Fashionistas have been making a statement through their style choices for decades now. Graphic t-shirts have always been popular; particular the African American culture. Graphic tees were a way of expressing our thoughts and interests in a creative, artistic way. Now, graphic tees are a movement. Rather than simply being a walking billboard for your favorite characters (who remembers the famous quote used by Martin Payne and Gina “You Go Girl/Boy” that was placed on t-shirts in the 90s?), as of late, the graphic tee has been used to make a statement, especially when it comes to politics or even walking motivation.
Kalilah Wright’s background is in architecture; however, “fashion is her passion.” While many dream to achieve the six-figure salary that once cushioned Kalilah’s purse; she chose to leave it all behind for a higher calling… Entrepreneurship and Artistic Expression. Below, she divulges the highs and lows along that journey.
Q. Your background is in engineering. What made an engineer break into fashion?
A. I enjoyed the technical side of architecture, but my creativity always remained on the forefront. A lot of the young ladies in my high school ventured into fashion; and though I loved fashion, I wanted a profession that would teach me design as a whole. Going to college for architecture brought things full circle; in which, I use my architectural skills to aid me in designing apparel.
Q. Where did the mess in a bottle concept come from?
A. Mess in a Bottle derived from the 310 B.C. concept of receiving a message in the ocean. In 2015, Freddie Gray died while in police custody and I created MESSages as a form of communication to give a voice to those who felt like they were voiceless.
Q. What made you leave your six-figure income for entrepreneurship?
A. I left my six-figure job as an architect, because though architecture was my first love, fashion was my passion. I didn’t know I was an entrepreneur until I realized I found more joy in creating messages that people would relate to than buildings. In 2016, I took the leap of faith by starting Mess in a Bottle.
Q. What successes and pitfalls have you faced?
A. I faced many successes and pitfalls. One of my highest moments was meeting Mark Cuban on national television in 2017, one year after leaving my nine-to-five. One of lowest was being in an armed robbery at the end of 2017.
Q. Do you need a loan in order to make it as a start up?
A. It depends on the kind of start up. I started my t-shirt company with less than $500. I used capital loans from shopify and PayPal to grow my business.
Q. Define hustle.
A. Hustle is hard work, determination, mixed with resilience and perseverance. It’s knowing when to take a break but knowing not to quit.
Q. How do your shirts and messages inspire women? Was that the initial goal?
A. Women gravitate to the messages. This was not intentional, but the shirts are created by a black, immigrant professional. My struggle relates to many. The voice of the brand is very relatable.
Q. We’ve seen celebrities such as Serena William’s and Lena Waithe in your gear. How did it feel when celebrities started wearing your brand?
A. I have a shirt that says “keep creating dope ass shit until someone notices.” After I started receiving national and international recognition, I felt, “finally! They are noticing.”
Q. What five tips would you give to women who may be afraid to step out on faith, leave that nine-to-five and pursue happiness through entrepreneurship?
A. First, START. Second, Have a plan C-Z. Life will come at you fast and you will have to make many decisions as an entrepreneur. Third, Lay your foundation of your business and make sure it’s solid. Fourth, Figure out what makes you happy within your business; so on the days when things are not that great, you’ll remember your why. And finally, Hold on for the ride, it’s going to be a bumpy one!