THE VIRTUALLY FREE PODCAST
I was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My personality is friendly, strong work ethic, and great professional skills that makes her the hustler she is today. I graduated from Framingham State University with Bachelor’s in Fashion Design and Merchandising, a year after I graduated from Cambridge College with a Master’s degree in Business Management. While earning my degree I gained invaluable experience in the business/financial and Fashion Industry with working at different departments at Cambridge Savings Bank and many merchandising companies such as Motherhood Maternity, Tommy John, Spanx, Echo Design and Fossil Group.
While in Framingham State University, I was in the Fashion Club and Black Student Union Club where I was able to meet new people and gain and learn a new experience in both groups with a different diverse of people. I knew I always had a passion for fashion from in middle school and new I wanted to be a Fashion Designer. I looked up to Fashion Designers like Kimora Lee Simmons and Betsey Johnson. I love their unique different styles and just two successful entrepreneurs who are making it in the fashion world and continuing to grow. My dream is to possibly meet both of them one day, even maybe do some business together.
At the present time, I am working as a Merchandise Coordinator for Tommy John inside of Macy’s and Nordstrom within the Boston Area. I also owned my own t-shirt line business called Girls Chronically Rock which was inspired by myself because I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy back in graduate school so I wanted to make something inspirational, motivating for people who may have a chronic illness like myself or may be battling anything in their life, to let them know that they rock no matter what. With the wonderful work experiences over the years, I am really just an easy-going person where sometimes I love to be at home watching lifetime movies or many of my tv shows that I love to watch on a daily basis. I like spending time with family and friends whether its traveling, going out to eat and going to special events.
Through my education and work experience, I have gained the knowledge and skills necessary to excel as a Fashion Designer and Visual Merchandiser. I am both qualified and eager to strive at my business Girls Chronically Rock and continue with dedication, and I know my hard work will pay off and I will reach my goals. I will soon hope to have my t-shirt line sold in department stores such as: local boutique stores, Macy’s, Karmaloop Foot Locker and many more.
CONNECT WITH KEISHA
Amy Demone: Perfect. Welcome back to today’s episode of Virtually Free. Today, I have with me Keisha Graves. Welcome.
Keisha Greaves: Yeah, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Amy Demone: I’m really excited to speak to you today. You’re our very first entrepreneur spotlight speaker, although I guess all the podcasts are the same, but I’m very excited to chat with you. Why don’t you start this little interview by explaining what it is you do and kind of how long you’ve been doing it, and the inspiration behind your company.
Keisha Greaves: Sure, of course. Well, so I have a t-shirt line called Girls Chronically Rock and it was inspired by, because when I was in graduate school back in 2009, 2010, I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a chronic illness where it affects my muscles, all the way up from my arms, all the way down to basically my feet.
Keisha Greaves: I’ve always been into fashion design and merchandising. I went to school actually for fashion design and merchandising at Framingham State University, and got my master’s at business at Cambridge College. While I was there, that’s when I started to get symptoms of my diagnosis. Then I started to get different testing.
Keisha Greaves: With all that, fast forward a few years later, I just wanted to make something like inspirational, something that just means a lot to me. I wanted something with the word “chronic” in it, meaning like for chronic illness. I was like, “Ooh,” and then I just magically just thought, “Girls Chronically Rock.” I was like because no matter what we may be battling, what we may be going through, whether it be a chronic illness or just have a bad day or just dealing with something on a regular basis it’s like we rock regardless, and we can accomplish and do everything we want.
Keisha Greaves: The line consists of different, many designs, so it has the Girls Chronically Rock on some shirts, but I actually have some that’s called like Trust Your Dopeness, where I thought of that, just to kind of trust and believe in yourself. Just trust your ability, trust your creativity to do whatever you want. That actually comes in both women and men.
Keisha Greaves: Then I actually just recently added one Chronically Dope. I added one called Walk With a Twist, which I just thought of that because I feel like we all have our own signature walk. I walk with a cane. Some people just assume maybe because you may look normal, may not, your illness may not be that visible, it’s like they don’t really know what you’re dealing with, so I just thought of Walk With a Twist. I’m always coming up with different designs to add to the website so yeah, I love it. That’s where I’m at right now with that.
Amy Demone: It sounds so cool. I’m actually just learning about like the inspiration behind it, like with, alongside you guys, audience members. I’m just like, “Whoa! This is actually so amazing.” I also love, love, love, love like business names, kind of like catch lines all that stuff that have like dual meanings. Like Girls Chronically Rock is like the dopest. I love it.
Keisha Greaves: Aw, thank you.
Amy Demone: You’re welcome. Because this is kind of like a special kind of insight into what it’s like to kind of really build your business, could you kind of give some insight into how long you’ve been running Girls Chronically Rock?
Keisha Greaves: Sure. Girls Chronically Rock actually started, I want to say in 2016. I was mostly selling it on like Etsy, so it’s kind of like new. I did have different … It was always Girls Chronically Rock but I did have a different logo at the time working with a different graphic designer but I, although I liked it, I know it always, I needed more.
