I love any reason to celebrate anything. And, not only is this the first week of April and we're fast approaching my birthday, but this is the very first "The Owner and The Brand" article of 2022, so we've crossed a milestone here. Spring has officially sprung, which means that this time of new beginnings is upon us.
Here is our moment to embrace the newness and recognize the magic happening around us.
I believe that it's always a sign of success when the people in your circle are winning. The past few years have changed a lot of things for many of us, but I believe that it's just as important to celebrate our wins as it is to mourn our losses, and while there was a lot we released in the past few years of solitude, I believe deeply that there was still much that we were all able to gain.
For Kirsten Cottingham, one of her gains was a brand new endeavor.
Did you know that Black business ownership is up more than 30% on "pre-pandemic" levels, with Black women making up the fastest-growing group? According to The Guardian, Black business owners are growing throughout The United States, and I think much of that is due to the fact that the pandemic brought us to pause. Spring became winter and we were forced inside. We were made to be still. It forced us inside with our thoughts and our realities and as months became years, we realized that we were given time. We were given the space to act on those thoughts because why not?
There are no ceilings to what we can imagine or accomplish when we rest. This time taught me that—in the past two years we have seen a rise in businesses being created, and No Slack Boutique is another example of growth; new beginnings, and endeavors all to be supported.
1. Would you mind providing a bit about your background?
I am Kirsten Cottingham. I am originally from Birmingham, Alabama but currently reside in Nashville, Tennessee. Growing up with my mom, grandmother, and aunts it was hard not to become interested in beauty. Like many little girls, I grew up playing in my mom’s makeup and strutting around the house in fashions from her closet. I even remember being excited for church because that’s the only time I got to wear lipstick before I was older. Having a younger sister is fun because I get to help her experiment with everything from makeup to DIY face masks. While attending Tuskegee University, I had the opportunity to shadow a Black female dermatologist. During this experience, I learned how Black women are the top consumers of the beauty industry. Despite this, Black women have often been underrepresented in campaigns and many of the hair and beauty products contained harmful chemicals. This experience made me conscious of the products I used and the brands I support. Overall, one can say I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the beauty industry because of the self-hate and unrealistic standards it projects but applaud brands who refuse to be subjected to them. Although I’m new to this, I hope to add to the space where we start loving ourselves again.
2. Please explain the story behind your business--Where did you get the idea? How did you set off to start? When did you decide you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Growing up when your mom tells you that you can do anything you want in life you believe her. However, post-secondary education can make you feel you must choose a lane and stick to it, with mine being math and science. My undergraduate experience at Tuskegee University helped me unlearn that. For the first time, I was able to see a plethora of my peers in entrepreneurship through hobbies, interests, and passions all while pursuing their education. I am thankful for my HBCU showing that this was possible for me too.
Some may relate, but I get my best ideas driving on trips back home. Nashville is not far from Birmingham, so for 3 hours it was me, my jams, and my thoughts. By 2019 I realized I had accumulated so many ideas and decided I needed to start writing them down. I originally figured I could start working on one or two of them when I graduated from my master’s program at Meharry in 2020 but then the pandemic hit. I thought the smoke would clear soon so I just needed to wait a few months and get started, but as we know now the pandemic was far from over. In these uncertain times, I was inspired by two friends who started their businesses and encouraged me to go ahead and start mine. In 2021, I decided to execute one of the business ideas, an online fashion boutique. I’m a tad sentimental, so I waited until August which is Black Business Month to apply for the business license.
The motivation behind No Slack Boutique was simple for me. After years of shopping, it was evident that the majority of companies showcased their clothing with little to no diversity in models. I remember having conversations with friends about how hard it was to shop online because of the body types of the models displayed and the limited plus-size options. In addition, there were usually few Black and Brown models. Personally, as a dark-skinned Black woman, I rarely saw models that looked like me. Often, these factors made imagining ourselves in the clothes difficult. Since starting No Slack Boutique, I have received many messages from customers about how sexy and confident they feel in the clothes. This has been my motivation to keep going.
3. The name of your business is “No Slack.” How did you come up with the name for your boutique?
The name “No Slack Boutique” was inspired by my upbringing. No slack was my mom’s attitude for life, from the way she carried herself to personal, professional, and academic goals. With the name I wanted to emphasize that we’re “Serving Looks with No Slack”, but I want people who shop with us to adopt this energy beyond their wardrobe too. So, essentially “No Slack” is a lifestyle. Amid chasing these goals, I want to remind people not to neglect themselves. I’ve really tried to focus on this with things such as “Self-Care Sunday” and the “Mirror Challenge” to urge that self-love is essential, especially as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
My biggest goal for No Slack Boutique is to empower fashionistas to see themselves as the standard instead of the unrealistic images portrayed in this industry. I hope to continue to broaden that space for No Slack Boutique as we announce our Brand Ambassador Program and scholarship opportunities for college students in the next few months.
4. What was your career path prior to starting your own business?
My background is in biology and public health. I spent all of undergrad focused on my path of becoming a physician. However, in the process, I fought hard to deny my love for math. At the time I was ill-informed about the career paths available for math nerds in this field. Fortunately, I am pursuing a career path in biostatistics that intersects my background entirely. Upon finishing my schooling, I plan to pursue roles allowing me to leverage data for health equity and hope to own consulting firm in the future.
5. What does your daily work schedule look like?
Currently, I begin my days at 6 am with meditation and the gym, excluding weekends. This really helps me get centered before starting my day. I usually check social media and package any orders placed the previous night. All orders are typically packaged by 3 pm to be shipped. This year, I am splitting the time that I work on the business into two periods per day and this has increased my time efficiency and productivity. A lot of time is being spent building brand awareness, planning future collections, and social media research. I’ve also moved content creation to one day of the week. Overall, I’m loving the new schedule because stress related to the business has declined tremendously.
6. I know you launched this while also in school. How do you juggle a Master’s Program with running your business?
Honestly, it has been a learning curve. I have a STEM background, and this was my first business venture. Running a business while in school can be stressful without time management. After spending so much time focusing on school and No Slack Boutique, I often found there was very little time left for myself. I even decided to take a break from the business last semester to focus on finals because, at the end of the day, school comes first. I’m thankful for the mistakes because they increased my self-awareness for myself and my business. I believe this will be very helpful in balancing school with No Slack Boutique as I continue my education.
7. How do you balance being a CEO of your business with your personal life? How do you prioritize yourself while being an entrepreneur?
The COVID-19 pandemic made me a self-care advocate. I live by the famous quote “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” so when I need rest, I take it. In the beginning, I found myself spending more than 80% of my time on the business, but with time balance has become much easier. I also have found ease when sprinkling in content creation during activities such as a happy hour or brunch by simply wearing No Slack Boutique items. One of the most important things I have done for my business this year created a schedule. This has allowed me to enjoy quality time with my friends and loved ones and ensures I give myself time for self-care.
8. I love how your business is based on creating more realistic images of women/your customer in fashion, and making everyone be their own standard of beauty. In everything, I share that mission of empowering people to love their authentic selves. What advice do you have for women who find it hard to embrace their natural beauty?
I’d say get comfortable with yourself and your body! Outside of external validation, how do we come to terms with our own beauty? The mentality that we’re only beautiful when we hear it from someone else or if we get close to resembling the images portrayed in society has ultimately been designed to keep the beauty industry in business. Spend a few extra moments in the mirror each day to admire and compliment yourself as you get ready to start the day. I’m also very big on affirmations. At times when I was feeling insecure, I found it helpful to write myself love notes and affirmations on post-it notes on my mirror. The comparison game can be a battle but daily reminders to yourself are vital for embracing yourself in your natural state. Overall, it’s essential that we acknowledge that we are beautiful outside of the standards presented before we begin our self-love journey. Over time you learn it’s not on you it’s in you.
9. What is the biggest challenge you have experienced? For example, for me, it's been managing my finances, Like, I find myself being able to be so creative but the technical and financial piece is something I'm still working on. You mentioned the learning curve running your business (I can absolutely relate). What has been helpful in overcoming it?
Time has definitely been my biggest challenge. In the beginning, I felt there was so much for me to do and I became overwhelmed as I struggled to find a healthy balance between the business and my personal life. It was easy for me to get wrapped up in focusing on No Slack because I was excited about this new venture and wanted it to succeed. I am thankful for the special people in my life who reminded me that balance does not equate to less effort. Improving my time management has allowed the time I spend on the business to be more efficient. For new business owners who are also experiencing difficulty with time management, write your goals, make a plan, create a schedule, and execute.
10. Also, to follow up that thought, what advice do you have for business owners who also find themselves seeking help or not knowing how to approach that curve?
I think asking for help has been something I have a hard time with. Of course, now I have learned that I can’t do it by myself and that’s ok. Seeking out people that have a skill set beneficial to your brand will save time and money. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring things out and countless hours on YouTube, but there are still some things that I am unable to provide for the boutique currently. So, my advice would be to do as much research as you can but don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help when you need it.
No Slack Boutique is a brand built with body positivity in mind, and the brand itself is championing a new space that's growing within the fashion industry. More women are supporting brands that promote size inclusivity because, with 7 billion of us in the world, it's unrealistic to assume that five sizes account for our population.
And, how incredible? How lovely is it for us to have options? How incredible is it for us to support brands that ultimately support us all being able to look and feel our best?
This was the perfect "The Owner and The Brand" series kick-off for 2022, because No Slack champions a mission similar to ClothesPetals'. I have always believed in the importance of representation because when we see others who look and feel great, who look like us, we begin to believe in that possibility for ourselves.
With this new season, let us continue to love and embrace not only others but ourselves. Let's treat ourselves to things that make us look and feel our very best. Let's continue the self-care practices that we have begun to cultivate in 2020. Let's make everything that we do about empowering ourselves to live this life with us top-of-mind.