Expressing Your Inner Colour

This week’s woman of the week is Catherine Addai, who very recently quit her 9 - 5 corporate job to focus and grow her Ankara based African designs.

Tell us a little about your business. What is it about & why do you do it?

Kaela Kay is a clothing line that focuses on using printed fabrics to design modern, chic, contemporary pieces. Most of the fabric used in my designs is cotton printed fabric called Ankara and is sourced from West Africa.

Kaela Kay is designed for women who want to express their inner colors in an outward way and who want to stand out in a crowd.  Always a conversation starter, our clothes will have women into new realms of rethinking the classics.

It has now grown into a global brand with regular customers who appreciate the craft of handmade, creativity and supporting local businesses.

Catherine Addai

What is the change that you would like to bring to the world?

First off, I want consumers to appreciate that cotton printed Ankara fabrics can be worn all year round - the fabrics aren't only used to design summer clothing.  

Also, I participate in a lot of pop up shops and trade shows because I want to change people's shopping experiences.  I want shopping to become an intimate affair; where, by meeting me, chatting with me, touching and feeling my fabrics and fitting on my designs, consumers get an intimate experience with the brand and with me.  This brings a greater appreciation to the customers when they purchase the garments. I want them to know and feel that they are buying into a story, buying into everyone who helped to make the garment and that they are not just buying clothes. Hopefully, this encourages consumers to continue to support local independent brands and boutiques.

Also through best and ethical production practices where clothes are made locally or in Africa at fair wages.  The clothes are also made with strict production guidelines to help reduce wastage.

What drove you to start this line of clothing?

Woah - the origins question :) I started sewing really out of frustration at not finding my style and aesthetic in department store clothing.  I was tired of wearing the same basics and the same items as everyone else.  I wanted to elevate my own personal style and walk into a room and stand out.  I wanted to show the beauty of the Ankara printed fabrics in a more modern way through the designs.

My mother bought me a sewing machine (God bless her), I bought a pattern and gave it my best shot.  The first dress I made took me a MONTH! But, I was the best-dressed woman at the reception I attended!

When I was on maternity leave with my daughter Kaela, I decided to create a capsule collection with only 4 designs to see how well it would do.  I really thought a few friends would order a few pieces.  To my surprise, it took off like wildfire.  

Fact, the clothing line is named after my daughter Mikaela (Kaela) and myself (Kay).  When I used to sew in the middle of the night, the sound of the sewing machine would put her to sleep; so it is only fitting that I would name it after her and myself.  Her birth made me want to do more, do better and be better.

Ankara based African designs: Kaela Kay

Has anything changed since you started? Have you achieved some of your goals or has something happening in the world to make you want to work even harder?

Yes! So much has changed over the years. The brand's aesthetic is recognized worldwide and has been featured on many major local and international platforms including British Vogue and CNN Opinions.  I have dressed many celebrities, met many customers who have become strong supporters of the brand and won awards including Women's Wear Designer of the year from the African Fashion Week Toronto organization.  I've developed a whole team that now includes a production team, a marketing and social media expert, a PR representative and customer service/administrative support.  All of these roles which I was performing for many years (yelp)!

But most importantly, in October 2017, I officially resigned from my corporate 9-5 to focus 110% on continuing to grow KAELA KAY.  A very difficult but necessary decision and through which I have affirmed that I am on the right path in business.  I'm taking those corporate experiences and I am applying them to my business (can't let those 10+ years go to waste)!

I work hard every day for my family of course; but also for all mompreneurs, She-E-O's and young girls who have a dream of owning their own businesses (mine included).  I want people to look at the structure, dedication, hard work and success of KAELA KAY and recognize that it is very possible for them too to realize their dreams (even if that dream doesn't have a perfect beginning or if they 'fall' into it).

How do you think being a woman of colour has impacted your journey?

In so many ways. First, it has opened my eyes to the sisterhood that exists amongst women of colour in the entrepreneur world.  I have made connections and contracted services from women whom I didn't even know offered those services!  

It has also opened my eyes to the barriers we have to breakdown to get our businesses noticed.  As well received as my brand has been, I have faced challenges in the industry and I have had to convince people to take a chance on me and KAELA KAY.  I've had to work harder not to make my skin colour or the fact that I'm a mom be seen as a distraction - in fact, it's such a blessing. I've had the opportunity to educate people on my culture and my heritage. One of my favorite sayings is 'If they don't offer you a seat at the table, bring your own chair' - I don't know who made the statement, but it speaks volumes.

Most importantly, it has made me so much more aware of how tenacious, hard working, elegant and eloquent we are. Just plain bad ass bosses out here teaching each other and supporting each other.

Have you had a remarkable breakthrough or a win that you would like to share with our readers? We all love hearing success stories! Tell us yours!

I started KAELA KAY not really imagining that it would grow into such a successful brand that would impact my life so greatly.  So quitting my corporate career that I had for 10+ years so I can focus on continuing to build and grow the company wasn't even a thought when I first started the line. Over the years I started saying it and believing it more - I'm going to quit to focus on growing my company.  The more I said it, the more it was affirmed for me and the more I removed doubt and fear from my heart.  I am now officially a full-time mompreneur She-E-O! Plus, it allows me to have an excellent self-regulated work-life balance with my family.

What are your dreams and goals for your line?

Where do I hope the brand will be in 5 years?  Available in curated boutiques in major cities in North America and Europe to make it even easier for consumers to shop the brand and to be a brand recognized all over the world.


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