I had the privilege to interview Kalilah Wright, founder of Mess In A Bottle. Kalilah is such an inspiration as an entrepreneur and as a mom. I am so glad she took time out of her busy day to have a conversation with me. Enjoy, and don’t forget to support Mess In A Bottle.
Christine: How do you balance work and family demands?
Kalilah: I suck at it. But if you ask everyone else, they’ll say I’m great at it. I balance right now by, unfortunately, putting my business first, because my son is three almost four. His demands are high but not as high. Like, when it comes to homework or activities for him. Balance is very difficult, but I try my best. Recently, he wanted to go to the movies and it was a Saturday and I had packages to get out. It was physically impossible for me to take him to the movies and take care of the packages. What could I do? How can I be superwoman and be at two places at once? Once I figured out that was not possible I called my neighbor (who is school aged) and said “Listen my son wants to go to the movies. Would you be available to take him?’’ So, I paid her to take him to the movies. For this balance, it’s one of those things that you realize that you can’t do everything. You have to be able to relinquish some of the responsibilities sometimes and figure out what you can delegate. To find balance, I am running my household as a business. So, it is constant problem solving and figuring things out.
Christine: What does a typical day look like?
Kalilah: My typical day… I get up. I am usually always on my phone. I sleep with my phone in my hand and I usually wake up trying to figure out what I am trying to get done for the day. I check my email to see if I have any pressing things. Then, I connect with my Virtual Assistant to go over all To-do’s. Once I am done, my assistant comes around 10/11am. That is when the t-shirt printing happens. We then work and press through the day. And we then package around 5/6 pm. I am usually running to the post office around 6:58 pm and it closes at 7. I have it to a science when I’m running in the door with 30 seconds left to drop off my packages. Then, I go home to try to make more shirts or most of the time I’m unwinding and trying to make my son dinner around 8 pm. And then, my son hangs out with me, as long as he can stay up.
Christine: So, you print your own shirts?
Kalilah: I do. We print in house. I started my company with under $500 and I actually wrote an e-book of how I did this. I bought a couple machines from Craigslist, one is a heat press machine and the other one is a vinyl cutter. I outsource my designs so I design all my t-shirts in-house and then I have a company that prints the designs and we basically print on demand. So, whenever someone orders a t-shirt, I then print it, package it and send them out.
Christine: That’s Fantastic! So, your days are busy?
Kalilah: Busy is an understatement.
Christine: Well at least you get to know your customer. You are adding a personal touch that you’re adding because you are doing it.
Kalilah: Oh, definitely, I agree. I like it. I’ve spoken to a couple of people and they have suggested us printing with other companies. But right now, I am comfortable. I like printing in-house because I can really over see what is going out the door.
Christine: How do you solve [common problems – productivity, scheduling, marketing, networking, reducing stress]?
Kalilah: You know, I read somewhere that sometimes you work so hard that it doesn’t feel like hard work anymore. Well, that’s me. I am a doer. I have always been a doer. I problem solve and I do. Nothing is impossible for me. I posted a post one day that said “Everything is Figureoutable” and I totally agree with that. And I think that makes me different than others. But I think that is an underlying denominator for Entrepreneurs. Everything should be Figureoutable. You shouldn’t think that something is impossible. There is always going to be something that will fall short. Unfortunately, right now it’s my time with my son. He’s hanging out with my mom in New York right now. Or he ends up hanging with my dad a lot or my grandma or whoever. But those are the sacrifices I am willing to make for our future to be a lot better.
For me, networking and going to a lot of events is crucial for my business. But it depends on who you are and what your product is. Some people are introverts and they won’t do good on the ground and I do. But it is something that I do well. People enjoy me and people enjoy my product. I enjoy all the events and connecting with people and hearing their reaction to my product.
Christine: Yes, that is fantastic! You have a love for this so your love is growing as you connect with all the people that you meet.
Christine: What’s the best advice you ever received?
I think the best advice… I’m not sure if this is advice that was given or advice that I acquired… Stay in your lane. I think it is easy, especially with social media, for people to get distracted and for people to think “oh this is hot, maybe I should gravitate towards what this person is doing.” A lot of people are losing their originality and their creativity because they are busy chasing the dollar. Which, I’m not saying don’t, but just figure out how to do it in a smart way where you are not compromising your brand. I think that a lot of people don’t understand that. I fell victim to that as well. I was looking at other t-shirt designers. And I was like, “Why isn’t my stuff really poppin?” so I started to go in the wrong direction for me and my brand. So, I needed to take a step back, reevaluate and stay in my lane. I told myself, this is what I want my company to be, so this is the road and lane where I need to stay in. So, I decided to do so and it helped get me to where I am because it differentiates me from other t-shirt brands.
