In Oct. 2020, Catherine Addai told the Financial Post that she built up her clothing business — Kaela Kay — from her home in Mississauga, Ont., with $1,500 in seed money from her husband Nick, who’s a chemical engineer.
As one of many Black entrepreneurs attempting to handle pandemic-related challenges, Addai also received pushback about her designs, even amid the awareness brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“A lot of the pushback I got was ‘African prints: It’s too bright, too bold, we wouldn’t know where to put you in our store, we don’t know if the customers would like it,’” Addai told Colin McClelland from the Financial Post. “So it’s been me just trying over the last few years to encourage them it’s not a Black or white thing. It’s just prints.”
Named after one of her daughters, Kaela Kay continues to evolve into a labour of love for Addai, and in this exclusive interview with STYLE Canada, she tells us all about it.
SC: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
CA: I’m Catherine Addai, CEO, designer and lead stylist of Toronto-based clothing label Kaela Kay. I created Kaela Kay as a lifestyle brand for the modern woman who wants to express her inner colours in an outward way. I focus on bold and vibrant prints in classy silhouettes that can be worn by women in a wide age group and various sizes.
SC: What inspires you?
CA: I’m inspired by my heritage and my Ghanaian roots by way of the prints and fabrics, and I’m inspired by the women I dress.
SC: Who or what has been the strongest influence on you throughout your life?
CA: Most definitely my family. My single mother, who told me growing up that I could do anything I wanted, and that ‘not possible’ is a state of mind that can be overcome. My husband, who gave me a $1,500 angel donation to design my first collection, and who was the most supportive person when I quit my job in 2017 to run my business full-time. And of course, our children Mikaela (9-years-old), Lex (6-years-old), and Janae (3-years -old), who give me light and energy to keep working really hard and build a business that can provide for them well into the future.
SC: What advice would you give to a designer who’s just starting out?
CA: Know your audience. I can’t stress this enough. In order to market your brand and market it to the right customer, you must know that customer. Very early on in my design experience, I created a customer profile. I created a written profile of the Kaela Kay Woman; this was based on women I have seen wear my brand’s type of clothing.
This profile included age group, possible salary, work, social life, and personal style. This was instrumental in helping me create the image of my brand and marketing plans to target these customers. This profile also helps me as I design collections; I design with this woman in mind so I’m constantly providing clothes for her.
SC: During these uncertain times, what role do you think fashion plays?
CA: What I love about fashion (which has really come to light during this pandemic) is the beautiful way it brings beauty and joy to people. When the lockdown was imposed in Toronto in March, I was planning my Spring collection launch at my boutique, which I had to cancel, and I decided to launch online instead. I received an amazing reception from the online community.
Over the next few months, I saw the work other designers were putting out – so creative, unique, raw, and genuine. I received so many comments from customers that the bright, beautiful colors and prints were a welcomed distraction to what was going on in the world.