Black Woman Owned is a limited series highlighting black woman business owners who are change-makers and risk-takers in their respective realms. As founders, these women dare to be bold, have courage in being the change they wish to see in the world, and are unapologetic when it comes to their vision. These black women aren't waiting for a seat, they are owning the table.
Sometimes DIY goes beyond being crafty with items you find around the house or being exceptionally enterprising with a pair of scissors and a glue gun. The "Do It Yourself" mentality can become a foundational ethos for entrepreneurs looking to build something great out of everyday commodities.
Due to her struggles with alopecia, Kim decided to undergo a big chop in her college dorm room in 2010, and she solicited the help of her now-husband, Tim Lewis, to do the job. "[Tim] was like, 'Kim, I'm not gonna cut your hair.' But he left me low on one side of my head so there was no looking back from there," she recalls laughingly. With kid's craft scissors in hand, little did the two know that as one journey was ending with Kim's hair, a new path would soon emerge because of it.
Image courtesy of Kim Lewis
Back then, there was one place on the web you could find a collective of Black women transitioning from their relaxers to embracing their natural textures: YouTube. As Kim navigated the early days of her natural hair journey, she turned to natural hair gurus as a guide to make her own products from her dorm room. As she began growing her hair out and experimenting with different styles, she couldn't step outside without being asked about the secret behind her curls. "Women would flag me down on Michigan Ave. [in Chicago] and be like, 'Oh my gosh, what is in your hair? How do you get it like that?'" Kim recounts. Then something clicked. "I finally got the bright idea to put [the products] in a box and give people a kit to make their own haircare products at home." So in 2015, Kim launched CurlMix as a do-it-yourself subscription box for curly-haired women to develop their perfect wash n' go, straight from home.
Although the kit was well-received among their customers, a star product was rising in the form of their flaxseed gel. Noticing its popularity, Kim remained nimble and pivoted their entire business to solely focus on their bestseller. Her agility paid off, making the flaxseed gel the brand's "hero product," earning them their first million dollars in revenue, and positioning them toward the forefront of the industry.
Today, Kim and Tim are on a mission to build "the Black Procter & Gamble" for underserved markets through Listeners Brand, the parent company of CurlMix, and another of their brands, 4C Only. This spring, the duo launched an equity crowdfunding campaign for CurlMix, inviting their community to become angel investors in the initiative. In just a few short months, the campaign has raised more than $5 million, with more than 8,000 investors contributing.
For Kim, the vision is clear: Build the first black-owned public beauty conglomerate and put the power back into the hands of her people. "I want my community to come up with me. My goal is to help people get a return on their investment and create generational wealth for their families." United by her village, it looks like that dream will come true sooner than she thought.
xoNecole: Your company, Listeners Brands, recently announced an equity crowdfunding campaign that offers shares to the public via crowdfunding. Take us through the vision behind this, especially in terms of building generational wealth?
Kim Lewis: As Black women, we all experience that when we get so excited about a brand, we rally behind it, we go and buy out the shelves in the store, and then, when they sell, we don't get anything for it. It's two things to that: On one side, businesses are in business to make money and to have acquisition. That's just how things go. But then, pair it with Black people being used by the system over time and not being able to keep wealth because people are keeping it from us or not allowing us to get it when we help to create value somewhere and one person gets to benefit from it, even though we all participated. Every time you purchase a product, you're creating value because you're creating revenue for the brand. A brand's evaluation is solely based on its revenue. It's the consumers that build the brand.
So for me, I was like man, if we ever sell our company—if we ever IPO—our customers won't get anything and they're the ones creating this value. And I wanted to open up my investment realm to them instead of making some rich person richer. I really wanted my community to come up with me, so if we make money, you make money.
You were also featured on 'Shark Tank'! We’ve seen other Black-owned businesses on the show who have either walked away from a deal, or investors just didn’t see the vision. What was your biggest lesson from being on the show?
I had a good experience on the show. It was the hardest thing that I've ever done. You're preparing for a long time, changing your pitch multiple times, and you have to go in a room to prove your worth to a couple billion dollars in net worth. That is a lot of pressure. I can see why some people end up just bawling on TV. I practiced so much because I just didn't want to cry.
