Turned a Stumbling Block Into a Ladder to Success
By Phenomgirl / April 8, 2018
A trip to Kenya changed Grace Eleyae's life. While traveling in Africa, Eleyae's chemical straightened hair endured one of the most common problem that has plagued women of color for years...hair breakage.
Grace Eleyae, chief executive officer and co-founder of the original Slap (satin-lined cap)® decided to create a protective head wear after her hair loss experience. A head wear that's stylish enough for fashionistas to wear outside, particular in cold weather and delicate enough to protect kinky, coily and curly hair strands at bedtime. So Grace dug in; did her research and even sewed the first prototype of the Satin-lined hat herself. Now Eleyae and family runs a million-dollar luxury hair protecting merchandise business that caters to solving hair breakage and customers can look trendy at the same time. Initially, the hats became an instant hit with YouTube hair bloggers; now celebrities like Gabrielle Union, Viola Davis and Loni Love have donned the Grace Eleyae signature Silk-lined hats and uploaded the pics to their Instagram pages.
Grace graciously took the time to answer questions about her journey to becoming and succeeding as an entrepreneur.
did you have
about your hair?
Definitely. I grew up in a predominantly white suburb of Los Angeles and often was the only person of color in many of the rooms I entered. On the soccer team, I wanted my pony tail puff to sway back and forth like the other girls. When I was old enough to choose my hair styles for myself, I never went more than a few hours between braid styles. I never wanted my fine, African hair to be exposed for fear of being different, and not being accepted by the majority.
Before becoming an entrepreneur,
did you have other
I always wanted to eventually start a business, but I assumed I would have a career in the corporate world for 10-15 years. I would probably be working in marketing, PR or journalism for some time before starting anything of my own.
Was there a
satin does protect
hair from damage.
We did a lot of research on different types of fabrics. Women have been using satin to protect their hair for generations, but we wanted to see why it was so beneficial. In learning more about different types of fabric, we realized that most natural substances, like cotton and wool, are moisture-absorbing. And many of those fabrics are used to create bedding and headwear. That means that when we rest our heads against those fabrics, they can suck the moisture right out of our hair and cause dryness, friction, tangles, bedhead, and eventual breakage. Satin is a smooth surface that allows the hair to glide along it. It doesn’t add moisture to the hair, but it does provide a space where moisture can be retained, and hair can grow.
At the start, did you need to acquire
funds, a working space, a team of workers?
My first team was my family actually. The talent I needed to get the slap off the ground was right in my immediate family, which was great. We started out with a $10k credit card and did most of the work in the back room of my parents’ house.
When would you
say was the
started to take off?
The initial influencer who featured the Slap (satin-lined cap)® in 2014, Cloudy Apples, was definitely one of the turning points in the business. The next one that helped us take off was when we discovered Facebook advertising. That’s when we really started to scale.
Can you explain a
the Slap Caps
We started by going through every step of the process: picking up raw materials from Los Angeles, taking the rolls of fabric to the cutter in Orange county, then picking up those cut pieces and taking them to the sewer. We still manufacture more than 75% of our products domestically, but we have more manufacturers who do a lot of that leg work for us.
Grace Eleyae Inc.
is a family run
business. What are
the roles of other
My mom is the CFO, my younger sister is the CMO and my brother’s company does all of our digital advertising.
The highs are really high and the lows can be really low. There are definitely complications, but it’s great that when we win, we all win.
"I want to make sure
I’m giving back
in order to create
opportunities for others."
Grace Eleyae Inc.
has been involved in
Why is this so
important to you?
My parents are both immigrants — my mom is from Kenya and my dad is from Nigeria. Through their struggle living in a completely different country, they created opportunities for me that made what I’m doing today even possible. I want to make sure I’m giving back in order to create opportunities for others.
The company has broadened
it’s satin-lined products
from pillowcases and
scrunches to baseball
hats and berets.
What’s next in
the near future?
We have our summer line launching in June!
What are the 3 most
need to know about
starting a business?
1. Just do it. Don’t be so afraid of failure that you keep yourself from stepping out. If you took a risk and it didn’t pan out, it’s not a failure. The fact that you took that risk means that you’ve learned a little bit more to set you up for the next risk. Failure is not a negative, it’s a learning experience.
2. Find your people. I believe if you find your people you find your destiny. Put yourself in situations and around people who can help advance your cause — that could be mentors, friends, colleagues, and employees. These people can be your focus groups, pep squads, customers, fellow workers, etc...especially in the beginning when it’s so easy to get discouraged and give up.
3. Keep going. It’s really easy to give up when things start getting difficult. I heard a quote once that I use all the time: “Fear and faith have the same thing in common in that they both require you to believe something that hasn’t happened yet.” So choose to keep believing, and keep going. If you need to pivot, pivot. But just don’t stop moving forward.