How did you know it was time to make a change?
I have always felt drawn towards opposites or things that don’t seem like they would go together. In college, I helped build Fashion Fights Poverty, a professional runway event turned nonprofit organization that showcased ethical and eco-friendly designers and benefited organizations that support artisans around the world. I studied international affairs and development with an interest in assisting vulnerable children in conflict zones. My skills were in administration, operations, and event planning. And yet, there was always this scrappy creative side on the backburner. Growing up, my mom would find me in my room repurposing found objects from chopsticks to jewelry and probably also decoupaging something. I wasn’t sure how I would combine all of these together and felt torn between taking a conventional career path or striking out to do something different. I had a job that was life-giving, fun, challenging, and creative at times. However, I felt like I was only using 70% of my potential but was busy 100% of the time, which left little margin to develop the other 30%. My desire was to find an avenue where I could combine my background in development, experience in fashion and operations, and creativity.
Kicheko grew organically starting with the very first market and sale in 2012. I had begun crafting with a few friends and spent time making button earrings out of interesting and fine fabrics. A couple friends asked to buy some pairs and something clicked that this venture had potential to be a business. I began testing the markets on a very small scale through events at my alma mater, GW, and on weekends at my church when opportunity allowed. In 2013, the sales began picking up and my husband and I kept rolling discussions throughout the year about pursuing this in a full-time capacity.
In 2014, we decided to take the leap and build Kicheko! We had budgeted and made changes to our lifestyle to live within our new means and though it was a difficult adjustment, we had measured about 12 months of runway. The fall and winter season will be a good testing ground for how viable this is as a full-time endeavor, and I am very grateful for the support from family and friends. It’s kind of terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time, continuously. We are at a good place in our lives where we have flexibility and freedom.
I believe there is no perfect time but there is a better time to pursue a dream or take a leap. For us, this was the right timing.
What gave you the confidence you needed to move forward?
I believe that there are people in your life who are placed perfectly and love you enough to speak words of life, conviction, and encouragement. A lot of family and friends did just that and even if they did not fully understand how it was all going to work, they got in the boat with us anyway. That was huge for morale.
It was also interesting to discover that men and women in my community were also contemplating their own leaps and actually pursuing small businesses of their own. I felt a solidarity in that. Even though it was incredibly risky and scary peering over the cliff, I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t alone and I think that really instilled confidence.
My husband, James, has also been a pillar of confidence. He is very practically minded and a Myers-Briggs “S” in every sense of the word. However, he has believed in Kicheko and in what I’m doing. He’s supported me at market weekends and been a listening ear for when the business grew too big and hairy for my comfort. He has affirmed and also said the right things to get me back on the field. I am grateful for his partnership in life and also with this business. It’s nice to know there is someone with your best interests at heart that is in your corner every step of the way.
In my spiritual life, I just felt this fullness, freedom, and dependence all at the same time. It’s been a yearlong sense of getting down to basics and understanding my relationship with God in a more intimate way - the gratitude, the wrestlings, the yearnings, the breakthroughs - all of it. It’s amazing what a still, small voice can inspire a person to do.
Who/what inspires you today?
Nature, travel, cities and people.
This year was a year of incredible change, fulfillment, and trial. My dad passed away. We raised enough funds to build a primary school in eastern Congo, which just opened its doors for its inaugural year. A lifelong dream came true and I went on safari. This year, I fell back in love with DC. Each of these things has inspired my spirit in significant ways.
What are you dreaming about now?
I am dreaming of a scenario where I can split my professional time between developing Kicheko, working for an organization where I can learn more about development or social entrepreneurship on a broader scale, and also shaping my side project, Fashion & Philosophers.
For Kicheko, I want to continue this year of discovery of Kicheko’s aesthetic and core inspirations. I see the business reaching this modern, clean and beautiful level of product quality, niche, and impact. This requires stepping up everything from branding to production to merchandising to wholesale. It would be a dream to have Kicheko in stores nationwide. I would also like to collaborate with other brands and shops to develop unique small batch product as well as purvey goods that speak to the wider lifestyle category. And I would also like to include the gents in Kicheko’s offering of products.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Goonies never say die.
Next best piece of advice would be “find a way to include others.” The impact of the business is to benefit others but I dream of when I can do this with others. I would love to work with a team and build Kicheko together. However, working with other creatives and co-working has been sweet in the interim.
The next best piece of advice after that would be “know your strengths.” If you know what you bring to the table, you know what you are skilled in and can naturally do easily. You also are aware of potential pride points. Knowing these helps you identify what areas you don’t know a lot about and can learn and ask for help.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you started?
Great question. Everything! I did not receive formal education in business administration or fine arts. I think a combination of those two fields going into this would have provided more foundational basis for the business. Developing an independent business and understanding accounting, cash flow, technique, production timelines, sourcing, and marketing has been a learn as we go process. A lot of trial and error. Talking to a lot of business owners. Living it and working on it everyday has been my lab so there is an excitement about this whole process of discovery and learning. I feel this has transferred to other areas of life. I just want to know how everything works.
What encouragement can you offer someone who wants to make a change but is apprehensive?
I would say make sure you are going towards something rather than running away from something. That will sustain you when the road gets challenging.
On a super practical level, get some idea of how much capital or cash flow you will need to float your business for at least 6 months. As much as possible, do not build your dream on borrowed funds and have in place a decent amount of runway.
Be honest with where you are at and count the cost. If after all that, you know this is right. Go for it. GO FOR IT! There will always be logical cons that will debate against you taking the leap. Head knowledge and logic only get you so far. A combination of head, heart, hard work, and belief is where the magic happens. I would say go with your gut and take the leap. You can always pivot and recalibrate later.
What book(s) have provided guidance or inspiration for your New Beginning?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry
Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky
Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie