grace and realize, Hey, you’re doing it still. And you have to fail to be successful. There was many things that I probably failed at before that got me here. Even with working with a team and building a team, it was like, Oh, that’s what you didn’t do, right. So now my approach to certain things is different, I’m trying to celebrate my team more. I’m trying to make them feel like it’s not just work work and also seeing the greatness in them, the way they see the greatness in me. There’s just certain growth things that when you’re growing, you have to realize what things are you gonna do different? And so, yeah, failure is progress, that’s one of the messages. And I’m big on trying to just forgive myself every day and saying, Alright, if you didn’t do things well today or if it didn’t feel well for you, Okay, how can you do better tomorrow? And then allow myself, to feel… And so, for example, I try to say to myself like, Alright, you don’t feel great, this wasn’t… You didn’t have a good day, or you don’t… And that’s alright. And feel that.
0:57:50.4 MB: Right, there’s another day.
0:57:50.9 KW: Right, and feel that. Let you, let it burn and then be like alright… tomorrow.
0:57:56.4 MB: Let it go, right.
0:57:56.9 KW: Alright, meditate, maybe start the day different, do something different. Plan better, change something, things like that. So I try to give myself a little bit of my pep talk of messages and tell myself like, You gonna be alright. And who would have known? I think that that’s… Again, the unknown. I wouldn’t have… I had no idea this was where I was gonna be. And so it’s like allowed that to sort of happen, and so that you can look five more years from now be like dang, you did that? Okay.
0:58:27.6 MB: I’m looking forward to the hotel, that’s all I have to say. Yeah, we started where you said you set an impossible goal, what is your new impossible goal?
0:58:35.3 KW: Ooooo…my new impossible goal…
0:58:37.5 MB: ‘Cause I’m not really sure anything is impossible, but based on your story, you put it out there, it happens. But…
0:58:43.2 KW: I think my next impossible goal that I’m setting for myself for next year is probably to work on this balance a little bit more with work, life, myself and my son. I have a really hard time, and I guess you just triggered this thought for me, like I still make… Even I don’t know how to not…but I still make everything a little bit work-related. There’s not something that… Like the marathon… Yes, it was for me, but I still post it. It still becomes a part of my story that I’m sharing.
0:59:15.1 MB: Sure, sure.
0:59:15.5 KW: And so my therapist says all the time like, “Alright, paint, do something for you.” And I’ll try for five minutes and then I’m like, “Alright, I gotta do something else.” And so that’s probably one of the things I might really challenge myself with. I have gotten a lot better with even this trip, I spent time with my son, and that was actually a lot of fun and it was really good. My son, he definitely deserves all …all of the praise as well, because it’s just like he’s been riding with me, whether it’s sleeping at the shop, whether it’s thugging it out, whether it’s… He gotta come to a store and he don’t wanna go, come to Podcast things that he don’t wanna be there, he has thugged it out with me. And so I think I’ve been getting better with like, “Alright, what do you wanna do on a Friday?” Even if I don’t wanna do it, oh my word I don’t wanna do it, but I do it. And I try to… It’s not as consistent, but I even… I think I have put on my calendar like once a month.
1:00:12.4 KW: Like, “Let’s just do something else for you. What do you wanna do?” And I gotta try to put away my phone a little bit, try and just give you that time. So I think the challenge, maybe for next year, the impossible goal, is trying to do that for myself and trying to hone in on the thing for me.
1:00:28.5 MB: Yeah. I never doubted that this would be a great conversation and I loved it. And my personal takeaway is that there is room for MESS in greatness, ’cause you are great.
1:00:44.8 KW: Thank you.
1:00:46.1 MB: Everything you’re doing, I’m proud every time I wear your shirt, so thank you my friend.
1:00:49.4 KW: Thank you. Thank you.
1:00:49.6 MB: I appreciate you.
1:00:58.4 MB: Today’s lesson on your journey from founder to CEO, you heard just that. Do not let others stand in your way on your path to entrepreneurial success. Be patient and find your own way. As you heard from Kalilah, she had a desire to be able to motivate and support others. Why? Because she needed that herself. She was not afraid to pick a name of a business called ‘MESS’ and run with it. She completely turned the tables on how we define that word, to now recognize that MESS is in T-shirts and bottles and rugs all across the country.
1:01:33.5 MB: That she recognized that it wasn’t just the product or service that she created, but that the MESSages were actually the most important thing. The MESSage was the product. Kalilah reminded us that motivation and support from others is universal. That for her, those MESSages were very personal, but they actually now have moved people, communities, a generation. Her MESSages are the collective messages of so many people, all ages, races, genders and sexual orientation. Kalilah gave voice to the voiceless. She is creating impossible goals for all of us by making sure that everyone understands our pain, our excitement, our enthusiasm, our values.
1:02:15.9 MB: She has leveraged her t-shirts, her mugs and her rugs as a way to build solidarity through her MESSages. She allows all of us to be on a journey of self-expression. She allows us to understand that who we are, what we stand for, our culture is extremely important. Not only is it relevant to us, but it can be relevant to everyone around us. She understood that culture is what binds people together. And she, through MESS IN A BOTTLE, reminds folks about what is possible for them. My lesson from Kalilah today is that we do not have to conform, we do not have to look like everyone else. But we need to stay true to our goals, to our mission, to our passion, and know that there is a community out there supporting us. And then particularly for those of us who look like Kalilah and sound like Kalilah and are coming from the diaspora, oftentimes, we now know that nod can manifest into a message.
1:03:16.3 MB: As always, thank you for listening.
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Founder Hustle is produced by Kinetic Energy Entertainment.
Associate Producer is Misa Dayson.
The show was edited and mixed by Ann Kane.
Social media producer is Misako Envela.
Our intro theme, Vuelta al Sol is by Tomás Novoa.
Credit theme is Glide, by Columbia Nights,
and the outro is Ratata by Curtis Cole.
Founder Hustle was recorded at Clean Cuts in Washington DC.
1:04:33.6 MB: And to all the founders out there, remember everything that’s around you can be your competitive advantage.
1:04:49.7 MB: I think one of my kids is using it as their pencil holder for school. So it goes to school every day.
1:04:54.5 KW: I get mad at my son every time he’s like, “Can I buy a water bottle?”
1:04:58.3 KW: I’m like, “You better go and get a MESS bottle. You are not… Fortnite? No, MESS. Okay? You have water bottles, don’t ask me for another bottle.”
1:05:06.5 MB: “You got bottles for everything, brother.” [laughter]
1:05:09.6 KW: He’s like, “Can I get a bottle for my water for this?” And “No, there’s a whole bunch in the kitchen.”
Referenced in Today’s Episode:
- Founder Hustle is produced by Kinetic Energy Entertainment.
- Associate Producer is Misa Dayson.
- The show was edited and mixed by Ann Kane.
- Social media producer is Misako Envela.
- Our intro theme, Vuelta al Sol is by Tomás Novoa.
- Credit theme is Glide, by Columbia Nights, and the outro is Ratata by Curtis Cole.