For anybody who wants to go on the show in the future, I would say, do as many pitch competitions as you can. I pitched in maybe 20 to 30 pitch competitions and never actually won any money. But I got connected with investors. I've met people. So many good things came from it, but I just did not get any checks. So I hope this encourages someone who feels like, dang, I keep doing these and I'm not winning anything. What you win is the practice. And you get better at pitching, so when a Shark Tank comes up, you're ready. When Good Morning America calls you, you're ready. Pitch as much as you can, and practice until you know your pitch in your sleep.
"Do as many pitch competitions as you can. I pitched in maybe 20 to 30 pitch competitions and never actually won any money. But I got connected with investors. I've met people. What you win is the practice. And you get better at pitching, so when a Shark Tank comes up, you're ready. When Good MorningAmerica calls you, you're ready. Pitch as much as you can, and practice until you know your pitch in your sleep."
Image courtesy of Kim Lewis
You’re in business with your husband, Tim. What have been some of the keys to making your business and marriage work when your spouse is your business partner?
I remember talking to a woman who was getting married, but she wasn't sure if her husband should be involved in her business. We got on the conversation of if you had to pick your man or your business, which would you choose? And I was like, "My husband," and she was like, "Really? I would pick my business." And I was like, "Oh no." Our business is important, but our relationship and marriage are the most important. So we can always do this [business] again, but we're not going to find the love of our life again. And we know that the only reason why this works is because we've been together and on the same mission for so long. I would always pick [Tim]. When you realize that you're playing for the same team, you're working towards the same goals, and that you two could get there twice as fast together, it just makes everything work together and it makes for a happier life.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about branching out and taking that leap into entrepreneurship?
One of the things that I did that I don't recommend is I started a business because I hated my job. I think if you hate your job, you should find a job that you love and figure out what you want to do along the way. Then find a problem that actually needs to be solved—like true problems that people are willing to pay you to solve. You really have to be solving a problem that people have and not just go into business because you want to be.
I've done the business where I've spent a lot of money on inventory and tried to fill it later. And I've also done the business where I did pre-orders and sold out before I knew how to make it and preserve it long-term, so those are two different experiences. You can also be self-employed, you're working for yourself and you don't have a whole team of people under you. I think it's important for people to know that they have options and that whether you decide to be self-employed, run a business that's a beast or run a small consulting firm, those are options to you, make sure that you're solving a problem someone is willing to pay your for, not just because you hate your job.
Featured image courtesy of Kim Lewis
Aley Arion is a writer and digital storyteller from the South, currently living in sunny Los Angeles. Her site, yagirlaley.com, serves as a digital diary to document personal essays, cultural commentary, and her insights into the Black Millennial experience. Follow her at @yagirlaley on all platforms!
Whether it was your group chat, social media feed, or your favorite media outlet covering the spectacle, I’m pretty sure you’ve come across the viral Black wedding between actress KJ Smith (Sistas, Raising Kanan) and actor Skyh Black (All the Queen’s Men, Sistas). From their grand entrance to Jay-Z, Kayne West, and Beyoncé’s song “Lift Off” to KJ’s standout dance routine and the endless celebrity appearances, it’s an addictive TikTok scroll you can’t help but delve into.
But what many people would be surprised to know is that the couple’s original wedding plan was nothing like what it grew to be. What started as her simply scrolling through posts to get ideas eventually transformed into what the internet knows now as #TheBlackExperience. In an exclusive conversation with xoNecole, KJ walked us through her planning process, the morning of her wedding, and what she thinks of the online response.
Some women have their whole wedding planned out, from the bridal gown and venue to the bridal party and playlist. However, KJ was not one of those people. “I didn’t foresee a wedding in my future,” she reveals. “I was just gonna be the boss chick, rich auntie. I didn’t force love in my life until recently. I never had an idea of what a dream wedding would look like, it was easier for me to elope.”
