When Neema “Ema” Eleyae and her daughter Grace took a trip to Kenya for Christmas years ago, they were looking forward to some rest and relaxation—but they weren’t expecting that this trip would change their lives.
During the trip, their family had to make a 6-hour drive up the coast. Grace, however, didn’t have the most comfortable ride—her head was bumping the seat all along the way.
Even worse? When she got back from the trip, she noticed hair loss in the spots where her head was hitting the seat. She was shocked… But her disbelief got her thinking.
As Ema says, “Grace was determined to find a solution to this problem. There had to be a way to fix and protect hair that was destroyed after exposure to rough elements.”
The answer, however, didn’t come overnight.
After a year of brainstorming, Grace was taking a class in retail and merchandising when she started sewing. She realized satin helped solve her problem, and if she slept on a satin pillow, it actually conserved the moisture in her hair. But she knew where she really needed a solution was when she traveled. After all, as Ema puts it “you can’t have a satin pillow on your hair the whole time.”
The lightbulb went off:
If Grace could wear, say, a satin scarf around her hair, that could help with protection. But she quickly learned that the scarf would slip right off her head. So, Grace attempted to use a different material on the outside and satin on the inside. She sewed together the prototype in class, and after trialing it herself and with friends and family, “she knew she had something.”
Jumping at the opportunity, Grace started Grace Eleyae in 2012 at age 25. After perfecting her prototype, she began selling her “Slap”—or satin-lined cap—in 2014.
“When Grace put her product up on Etsy in September, she started getting a couple sales a day. It was quickly proven that the ‘Slap’ was something people wanted. But by November, there was a video made on the product, and it just blew up. We started getting a 100 sales a day,” says Ema.
Grace could see she had a real business on her hands. She could also see that she needed help.
She turned to the person she could trust the most—her mother Ema.
“I’ve been in accounting my whole life. I’ve worked for California state, non-profits, and other organizations in management roles. But when Grace’s business blew up, I knew I needed to quit my day job to help her manage growth,” explains Ema.
Going to work for your daughter is certainly not easy for any mother, but Ema was never worried. In fact, she’s learned a lot since joining Grace.
“When it comes to working together, you’re peers. You’re not mom-and-daughter. Grace has a business degree, she has experience working as and with a CEO. So I let her do what she does and respect it and support it. But I’m also here to help her when she needs it. It’s been hard for me to learn this, of course. As a mother, I want to get in there and be a mom, but everyday I’m learning more and more about respecting the separation of personal and business.”
The reason Ema joined the team—to help manage growth—continues to be the biggest challenge for Grace Eleyae, even 2 years after their launch.
“Forecasting is the hardest thing to grasp. Our demand has evolved so much, we’re just finally beginning to understand it. Our numbers are certainly better now, but the first year and half was a real struggle to keep up with the inventory amount and make sure there was enough to meet the growth,” says Ema.
As anyone who has ever had to “manage growth” knows, the most difficult part of the process can be the money. “We needed to make sure we had enough funding to get all the inventory we needed.”
Luckily, Grace and Ema attended the most recent Xerocon. After talking through their business challenges with various parties at the conference, they were recommended to reach out to Fundera to help them find funding to stock the inventory they would need for the holiday season.
“From the moment we reached out, it was such an easy process. Fundera took over. They managed everything, told us what we needed, and eventually we were able to secure funding that really made a difference for our business,” says Ema.
Grace and Ema of Grace Eleyae.
Now that the Grace Eleyae team has two solid years of numbers behind them and a better grasp on their forecasting, they’re ready to turn their sights to new goals.
“We’re really working hard to make sure we’re branded properly. Grace Eleyae is the brand. Our Slaps are a part of it. Not the other way around. It’s important we get this across early.”
After the past 2 years of unpredictable growth, Ema also wants to make sure that they stay on track to manage whatever may be coming. “We expect major growth in the year to come. We’re doing so much more. We’re even moving beyond e-commerce!”
Little did this family know that one rough drive on vacation would lead to a business that would forever transform their future. Whatever comes next for Grace Eleyae is well-deserved—and exciting!
Love this story! This seems like a great holiday gift, too.