Christine: Who are your biggest influences?
Kalilah: I really like Served Fresh. I admire the work they are doing. They stay relevant to pop culture. I also like Arsha Jones’ brand Tees in the Trap, I think she is a staple in this brand. There is another Brooklyn owned company, Gifted apparel. I know the owner and I think their stuff is dope. I think any t-shirt brands that have really cool messages are brands that I gravitate towards.
Christine: How do you handle criticism?
Kalilah: I just shrug my shoulders. I couldn’t care less. They, not my mama! I’m from Brooklyn… Brooklyn has given me really tough skin. Recently someone asked me how I deal with people who criticize me. Why do you worry about that?! Everybody is going to have an opinion, everyone is going to have a thought. Everybody ain’t you. The least of my worries is what someone may think about my work. Now, if I create something that is offensive or distasteful, I definitely care if I offended someone. But if someone says “I don’t like that shirt or I don’t like how it looks” that’s great… figure that out at the church on Sunday. That has nothing to do with me! When I create something, I stand behind it. So, if they don’t like what I’m doing, that’s for them to pray about. That has nothing to do with me. Thankfully, I don’t meet many people that have something negative to say about Mess in a Bottle, but if I do, that’s okay. Too many of us live in a thought or fear thinking, “What if someone doesn’t like this?” That’s alright. Everything ain’t for everybody. And that just means that whatever I created is not for you and that is alright.
Christine: As a mompreneur have there been many stumbling blocks that made you feel that you are not making the right choice to start and grow a business because you are a mom?
Kalilah: I use to work full time as an architect and an as a designer and although my son was younger, it was very stressful for me to figure out time. It was really weighing on me being out of the house for eight hours, then coming home to run a business and caring for my son. All of that can be very difficult and very distracting. Where a lot of moms decide to hold off on starting a business or chasing a dream because they feel that they have to tend to their child or want to have more children. A lot of family factors play a part in women, and I think more than men. It is up to that induvial to really decide what they want and if they are willing to sacrifice certain things for it. Like I said, I may not have days at the park with my son right now, like I would like, but, we have a lot more opportunities that I would like to do with him that will be more important down the line. I think for me with my son, I did not have to choose because I already decided the things I’m chasing with my business, will be beneficial in my son’s life.
Christine: What do you want your legacy to be?
Kalilah: I want my legacy to be This Black Woman that was a creator, that kicked ass and took names after. I want to be known as a person that really did what she wanted without caring about what anybody had to say. The naysayers or the people who just didn’t believe. I do what I want, whether it is something that turns out great or if it is something that I failed at. I want to be known as a person that just tries, whether it’s a success or failure. I know that I tried.
Christine: What’s next for you? Business? Life?
Kalilah: I look forward to growing my business. By the time the year is over I hope to have already proved the concepts of Mess in a Bottle. I look forward to more people wearing the brand and Mess in a Bottle really blossoming. I just look forward to growing. I want it to be a thing that everyone is coming to Mess in a Bottle for a message and to be able to be outspoken and say what they want.
I definitely want to move into a warehouse space or production space. Have several designers on staff, I want to move away from production and fully run a company within the next year.
On a personal end, I just want to continue to organize and hopefully get a nanny in the near future. So, I can really carve out the important time that I want to have with my son.
Christine: Any words of wisdom for moms aspiring to achieve their personal goals?
Kalilah: Don’t let anything stop you! If you have a thought, go after it. As women, we are very reserved and at times worry about how society views us. I want to say “Queens don’t be afraid to rule like a king.” That’s one of my shirts and that is something I live by. As women, we should not be apologetic for being stern, knowing what we want, going after it… our kids will be okay. They are flexible. They are good. They aren’t’ going to hate us… well, they may when they become teenagers, who knows. But we want them to see that mom did it. Whether you have a husband or not. You want them to see that you wanted to be happy and you chased your dream. Too many women and moms sacrifice what they want for family. Some women may disagree with me and say, I want to be a mom and I’m going to 100% dedicate my life to being a mom, and that’s wonderful, but I think that it is encouraging for our kids to see us being the head of our company and running our businesses and having that power.