Photo By @iAmJeffDavidKing / @MamicMedia
In Vivian’s words “There is no secret sauce, just action.” Born in Ghana, French bilingual, single mother Vivian Kaye runs a seven-figure business called KinkyCurlyYaki out of Toronto, Canada. A self-proclaimed college dropout Vivian struggled with depression in her early adulthood but through pure grit, belief in herself and action she has hustled her way to amazing success and created a beautiful life for her and her son. A must read inspiring story of female strength.
As told to Ashley Johnson
Tell me about the story behind your business name: KinkyCurlyYaki.
KinkyCurlyYaki is kind of an inside joke in the Black girl community. “Kinky” is kinky, coarse hair, “Curly” is curly, coiled hair, and “Yaki” is an inside term that refers to straightened afro hair texture. Back in the day, they would use hair from a yak. They threw an “i” at the end and called it yaki.
I love that! How did you start your journey to entrepreneurship?
KinkyCurlyYaki is actually my second business. Before that, I was a wedding event decorator.
Like all Black women, I have hair that can be challenging to manage. As Black women, we wear protective styles like wigs, braids, headwraps, etc, because our hair can be a challenge to manage on a day to day basis, especially if you have a busy lifestyle.
As I was running my wedding business, I wanted a protective style that looked like my natural hair. I started looking for more natural textures and had a hard time finding them, because even the companies that sold kinky hair would bury it under the silky textures that would not blend with my own hair.
I finally found a supplier that made what I was looking for and bought it for myself. A woman came up to me at a conference and asked about my regimen and who my hairdresser was - the ultimate compliment. When I told her it was actually a weave, she said, “I would buy that.” And I realized if she would buy it, if I bought it, there must be other Black women who would buy it too.
I launched KinkyCurlyYaki online as a side project during the wedding down season and thought, let’s just see what happens. And it immediately took off, because no other company was just selling kinky hair at the time.
You’ve had amazing success through great products and creative, targeted marketing. How did you learn those skills?
I didn’t go to school for marketing, but I naturally had an interest in marketing. I started as a marketing assistant and worked my way up. Then I took things I learned along the way from all of those different jobs and applied them to my business.
I started my business just as Instagram was picking up, and I was able to grow my brand organically through Instagram and organic marketing early on.
I’ve been able to hit success quickly because I went into it to solve a specific problem that Black women face every day, and that has been irking and frustrating them their entire lives. Once you solve people’s pain points, they become your best marketing tools. Our customers started telling everyone about us, they shared my business in Facebook groups, and among family and friends. I hit my first million four years after starting the business because the people whose problems we solved told everyone about us.
What strategies do you use to build confidence?
I believe in my goal, which is to provide as many Black women with the confidence to show up in the world as themselves. Once you have that goal and know what your ‘why’ is, everything you do will follow that. Even as I’ve had other competitors with more money and ad spending come into the space, I think about it as no one can tell my story like I can.
My son is my first ‘why’ because he’s watching everything I do. He doesn’t know what an entrepreneur is, but his goal is to become a “KinkyCurlyYaki person” because he knows that’s what I do.
What is a routine you do to manage stress and balance self-care, and how frequently do you do it?
I do three things. I work out three times a week - I walk 30 minutes and then go to a strength training group class.
Every day, I write in a gratitude journal. I write three things I’m grateful for, three things I’m looking forward to in a day, and an affirmation. Being an entrepreneur, there’s so many things you can’t control in your day. But being grateful is something you can always control.
At least once a month, I do karaoke. I love karaoke! Singing off key sparks joy in my heart and I get everything out when I sing.
What do you do to move you and your team forward toward your goals?
This is a work in progress for me, because I very much fly by the seat of my pants. I’m working on it by communicating my goals to the people around me. In my business, one of my goals is to treat every customer very well. Even though we spend a lot of money, Black women are constantly dealing with stereotypes and bad customer experiences when shopping in retail beauty supply stores. There are so many stories of Black women being followed around beauty supply stores because the owner thinks they’re going to steal something. I make it a point to go above and beyond what we as a group expect. I want people to know us as a business that delivers great customer service for our customers, and I empower my team to make decisions to do that.
I write out my big goals and break them down from there. Under a big goal, I have mini goals, and then I break those mini goals down into tasks. For example, if my goal is to make $10,000 a month, I have to break that down to how to make $1,000 consistently, and then I scale it from there.
Creative Director/Photographer @iAmJeffDavidKing / @MamicMedia
What decision process helps you to balance work and your relationship with your son and other loved ones?
I get my son involved. It helps that he gets that mama has to work if he wants that game or that toy.
I set boundaries to keep work and personal life separate. I used to run my business out of my home, but I spent too much time at home and it weighed on me. Now I have an office, and work happens at the office and home happens at home. I don’t get email notifications on my phone so I’m not constantly checking email. My son is growing up very fast and I need to be present for him as much as possible.
Tell me about a time in your business where you failed, and how did you move forward?
I’m failing all the time - I’m failing right now! I look at every failure as a lesson I can learn for the future.
One example of this is with my website. We were working on a new website and needed to do a photoshoot and I entrusted the vision to someone else. I thought I had communicated everything I wanted, we picked the models, the styling, etc. When I got to the photoshoot that day, I knew it wasn’t right, but I’d already spent the money on it and I decided to just go through with it anyways.
I got the pictures back and I wasn’t happy with them but I still tried to go through with what we had because I’d paid for it. Then I got the videos back and it hit me - this was not what I wanted to put out into the world from my brand. So, I had to re-do that whole shoot and pay for it again. This time, I made sure I was there for the big decisions and vision.
When I told the person who did the photoshoot I wasn’t happy, they told me I should have just said something that day instead of waiting until the end. It was a huge lesson that no one else sees your vision. You can outsource some things, but you can’t outsource vision.
On your Instagram, you often count money. Tell me about that.
A lot of women are afraid of talking about money. Men talk about money all the time. But a lot of us women were raised to not talk about it. I realized that I had these money barriers in my mind that I needed to remove. I wanted an exercise that would normalize money for me, so I count obnoxious amounts of money to make money comfortable for me.
Also, women tend to undervalue our abilities or not go for opportunities because we don’t think we deserve it. To help me overcome that, whenever I’m not sure whether I should do something, I think to myself, “What would Chad do?” Chad represents a mediocre white guy who thinks he can do everything. As women, we’re always questioning our qualifications and worried about what people think of us. When we apply for a job that requires five qualifications and we only have four, we think we can’t apply. Meanwhile, Chad has none of those qualifications, and he applied for the job and got it. We’re so busy as women saying no to ourselves before anyone can say no to us.
Next time you need to pull some confidence out of you, ask yourself, “What would Chad do?”
Creative Director/Photographer @iAmJeffDavidKing / @MamicMedia
What is your favorite pair of Mohalas and how would you style them?
My favorite pair is the Pikake in Guava Mimosa with the extra tall nose bridge. I would style them in the most Vivian way, probably while counting money.