When entertainer Keewa Nurullah had her first child, she encountered a whole new world of things her son needed – and was disappointed with what she found.
Baby boy onesies with slogans like “Daddy’s Little Slugger” or “I’m So Tough” — or depicting a mug of beer — were in abundance, but looked unnecessarily macho for his newborn.
“I was looking for something colorful, creative, that reflected his energy,” Nurullah said. “More positive and aligned with our values.
This initial search for baby clothes outside of the standard assortment by gender led Nurullah to improve on an element of children’s retail that she felt was lacking: representation.
In 2018, Nurullah opened Kidō, a vibrant retail store located in the Roosevelt Collection mall in South Loop, specializing in the sale of books, toys and clothing that reflect the diversity of children and their families. This includes children of color, people with disabilities, and those living in alternative homes, such as foster parents or with adoptive parents.
“Kido is a brand about representation and inclusivity,” said Nurullah, an alumnus of the Polsky Center’s Small Business Growth Program. “We connect our brand to our community.”
Nurullah last fall was named the 2021 Black Entrepreneur of the Year by Official Black Wall Street, a platform that promotes black-owned businesses. The $25,000 award, presented by Snapchat parent Snap Inc., recognized his efforts to build representation, inclusivity and community on Chicago’s South Side.
For Nurullah, who grew up in Chatham and now lives in Hyde Park, the award has been a welcome boost as she continues to grow her brand and learn on her own to meet the seemingly endless parade of business challenges. .
“I am someone who sings and dances for a living,” Nurullah said. “I didn’t get an MBA, I didn’t study anything related to business. Everything I had to do was very well learned and well earned. I am the queen of Google search.
Nurullah grew up in a family of artists – her mother is a professional storyteller and jazz musician best known for playing the sitar, and her late father was a visual artist who worked with textiles. Nurullah, who went to musical theater school, has had a career in singing, dancing and acting, which has taken her on tour across the United States and the world.
This stopped after the birth of his son, as Nurullah lost his appetite for the artist lifestyle. Focused on being a mom, she poured her creative energies into designing better onesies, and on Black Friday 2016, she launched a website to sell them.
To find new customers, Nurullah began selling at South Side festivals and hosting her own events to show her brand’s alignment with community values. She launched South Side Story Time on the Arts Block, a creative corridor on the 300 block of East Garfield Boulevard run by UChicago’s Arts & public lifeand focused on reading books representing children from different backgrounds.
“There was nothing that spoke to families of color, families on the south side, LGBTQ families,” Nurullah said.
As she grew in popularity in the community, she was asked to host an event at the Roosevelt Collection and then asked if she wanted to open a retail store there. With her second child, a recently born daughter, it was a good time to have a static space.
Filling the 1,500 square foot store was a major challenge. Kido did not have enough products of its own and many wholesalers did not want to sell to such a young company. Hoping for help, she applied to Polsky’s Small Business Growth Program, which paired her with a team of University of Chicago students to develop strategies for some of her most pressing needs.
“I have a main partner – my cousin Amanda, who is a jack-of-all-trades,” Nurullah said. “But apart from her, I don’t have a team. For a month, this team of students found something for me, it was great. »
The student team tapped into Kido’s shipping data to streamline this facet of the business. One of the most useful points for Nurullah was knowing what type of package she shipped most often and how much it weighed, so she could optimize box orders.
Retail competition in the era of free same-day delivery isn’t for the faint-hearted, but Nurullah said it carries brands and products that Amazon and other tech giants company do not offer. Additionally, his customers value his shop’s community orientation as an antidote to the space ambitions of billionaire tycoons.
“People know very well how much these billionaires have earned during the pandemic and what they have decided do not to do with this money,” Nurullah said. “They’ve been consistent in supporting us even though we’re not the cheapest or the fastest.”
In addition to books, which are Kido’s bestsellers, and inclusive clothing, the shop specializes in unique and sustainable toys – which could mean they were made from recycled materials or are meant to be transmitted from generation to generation.
A unique product on Kido’s shelves are nostalgic paper dolls of all shapes and hairstyles, handmade by a black artist. Adrienne Brown David, a mother of four in Mississippi. Nurullah makes a point of showcasing black-owned brands and wants to encourage black artists to monetize their art by creating more accessible products, like greeting cards or lapel pins.
Kido’s future, Nurullah said, lies in creating more Kido-branded products to sell wholesale. Last year he launched a range of puzzles which are now sold in half a dozen stores in the area, and Nurullah aspires to launch a publishing arm of the business to generate more books that tell stories on different types of families.
“We want to continue to push and control the stories being told,” she said.
Nurullah attributes Kido’s success so far – despite his inexperience in business and despite the disruptions of the pandemic – to listening carefully to his clients.
“Listen to your community,” she said. “Every step of Kido, I’ve been blessed by our community saying, ‘Keep going, we love what you’re doing.’ The more connected we are with our community, the more successful we are.
Article of Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, associate director of media relations and external communications at the Polsky Center. A long-time journalist, Alexia most recently served as a business reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Join Alexia via E-mail or on Twitter @alexiaer.