Q: Please give a brief introduction about yourself and your journey so far.
Hey! I’m Kenya Spears, a creative born and raised in Portland, Oregon. After attending the University of Oregon for a couple of years, I then attended Southern University and A&M College, a HBCU [historically Black college/university] in Louisiana. Throughout my higher education, I discovered my true passion is relationship and community building, specifically for Black and underrepresented women.
Many of my endeavors in college included organizations such as Black Student Union, Black Women of Achievement, community engagement with local schools and students and multicultural recruiting. I guess you can say it was written in the stars for me to do this kind of work!
After graduating, I went on to become a teacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I specially chose Louisiana because I wanted to teach kids who looked like me. Though we came from completely different backgrounds, there were still a plethora of similarities that we all could identify with and learn from one another. When people say teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs you’ll ever have, they mean it. It gave me a chance to incorporate just about all of my interests, and though I was hired to teach, I learned more during that year than I had in my life.
Shortly following my teaching experience, I moved to Dallas, Texas to pursue a career in content marketing. This is where my background in journalism comes into play. It was a startup hair company. Much like my own business, it was quite new, but I used the experience I had there to fuel my own business, which was created in February of that year. I believe working in content marketing truly allowed me to have such great success in my business and bring my college extracurriculars full-circle.
Q: Let’s dig a little deeper into your journey – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I’d say the biggest challenge was the learning curve. I jumped in feet first when I started my business without much research, so there were a few speed bumps due to lack of information. Gratefully, there are and were tons of people who have been in my same position, and are willing to provide support.
The other challenge I face regularly is being consistent with posting content. You’d probably think that comes easily to me since I have experience in storytelling and content creation, but it’s more of a mindset thing honestly. If I’m not in a good place mentally, my production tends to get put on hold. This doesn’t mean I’m not creating, it just means I’m overly intentional and critical of what I put out. The downside to this is the community I’ve built on social platforms starts to dwindle and may forget or worry about where I’ve been, and of course engagement drops. However, I know that’s only temporary. It has allowed me to change my mode of business – I don’t have to drop a new collection just because people want it, but I can always showcase timeless pieces that people have to choose from.
Q: Tell us about your small business, Kloset by Kenya! When did you start it? What inspired you to do it?
Kloset By Kenya was brought to life after several instances of being overlooked, unheard and completely ignored. I wanted to create a brand that catered to women specifically, who have felt or are feeling much of the same things as I did back in 2019. Previously, I had made tutus, T-shirts and other accessories, but never thought to turn it into a business. At the time, I was a first-year teacher and knew this wasn’t my calling. I enjoyed parts of my experience but knew I could really take my business far if I poured my all into it. Since then, I’ve increased visibility, community and revenue by over 1000% and launched multiple marketing campaigns with a focus on Black women activism, SHADES (women of all shades), Black [Her]story and holiday releases. My brand is “Hear her, Her voice is POWER.” Most recently, my SHADES brand which has taken my community by storm is: “women in power. women empower. her voice is power,” which focuses on representation, empathizing and relationship building with other women, and amplifying women’s voices. Every woman deserves to be heard, seen and respected.
The blessing in all of this is that I am able to reach women all over the world who identify with what I’m doing. Women are speaking up, speaking out, learning about themselves and their capabilities and challenging the status quo in their own lives. Women are feeling more confident, part of a community who cares and [are] inspired to do something they’re also passionate about. On the flipside, though, it’s great that my business will always be relevant – the reason behind why it will always be relevant is due to patriarchy, which is systemic. So my whole approach is to continue to be timeless rather than trendy.
Q: What do you love about being an entrepreneur?
I love being able to wake up everyday and create! Whether it’s writing, designing, marketing or even engaging with my community, I get to set the tone for how I want to run my business and the presence it has, especially on social media. I’ve been able to create a community of people, much like She Can Be Both, who identify with my mission and vision. The fact that it came from me putting in work day in and day out makes it that much more beautiful. If you think about it, every single business that we see today started with a person who had an idea. From there, they used their resources and people they confided in to bring their vision to life. It’s their contribution to the world. When I look back 40 years from now, I want to be able to say I bet on myself. I pursued my dreams and passions and executed my purpose here on earth. And through it all, I was able to tell my story and encourage others to tell their own.
Q: You are also passionate about education, diversity and representation and mental health advocacy. Could you dive into those passions and talk about why they are important to you?
As far as education goes, it is the key to attaining what you want in life. I was taught that at a young age, and it is particularly powerful because my ancestors weren’t allowed to be educated. Their oppressors knew how much of a tool education was and is, and it was purposely kept from them to hinder our advancement as a people. There is always something to learn and something to teach. Sometimes, you just have to listen and observe. So I wasn’t surprised when I became a teacher; it almost seemed destined. Present day, I make sure to always incorporate education in everything that I do because the more you know, the more you’ll grow.
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), and representation have been vital for me since learning about them in undergrad. This kind of language wasn’t used when I was growing up, so it was up to me to learn it myself and speak to others about it. Unfortunately, words often get repackaged to incorporate several meanings and lose their essence. When focusing on DEIB, you have to ensure that you are catering to every sense of the word.
Diversity: Variety (race, ethnicity, nationality, lived experiences, etc.).
Inclusion: Language, accessibility, experiences, etc.)
Belonging: Cultivating a culture and community that people can and want to be a part of.
This is everyday work, that even I am not an expert of (yet). I believe we all deserve to have a seat at the table, and if not, we need to build our own.
With representation, it typically starts in the media. Growing up, I had several Black people who I looked up to in the media, especially music. It gave me the confidence that I could do and be a journalist, a creative, a business owner and so much more. Even in 2022, Black women still don’t have the representation that we should. In many of the places we do occupy, we can’t be our whole selves – I guess the world isn’t ready for that kind of greatness. And I say, “We can’t” lightly; I fully believe and know that we can, will and do, but the world continues to attempt to silence us day in and day out.
My response? Be who you are, wholeheartedly. Show up as your whole selves, and if people don’t like it? So be it.
Q: How do you find a good work-life balance?
By changing my perspective – we were taught that the term is “work-life balance,” when in fact, it should be “life-work balance.” We work to live, not the other way around. After I’ve shifted my mindset, I make sure that my mind is protected in everything I do. Being able to take breaks, switch my focus and have moments to myself throughout the day is how I manage.
Q: What are your future plans or long-term goals?
In the future, I plan to continue building a community of underrepresented women and educating and mentoring women and girls of future generations. I want the primary focus of my business to be about advocacy and community engagement, so I am beginning to build those aspects of it currently. I want to create a safe space for women, similar to a coworking space, but with a little more structure. The field I’m in is one that will never go away, fortunately unfortunate. But, since I can’t change the fact that patriarchy exists and minimizes our existence as women, I will do everything in my power to educate others, and try my hand at eradicating it.
Q: What advice would you give other women based on your experiences?
Walk in your truth. Be who you are, wholeheartedly. Always be willing to be the student rather than the teacher. Even if you fall 10 times, have the courage to stand up 20. Nothing in life is linear, so don’t be surprised when life throws you a curveball; just know how to swing. Have faith; it’s the first step toward success.