Keisha Greaves: Like the logo at that time wasn’t really satisfying me. It wasn’t like, it didn’t jump out. I was just kind of more like, “Ahh.” Then Etsy, I kind of said like, “Yes, I love Etsy,” but it wasn’t, I felt like I needed a legit website and I needed to rebrand and revamp and kind of get it to where I want it to be.
Keisha Greaves: It was last year, actually June, so it’ll be a year this June, was when I first launched my website. I worked with this amazing guy and he did my design for me, my logo and everything, got my t-shirts printed. He helped me design the wonderful website and gave my website the vision and look that I wanted. Yeah, that’s where, so yeah, it will be a year this June that I actually launched the website. Then, as I said, Etsy before.
Amy Demone: Amazing. Well, congratulations.
Keisha Greaves: Thank you.
Amy Demone: Launching websites are huge, especially e-commerce ones.
Keisha Greaves: Yes.
Amy Demone: Like those are a big ordeal, so congratulations.
Keisha Greaves: Definitely, yes. Thank you.
Amy Demone: One thing I would love to kind of talk to you about, let’s take, since, let’s use June of last year as kind of that starting point. I know you were in business a little bit longer but this is, you dived head first, you got on your own commerce platform. Also a huge fan of Girl Boss, and you know like there, that’s when you started to blow up, when she got her own website, right?
Keisha Greaves: Yes.
Amy Demone: Since then, since that’s happened, what’s the biggest hurdle that you’ve experienced in your business so far?
Keisha Greaves: Well, of course, it’s always different challenges I’m facing all the time because what I realize is what I may think is maybe fashionable and what I may think was, that I love, a lot of customers, I’m realizing may like more of like a simpler, more basic graphic, where I like a lot of colors, I like things to pop. I’m realizing some customers may like things a little bit more simpler. Those are different things I’m challenging, and I love now on Facebook when you can do kind of like a voting poll of what people may like.
Keisha Greaves: I love that, because I did that a few times and it actually, what I may thought, “Oh, people may like this,” more voters voted for the other one, so I kind of like that. I’m like, hey, so then once I’m doing this voting poll, then I’m going back to my graphic designer and say, “Hey, let’s do this one, let’s do these colors.”
Keisha Greaves: Those are different challenges I’m facing at the moment, with just trying to, figuring out … I guess it’s kind of like a, not a challenge, but not a challenge because it’s kind of like keeping me busy because at the end of the day, it’s like I want my customers to be happy. They are the one that are buying it, so it’s like I want to make sure I’m producing and making a design that they want, so those certain things.
Keisha Greaves: Another challenge I’m finding is I’m just, been trying to reach out to different local boutiques like in the area like Cambridge, where I live. Just different local stores but also big department stores also. Like I’ve been reaching out to Target, Macy’s, and just trying to have them possibly look at my line and see if maybe they would sell it in their department store in a section. Because I can totally see it in Target and especially Macy’s with the different graphic, funky designs I have on my shirts. Those are things right now. I’ve been like every day emailing and just trying to hopefully, keep my fingers crossed with the response.
Amy Demone: Awesome.
Keisha Greaves: Yeah.
Amy Demone: What is it like owning a t-shirt company in 2018?
Keisha Greaves: I love it. Although I know there are other people out there with chronic illnesses that are selling t-shirts as well, so I definitely feel like I have competition, but not so much because I feel like mine’s is more different like designs, where opposed to them, they may be a little bit more simpler. As I mentioned before, that’s also what customers may like. These are all things too I’m learning through them as well, where I may go to my competitor’s page, and look, “Well, hey, oh, these customers are really gravitating towards this shirt, and I wonder why.” Those are things too I have to like spy and look at and see what exactly I may need to change.
Keisha Greaves: I honestly love it and love what I’m doing. I love and breathe this now and eventually, when I do start to make the revenue that I want, I wouldn’t have to work my other job. This will just be my main focus and just like, hopefully just make it big and have it in, eventually, the department stores I would like such as Macy’s and Target, which is my main goal.
Amy Demone: That’s awesome. I actually didn’t know you were doing, this was your quote, unquote side hustle.
Keisha Greaves: Yes.
Amy Demone: I hate that word though, like I do hate that word because I think it downplays a little bit, like it means like, “Oh, my main focus is somewhere else” But , congratulations. That’s awesome.
Keisha Greaves: Well, hey, this really is my main job though, so …
Amy Demone: Yeah. It’s what you’re committed to, right?
Keisha Greaves: Exactly.
Amy Demone: Helping you pay the bills.
Keisha Greaves: Right, exactly. Pretty much.
Amy Demone: Oh, we’ve all been there.
Keisha Greaves: Right.