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
And to many people’s surprise, that was their original plan – until Skyh brought up a valid concern. He was raised by his grandmother and thought she should be at the wedding, and naturally, that led to KJ wanting her grandmother to be there as well – then her mom – and later her sister – and, you’ve gotta invite the besties too, right? From there, the guest list continued to blossom. Much like the updo and pop of color bold red lip, she wore on her special day, which was initially on her Pinterest board as a soft glam look with her hair hanging on her shoulders, KJ is okay with changing her plan if it brings her and her loved ones happiness.
So let’s get into the wedding, which took place in Malibu, CA. The first thing you should know about the celebrity couple is that they’re non-traditional. They know, and they don’t care. So, in true unconventional fashion, they shared the morning of the wedding together.
“I woke up with Skyh, we walked our dog, had black coffee, and said good morning to the people who stayed at the venue with us,” she says.
Now, it was time for hair and makeup. While she was getting glammed up, she had Black-owned McBride Sisters wine and champagne (which ties into The Black Experience theme) on deck with her mom and friends, had her besties help rework her vows, retried on every outfit (sis is very Type-A), took photos, and ended the early-celebration with prayer and meditation. It seems very non-Bridezilla, I said.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company,” she explains. “The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
Things moved quickly, and before she knew it, it was time to line up to walk down the aisle.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company. The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
KJ Smith and her bridal party
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
Since everything started with their grandmothers, the couple wanted to ensure they honored them and planned to keep an element of their wedding traditional. Although we’ve all seen the reception videos and photos online, you may have noticed visuals from the wedding itself are harder to find.
“We planned for it to be traditional, but we’re not like that, so we tried to create those moments. We jumped the broom and had a salt ceremony (where the bride and groom individually pour salt into a glass container, symbolizing their lives becoming one.) But honestly, still, nothing was traditional about it.”
She goes on to explain that her mom caught the holy ghost coming down the aisle, her glam team was on deck, and she became so nervous with excitement that she had an anxiety attack – something she struggled with for years, she explains tearfully. Her friends had to literally cheer her down the aisle because of how overwhelmed she felt until she eventually calmed down.
“Skyh was standing there with his hand on his heart; we have our own little language, and I could feel the support,” she shares.
It was surprising to hear all these emotional moments happened before the party we saw online. That is until she once again got into the backstory.
“As a Black woman actress, for so long, it was popular to be mysterious and secretive, but that’s not who I am or what I like. Plus, we both wanted to create an experience for everyone there. We are the people who always host family and friends,” she says. “Like for me, the first order of business was getting sandals for the women so they can dance all night long. We had oxtail, D'ussé, and a coffee and sativa lounge – which is part of Skyh and I’s lifestyle and routine. We wanted to bring them into our world.”
Skyh Black (L) and KJ Smith (R)
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
She went on to discuss the dance routine she did for her husband at the reception, which has taken over the internet. Apparently, that’s another thing that didn’t go according to plan. According to KJ, she had promised a performance at their joint bachelor/ bachelorette party, but her outfit got stolen from her car. So, Skyh ended up performing for her – complete with a strip tease. Still, she never forgot her promise to dance for him.
So, she hired her friend as a choreographer, learned the routine, made friends and family watch it endless times, and attended Beyoncé’s Renaissance show a few days before for a confidence boost. It ended up being a show to remember. But that wasn’t all the night offered. Lil Mo performed, and the guests received special goody bags featuring their favorite Black-owned products like journals, hair care, and more.
“We made sure everyone was taken care of all night. That kind of stuff makes us happy. I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives,” she says.
But naturally, the internet is going to internet, and while there were countless people praising the event and applauding the newlyweds, some thought it was too over the top. I was curious to know her thoughts on some of the criticism.
“It’s cool. We did what we wanted to do. I’ve decided to share my world with people. Just how I went on social media platforms and found inspiration, I want people to do the same,” she explains. “I don’t think it's fair to my supporters not to give that out. There’s so much I wanna share with brides, specifically Black brides. I love that people are adding it to their Pinterest boards."
"I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives."
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
“I’m happy with it because we did what we wanted to do. They can do what they wanna do. Don’t be cruel, though, because you will get blocked,” she said, laughing.
