When Khadijah Robinson-Rice was surface-snorkeling on a beach in Aruba, she had to put on a baseball hat to keep her hair extensions from getting wet.
“I was so embarrassed at the time,” said Robinson-Rice, a 2004 business administration and marketing alumna. “I didn’t want my extension and my real hair at the top to separate, and then I [would] look crazy at the beach.”
After speaking with her business partner, Kiana Muhly, a 2003 accounting alumna, the two realized that they needed a product that’s fashionable and can be worn in rainy weather without ruining their hair.
Robinson-Rice and Muhly launched their lifestyle company, Kay & Kay Group, in 2014 to create innovative goods that solve everyday problems, Muhly said. Their first product, Aqua Waterproof Headwear, is a stylish, breathable, compact waterproof piece that can be used in various scenarios in order to protect hair, Muhly said. It was put on the market last year.
In the five years since they’ve launched their company, Kay & Kay Group has stayed in business by applying the experience they’ve gained through their programs at Temple, Muhly said.
The pair met during their freshman year in 2000, both aspiring entrepreneurs, who shared the same English professor. Their friendship blossomed as soon as they connected, Robinson-Rice said.
“We saw each other all the time and kept speaking, walking in [each other’s rooms], saying hi, and we eventually became the best of friends,” she added.
They stayed in contact throughout the years after graduation, and began to brainstorm and expand on the countless ideas they developed, Muhly said.
“A few years ago, we forced ourselves to say that when we come up with something we wish we had, let’s think about it, talk about it, and see if there’s a viable product,” Muhly added.
The two quickly realized many of their ideas were expensive to prototype and therefore decided to start with something that they can do themselves, which would in turn help fund future ideas. That’s how the headwear idea was formed.
“It wasn’t intentional to go into the fashion industry,” Robinson-Rice said. “It was more of an ‘aha’ moment and it led us here.”
From leaving her full-time job in the corporate world and many sleepless and overworked nights, Mulhy said the pair put everything they have into their business.
Most startups do not survive longer than four years with a failure rate of 44 percent, due to lack of market need, according to Small Business Trends.
Many students’ business ideas have a similar problem, as they tend to offer customers something they like, but not something they need, said Greg Fegley, director of the Fox School of Business‘ 1810 Accelerator Program, a program supporting start-ups.
“You need to see if [the product] is a solution to the most painful problem of the target consumer,” he added.
The scariest and most fulfilling moment of their business’ journey so far was positive feedback from consumers, Robinson-Rice said.
“It’s really surreal that it’s actually happening, but at the same time like, wow, this is my life,” Muhly said.
As for future products, Kay & Kay Group promise to “waterproof your entire life” with the list of ideas they hope to put into production shortly, Muhly said.
“This is my heart and my soul, this is me,” Robinson-Rice said. “This is everything I have and ever wanted for my life. To see everything you worked hard for finally come into fruition, words can’t describe.”