Founder, Kalm Korner
Selected to be part of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color Business Center’s Business Certification Training Cohort 4A/4B and Small Business Marketing Bootcamp
Black-owned, woman-owned, small-batch, premium quality, vegan, plant-based, non-toxic, all-natural, formulated with food, and purpose-driven—that’s the Kalm Korner way.
Founder Kehinde Koyejo is an artist, entrepreneur, mother, and strong supporter of small businesses in her hometown of Oakland, California. When she and other creatives found themselves encountering toxic people and environments, memories of her mother practicing self-care with aromatherapy surfaced and led to the creation of the Artist SelfCare Guide, LLC. The company eventually developed Kalm Korner—a brand of skincare products infused with aromatherapy to combat stress. Today, the line features nearly 20 products that can be purchased individually or as gift sets.
“I tested the market by asking friends in the art scene if I could set up and introduce myself to people,” Kehinde explained. “The brand name began to grow, and people loved the products made with food, plants, and good intentions. We’re a conscious and transparent brand that puts quality over quantity. Our products are specifically designed for stress management. Stress won’t go away, but there are ways to manage it, stay in the game, and move forward without sacrificing oneself.”
In 2019, Kehinde had an opportunity to feature her products in a boutique space for one year, allowing her to sell directly to consumers in person, see who was interested in her products, and have a face and profile for her target market. But with the shuttering of businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she couldn’t maintain the physical location and had to completely retool her business model. Despite those challenging and uncertain times, she stayed the course and kept her faith, which led to a beautiful new website and branding.
“I went exclusively online, tapped into e-commerce, and rebuilt the business because pre-pandemic, I was solely reliant on walk-ins,” Kehinde recalled. “During 2020, I realized that the business is really B2B [business-to-business] because a lot of businesses purchased gift sets and sent them to their staff, clients, participants, and others they were working with. People took advantage of everyone being at home, wanted them to feel appreciated and know that someone was thinking of them. Several businesses ordered 30 to 50 gift sets each during the pandemic and holiday season, so I’ve been focusing my energy on showing up as a gift line, which is where my company wants to be.”
With many skincare companies in today’s marketplace, Kalm Korner has distinguished itself from others by proudly standing by its values and brand pillars.
“I really created this brand for the people in my community and people who I know, so I’m not willing to compromise the quality or integrity of my products,” Kehinde said. “My brand is specifically designed for melanated skin. As an African American woman, I formulated my products for my skin because very few products worked for my skin. My customers share the same values I have around quality and plant-based skincare. They’re the people who buy from me and keep my business flowing.”
Customers also enjoy Kalm Korner’s simple packaging that’s recyclable or reusable.
Kehinde further describes her company as “purpose-driven” as she encourages people to put themselves first and care for one another. From foot soaks, to mists for anxiety, and calming moisturizers, there’s something for everyone.
As a small business advocate, Kehinde has also made it easy for customers to support other black- and woman-owned boutique brands by featuring them in her “Kalm is Queen” collection on her website, an idea she carried over from her boutique space and recreated online.
Kehinde’s success hasn’t been without challenges. She likened accessing resources to pulling teeth and has learned to tap into her network of other small business owners for support. Other challenges include capacity and bandwidth, especially with limited space after having to move the business operations into her home. Kehinde is also a single mother of a six-year-old, whom she has been homeschooling. But there’s also been lots of joy in this journey, especially with being able to spend more time bonding with her daughter.
“I’m training an entrepreneur and one day she will be running this empire that I’m building,” Kehinde said. “She’s already got plans for her own line. She’s learning her numbers by counting products and helping me bake cookies for my other company. She’s learning by living and it’s been amazing to witness. We have a garden, and we grow a lot of herbs we use in our products, so she’s tapping into plants—their names and what their benefits are. No matter where she ends up going and what she does with her life, she’ll have these strong, invaluable skill sets.”
Kehinde learned about the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center through one of the business resource newsletters she subscribes to and took advantage of the Business Certification Training Cohort 4A/4B.
“It really helped me get a view into how that whole process worked,” she explained. “I was able to better understand how the game is being played and know about the opportunities to collaborate with other businesses. You can be a certified business and subcontract to other businesses; that was really a plus for me because I’m always about collaboration and sharing the opportunity.”
Kehinde is currently working on her application and plans to use her certification to get government and national contracts. She also plans to apply for incubator programs, find a mentor, and create a business model that would give opportunities to women of color to sell her products.
To fellow woman entrepreneurs and small business owners, Kehinde offers the following advice: “Don’t give up on yourself. Everything is going to be hard. What keeps me in the game is the fulfillment of having this type of freedom and power to create. When it gets hard, reach out to your community, tap into your network, and expand your knowledge. You can do it. If you want it, commit yourself to it.”