The more I spoke with her, the more her sense of freedom shined through. People are always going to have their opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s you who has to live your life, and it seems like the couple realizes that and embraces that power. She also stressed the importance of not living for others and the lessons life has taught her.
“I’ve been to countless weddings, and I’ve been in countless weddings. I’m a generally older bride. So when women in my demographic get married, and you and your husband are busy working people like us, you deserve to have the one you want to have,” she shares.
“This is what we wanted to do. Our loved ones love and support us. We did so much to honor them, but we also wanted to start our own tradition, legacy, and creation. I'm not going to be pulled back into ideas of the past when I’m trying to create a future with my partner. “
If you’d like to see more of the couple, you probably won’t have to wait long. Although no content is planned yet, she admits to being an oversharer. “Me being open and transparent about my experiences lets people know it’s okay to have flaws; it makes you human, and for many years, I didn’t believe that was okay. I had pressure to be perfect, and I’d crumble every time,” she explains to xoNecole.
Now, she owns her flaws and uses them as a superpower to connect with her community and feel and express her love.
“Some people give us [Skyh and KJ] a hard time because they say we just seem too perfect. I’m like, why is that a bad thing? I love the people I love. From my man to my mama, to my friends - unabashedly. We move through time and space how we want to move. If we did it another way, we’d let ourselves and our union down.”
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Feature image by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
Aoki Lee Simmons Recalls Being Talked About For Her Looks As A Child & Where She Stands With Her Dad
It's hard to grow up underneath the harsh light and the scrutiny of the public eye. Add a supermodel mogul mom, a media mogul dad, reality TV shows, and Baby Phat runway shows to the mix, and you'll have a taste of what it was like for Aoki Lee Simmons growing up in the limelight. All that glitters isn't gold, and personal challenges don't discriminate against tax brackets.
Earlier this year, Aoki made headlines alongside her mom, Kimora Lee Simmons, as they publicly revealed what they had been going through privately as a family. Amid Russell Simmons' rape and sexual misconduct allegations, he is also estranged from the family, which all came to a head following a public dispute about Father's Day. Aoki supported her mother's claims that Russell had allegedly threatened their lives and also posted a recording of a video call between the two where he could be seen yelling at Aoki. She also told the public how damaging their conversations and relationship had become for her mental health.
Aoki would eventually stand by her truth in the days that followed, posting to her Instagram account, "Until a short time ago, this is the man who told me 'always defend and look after your mother girls' and 'never let a man curse at you, you call daddy if a man ever tries to yell at you or scare you that's never ok! Real men don't shout at women and girls." She added, "So to all the toxic men in my comments using 'I'm defending him' to be foul and talk about all the grievances you have with women, you can save it. It's pathetic. He would agree I know that for sure."
Despite navigating troubling times as a family, Aoki had an incredible year so far in terms of achievements. Alongside her part-time pursuit of modeling, she was able to graduate from Harvard University with a double major. At 20 years old at the time, she stands in history as one of the youngest Black women to accomplish such a win. One of her latest career moments can be found on the September cover of Teen Vogue.
The now-21-year-old spoke candidly about reading online about her looks as a kid, the advantages of being a "nepo baby," and where she stands on what happened with her dad.
Aoki on her looks being scrutinized and critiqued at a young age:
“At the time, I was reading a lot of crazy stuff: 'Poor her, she got the dad genes.' There were literally articles like, ‘Celebrity Kid Gone Wrong’ — and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m 11.’"
On benefitting from being a nepo baby:
“It’s totally true. I had no idea if I’d do modeling without my family, without their name helping me. I sometimes think when I look at shows or shoots — if I had done it, and it was that bad, and I was not me, would I get another shot? Would I have had the chance to develop the way that I have?”
“All you can do is be grateful and try to stay in your lane a bit."
Aoki on having no regrets about exposing her fractured relationship with her dad online:
“I don’t regret it. Part of it was already out there. There were reasons I thought it was reasonable to publish, because it was playing out in, like, a silent bubble.”
To read the cover story in full, head over toTeen Vogue.
Featured image by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows