by JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
During the last two years of the pandemic, we have seen many businesses go belly up all around the nation, while Oakland-based entrepreneur Kehinde Koyejo created two businesses, while home-schooling her daughter; Kalm Korner and Choc’late Mama Cookies. Not one to be held down by societal limitations, Kehinde has used the pandemic to join a number of non-profit business incubators for small business owners to educate herself about this journey that she has embarked on. Far beyond just being a pusher of products, Kehinde has also been an advocate and champion for the inclusion of Black women businesses, Black businesses, as well as women businesses. So check out this business-superwoman as she gives you a dose of the mind-state that has allowed her to accomplish, what many have considered the impossible.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about what inspired you to create your business Kalm Korner? What inspired you to get into the beauty/hygiene field?
Kehinde Koyejo: Kalm Korner is my calling. It is my contribution to peace and humanity. Kalm Korner is a part of my healing journey and my life’s purpose. I am a healer and a student of plants. I have been on this natural path since I was around 17 when I was first introduced to Queen Afua’s book “Heal Thyself”. I first began making changes to my diet -eating more plants, detoxing, and juicing. Then I started making my own body and hair products once I realized that most ingredients in the commercial products that I was using were very toxic and very harmful. I went to my “kitchen laboratory “and began using food for my skin and hair. Our skin is the largest organ of the body and is a key indicator of our health. When I saw how happy my skin and hair had become, I became more curious and excited to learn more about the ancient African ways of living. The magic and medicinal benefits of plants inspired me to spread the message of healing, holistic living, and conscious buying to my community.
Aromatherapy is a key part of my product line. All my products have pure lavender, rose, peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus essential oil, and organic botanicals. Kalm Korner simplifies self-care. We combined aromatherapy with body and hair care, so we get what we need while we are doing practical body care routines, like applying face moisturizer, body lotion, hair cream, taking baths, etc. We also make our products travel size so you can take your KALM on the go. It’s always better to have what you need when you need it. We offer a line of aromatherapy mist that will help elevate your mood, calm your nerves, and awaken your awareness so that you can breathe, reset, and get through challenging moments.
I notice people spending a lot of energy fighting against their mental conditions. I’ve learned that it is less stressful and more practical to embrace my conditions and learn to live with them. They are a part of me. My ancestor’s trauma, my parent’s trauma, and my own trauma all live in my DNA. I can’t undo what has been done but I can be intentional about my healing and always be kind to myself.
I learned a lot about herbs from my mother, Wilhelmina Koyejo, and aunt, Towanna Turner. My mother suffered from chronic anxiety and depression, and she religiously used aromatherapy and herbs to help keep her calm. She would place a couple of drops of lavender on a cotton ball and put it under her nose to assist with managing her anxiety while she raised her six girls. She is my teacher, my mentor, my hero, and my inspiration. I grew up around a lot of strong Black American women and strong Nigerian women. Our house was full of women all the time. I grew up in a home with the makings of queens. I consider myself an expert in being a woman, specifically a woman of African descent. I know Black women as I know myself. I love, admire, adore, and have the highest respect for Black women. I see Black women as my sisters and I want to see all of us happy, healthy, empowered, and thriving together.
Kalm Korner also offers our target market (Conscious Women of African descent) an opportunity to join a sisterhood of like-minded women who they can relate to, learn from, and support. Historically in America, Black women have always been last, the least cared for and the least protected. Black women make most of the decisions in the home regarding the care of their families. Black women have been systematically made to purchase from white companies that do not cater to their uniqueness and clearly do not have their health and wellness in mind. I have witnessed firsthand the experiences of Black women in America, and Kalm Korner is my gift to all my Sister-Queens here in California and beyond.
My background as an artist and healer as well as my mother, my sisters, my Black girl magic, my dual heritage, and my commitment to the spiritual advancement of humanity inspired me to create Kalm Korner, a Black-owned plant-based skincare brand offering a variety of aromatherapy products and curated gift sets.
JR Valrey: What are some of your biggest accomplishments that you have as being the business owner of Kalm Korner?
Kehinde Koyejo: My biggest accomplishment as the owner and founder of Kalm Korner has been directly connecting to my target market. In 2019, I partnered with The Flight Deck to activate their gallery space with retail, and for a year I operated and managed a pop-up boutique that housed eight local entrepreneurs, most of whom were women of African descent. Naturally, most of our walk-ins were Black women of all ages. They would come in a sit and talk with me, and we would share our stories of healing. I was able to hear from them firsthand about their needs, their pains, and their desire to take better care of themselves and their families.
I took notes, I asked questions, I showered them with gifts, and they kept coming back, and spreading the word. They would thank me over and over, and they encouraged me. Because of the positive responses I received from my customers and the number of women who were interested in plant-based healing and would sit for hours just to be in sisterhood, I created “Boutique Talks”. Once a month 30 women of color would show up after work, drop their bags, kick off their shoes, fill their bellies with yummy healthy foods, and sit in a circle with each other and talk.