Amy Demone: What’s, so we talked kind of about the struggle that you, like some struggles that you had, but what’s like a really big win you’ve experienced in your business? Because I love celebrating those. We kind of under, or not under, but downplay wins, especially in the beginning of our business. Because we don’t, we’re like, “Well, it’s going to happen.” It would, but like the reality is, it takes a lot of hard work for you to like make these accomplishments. Why don’t you share like, “A big win for me.”
Keisha Greaves: Sure. A big win for me is, because I like to look at different people where my audience would attract. There’s this one girl I follow on Instagram, her name is India. She’s awesome. She has a chronic illness. She has something called Lupus, so she has an amazing following, probably like 2.2 million followers. I’m like, you know what? She has great fashion sense. I said, “Let me reach out to her and see if possibly she would wear my t-shirts with a promotion. I totally can see her in these shirts.”
Keisha Greaves: I ended up sending her possibly three of my t-shirt designs. The first one she posted with just, it’s called, “Hello, my name is chronically ill badass,” which that seems to be my bestseller. I sent that to her, and just from her posting that on her Instagram stories, I had like maybe six orders within that first hour, so I thought that that was amazing just from her, because she’s such a great marketing network. She has a huge following.
Keisha Greaves: I mean, she’s so open with her chronic illness with Lupus, so open about it. Like she’s just amazing and just so raw. Posts videos and pictures of her in the hospital, and just things she deals with. I really do admire her for that, so just, I felt like that was a big win for me. Because I’m like, “If only, I should have sent these shirts to her before.”
Keisha Greaves: Now when I do add different t-shirts to my line, she’s the main person now I’m going to send my shirts to, because I feel like she’s doing me a favor and it’s awesome. Because at the end of the day, yes, I may not have Lupus but I can totally relate to something she may be challenging and she can relate to my line, so I totally thought that was awesome.
Amy Demone: Absolutely.
Keisha Greaves: Yes.
Amy Demone: That win, there’s just so much in that one.
Keisha Greaves: Yeah.
Amy Demone: You sound fearless AF, let me say. Which is amazing because I’m not and-
Keisha Greaves: Oh, stop.
Amy Demone: No, I feel like I was held back for such a long time because I was like, “Well, what are they going to think? What are they going to this …” You’re, here’s you, just like, “I’m going to send someone with two million followers …” I’m like, “Damn, girl, you got this.”
Amy Demone: It’s also kind of, like it sheds light, like that situation really sheds light on the power of social media as well as how important it is for your business, especially in 2018. Especially amongst like the younger generation too. Because like we’re not, like we’re both millennials, right? You’re a millennial.
Keisha Greaves: Yes.
Amy Demone: Yeah, so like it’s different than our, the other generations out there.
Keisha Greaves: Of course.
Amy Demone: Like congratulations. That’s so cool. I’m totally going to get the name from you afterwards of her, because I want to go check it out.
Keisha Greaves: Yes.
Amy Demone: Tell the audience what’s next for you and Girls Chronically Rock.
Keisha Greaves: What’s next for me with Girls Chronically Rock is I’m going to continue to hustle and grind. Every day, I’m going to continue to email these different department stores, such as Macy’s, Target, Karmaloop, Buffalo Exchange. Just where I kind of see my line being sold at. I even, been reaching out to different gyms like Equinox, Gold’s Gym, because I kind of feel like some of my stuff …
Keisha Greaves: Because dealing with chronic illness is also too, I feel like I can see a lot of people in the gym possibly buying the shirts. That’s just my vision in my head, so I’m just going to continue to honestly, continue to email these different stores, and hopefully, keep my fingers crossed with a response and kind of go from there. Also too, just targeting say people with huge following that my audience may be attracted to. Like how this, I sent it to her, she has Lupus. Possibly send it to another person that has a huge following.
Keisha Greaves: I’ve honestly been reaching out, to honestly, some celebrities that I admire. Honestly, to one Instagram too, and hopefully they might respond. I had emailed them a few times, then letting them know my story, and giving them the link to my website. Hopefully, keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll respond as well. That’s kind of where I’m at, and I’m just hoping to continue to grow Girls Chronically Rock, add more t-shirt designs, and just bring in the revenue that I want, and just build this empire, because that’s my main focus right now.
Amy Demone: I can sense, not that I’m a psychic or anything, but I can sense it’s going to be epic. I’m so excited for you, and I’m so excited for how Girls Chronically Rock is going to develop in the next coming years.
Keisha Greaves: Yay, thank you, I hope so. Thanks a lot. I appreciate that.
Amy Demone: Yeah, definitely. For my audience that knows, and everybody that listens to me in any type of interview, I always love to end the segment with asking my guest to impart some wonderful words of wisdom for the audience.
Keisha Greaves: Sure. My words of wisdom would honestly be just trust and believe in yourself. Just keep going, keep striving and no matter what you may be battling, I know it can be challenging at times but trust me, I have dealt with that, even being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Just overcome it and I know it takes time, but just keep going and stay strong, and just accomplish anything that you pretty much can put your minds too.