We talked about our healing journeys and shared our natural remedies and our vast experiences. We gained valuable tools for managing stress and burnout as well as ways we can take better care of ourselves and our wombs. We also cried together, laughed together, danced together, and celebrated with each other. After the circle, the women shopped and happily spent their money on quality items from my boutique which not only featured Kalm Korner products but also the products from seven other entrepreneurs/small businesses owned and operated by women of African descent. The experience was very powerful, and we continued to have our “Boutique Talks” for eight months before the pandemic hit. This was a huge accomplishment because when my boutique closed due to the pandemic it has been these women who have helped my business survive. They buy products for themselves and gift sets for their loved ones, clients, and staff. They referred me to their networks and my customer base grew. Plus, the “Boutique Talks” were a perfect place to introduce my cookie brand. Choc’late Mama Cookies became a big hit!
JR Valrey: What inspired you to create your business Choc’late Mama Cookies?
Kehinde Koyejo: Motherhood, my deep appreciation and love for melanated people, and my healing journey inspired me to create Choc’late Mama Cookie Co. I set out to create a high-quality, yummy, wholesome, vegan, and gluten-free cookie that was safe for me, my daughter, and my community to eat. My inspiration can be seen in the brand logo, brand name, and the quality of my cookie. I wanted all of us to see ourselves reflected in a brand that is made by us and for us. This company and formulation came to me in a vision, and I just keep saying yes to the spirit and trusting that I would be led and supported throughout the makings of Choc’late Mama Cookies. I’ve invested over 6 years and thousands of dollars in research and development to get this cookie just right. I have baked hundreds of dozens. Hundreds of folks have enjoyed my cookies in the Bay Area, and throughout the USA. The cookies literally sell themselves. I love making these cookies and seeing the satisfaction on folk’s faces when they taste them for the first time. No one really expects our cookies to taste different from the other brands out there. I always have samples because unfortunately, vegan and gluten-free baked goods have been given a bad reputation. I want folks to know that conscious food can taste good, be good for you, and be made with love by melanin-rich hands. I am the Bay Area’s very own Choc’late Mama.
JR Valrey: What makes your recipe unique from all the other chocolate chip cookies out there?
Kehinde Koyejo: What makes our recipe unique is our one-of-a-kind dough, which is made with NO flour, NO eggs, NO plant-based butter/oil, NO white sugar, and is made with Almond flour and coconut sugar. We also use fairly traded organic bitter-sweet chocolate chips from Equal Exchange, a very successful worker-cooperative and fair trade. It is crispy on the outside and chewy in the center, similar o a brownie. Choc’late Mama Cookies have a 2–3-week shelf life and only contain 7 very simple and traditional natural ingredients; plus, Choc’late Mama Cookie Co. is Black-owned, women-owned, made in Oakland, CA, and reflects the value I see in myself, my family, and my community. There’s Hella love in every bite.
JR Valrey: How has being a single mother, who is homeschooling her child during the pandemic, affected you as a business woman?
Kehinde Koyejo: Being a single mother, homeschooling my daughter during a pandemic, and building two businesses has been a huge challenge, to say the least. I love homeschooling my daughter and having her close especially during this time, but it is a lot of work. I give so many thanks to my community near and far who stepped in and helped me navigate my new life. My best friend’s mother in Miami, who is a Montessori Master, put together a school plan for 2020 with the goal to have my daughter, who was 4 years old at the time, reading before 2021. I followed her plan and guidance and by January 2021 my daughter was reading and excelling in school. It took me some time to get a healthy rhythm but with the help of my family and friends, I feel confident in homeschooling and building my businesses. The key is finding a healthy balance between self-care, motherhood, and entrepreneurship. My daughter, my peace of mind, and my health are top priorities. I get up early to handle business; days are dedicated to teaching my daughter, and after my daughter is in bed by 8:30 pm, I begin to focus on my needs and really love and appreciate myself for all my hard work. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than what I was trying to do in 2020, which threatened to destroy me. There are times I still get frustrated because I see what my business wants to be, but my capacity and resources are limited now. This is when my patience is really tested and I have to constantly remind myself to trust the process and as Bro. Arthur Ashe said so simply, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” This is how I live my life so that I can preserve myself to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I know where I’m going and in time my vision will be fully manifested. The good thing is that the pandemic forced me to quickly adjust to the changes and reimagine my business operating in virtual spaces. Which meant building out my website, creating an online presence, offering my customers shipping and curbside pickups. I became a member of the Oakland Indie Alliance, a resource and network for small businesses in Oakland which led to Kalm Korner being featured in the Thrillist. This article boosted my visibility, my customers, and my sales. I also took full advantage of small business resources like The Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, Uptima Business Book Camp, African American Cultural Complex Center’s Professional Development Accelerator Program, Minority Certification Training through the Enterprising Women of Color Business Center, in Hawaii, The Center for Cultural Power’s Artist Entrepreneurship Suite 2021, and countless workshops and webinars on pandemic messaging, branding and marketing, book-keeping, business planning, SEO, business finance, etc. I also met consistently with business consultants and mentors. I had to get over my fear and anxiety in order to step into my power and do whatever was needed to rise above the disruption of the pandemic. I always tell folks that COVID made me stronger, smarter, and more flexible. Despite all the changes I am grateful that me, my daughter, and my businesses survived and I am closer to seeing the vision for my life realized.
JR Valrey: Why is supporting small Black businesses an important campaign that you are pushing on your website and with your presence in the community?
Kehinde Koyejo: I am a Black woman, born and raised in the USA. I have experienced and witnessed first-hand the destruction of Black families, Black relationships, Black businesses, and Black economics. I’m not waiting around for racism to disappear or for white people to exist outside of their white privilege or for this country to see melanated people as valuable citizens. I can choose to spend my money with Black businesses. I can choose to teach my own children, I can choose to marry Black, I can choose to prioritize the health and happiness of my family, and I can choose to work for myself. It’s of the utmost importance for Black people to know themselves, learn from the past, and make different choices so that we can ensure a bright future and rebuild thriving communities owned and operated by us.
I love this quote by Jay Z (Entrepreneur)
“Stop sittin around waitin for folks to throw you a bone
If you can’t buy the building, at least stock the shelf (word)
Then keep on stacking til you stocking for yourself, uh
See everything you place after Black
Is too small a term to completely describe the act
Black nation, Black builder, Black entrepreneur
You in the presence of Black excellence and I’m on the board, Lord”
Cycles must be broken, old ways must die out, and unity must prevail. When I think of success, I don’t just see myself thriving, I see us all rising above these ashes and reclaiming our rightful place. I am creating a model that supports, sustains, and uplifts Black entrepreneurs and Black small businesses, specifically those owned and operated by women of African descent. Historically, Black women have been last in this country and I am choosing to put us first. I do this by partnering, promoting, and patronizing these businesses with my resources. It is part of my mission to help nurture, support, and elevate entrepreneurs/small Black businesses in my community and beyond. Every nation benefits from Black excellence. Everyone is tapped into making money off all things black. We are constantly being used in the advancement of others. Kalm Korner proudly provides a one-stop e-commerce experience for shopping local, shopping Black, and shopping women. I am committing myself and my work to contribute to the advancement of my people through health, wellness, business, and collective economics.
JR Valrey: What are some of your goals for your businesses over the next two years?
Kehinde Koyejo: One goal I have for Kalm Korner in the next two years is to secure ten Business to Business ( B2B) accounts to handle their gifting needs. I am also planning to partner with small Black-owned businesses that offer conscious beauty and wellness boxes to be featured in, one of my favorites is Self-Blossom Box out of Oakland. And lastly, I plan to officially launch my business in 2024. Also, in 2019 I partnered with eight small businesses operated by women of color, specifically women of African descent while I was in the boutique. This was a huge success and now since I have an online boutique, I want to continue highlighting and offering consciously made products from boutique brands that I trust and love in my Kalm Is Queen Collection. My goal for Choc’late Mama Cookies is to partner with other Black-owned worker-cooperatives that produce the ingredients I use to make my cookies. I would also love to see my cookies in Mandela Grocery, one of my favorite grocery cooperatives in West Oakland. The biggest challenge now is that my businesses are literally taking over my 900 sq foot apartment. In two years, I plan to be operating in a commercial kitchen/warehouse with hired staff. This means I need to graduate from being an entrepreneur to a small business owner.
JR Valrey: What advice would you give a young Black woman, who is just starting out as a business owner?
Kehinde Koyejo: My advice to my SisterQueens is “never give up!”, work smart, not hard. Take yourself seriously. Back up your business idea with research, planning, and commitment. Pursue your healing and happiness, and fortune will follow. Invest your time and resources into growth and development. Make your health, happiness, and self-expression a priority. Align yourself with like-minded people. You are always in divine timing. Trust your instincts and always be honest to yourself. Strengthen your spirituality because it will get you through the tough times. Be in the spirit of saying yes but get comfortable with saying no. Take calculated risk and consult with experts with real-life experiences. Last but not least, be extremely kind to yourself on this journey and take one month a year to recover and rejuvenate, plus set aside 1-2 weekends a month to rest and relax. Oh, and join a conscious sisterhood because magic and miracles happen when women get together to celebrate each other.
JR Valrey: Where can people find your products? How can people keep up with you online?
Kehinde Koyejo: Check out my products and gifts, including Choc’late Mama Cookie Co. at KALMKORNER.COM, and keep up with us on IG @kalmkorner and
@chocolatemamacookies. If you are familiar with my products and love them, please leave us a review on Google My Business and on our website. A review goes a long way. Help spread the word and if you can help me reach my two-year goals, feel free to reach out to me email@example.com.
Photography by CJ Storey Photography
Makeup by Idowu Koyejo