We have the pleasure of speaking with mentor, entrepreneur, and businesswoman Kethlyn White to expand on our Season 1 self-care discussion. She shares both her personal career and hair journey and talks about the business she runs with her friend, Coil Beauty.
Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now, listen, check it out. Y’all know by this point in Season 2–wow, that is crazy. It’s been over a year. It’s Season 2, and y’all know from time to time we’ll have, you know, B-Sides where we just kind of have a real talk conversation with a special guest, and listen here, today’s special guest is pretty special. She’s pretty great, is pretty talented, and I’m excited to have her here. Actually, she was one of the first black women that I ever have worked with in consulting. Great background. She and I met in person, and she has a great story. We talked a lot about, like, strategic change management at the time and just kind of navigating these spaces. She has been a great mentor to me. She’s one of the main reasons that I was able to be promoted to manager at my last job, which helped me transition to my new job, and yeah, she’s great. I don’t want to spoil too much. I’m gonna go ahead and introduce her. She is a mentor, a public speaker, a businesswoman, an entrepreneur, a creative, right? Her name is Kethlyn White. That’s right, y’all, Kethlyn. So right, so Kethlyn, right, it’s, like, a combination of, like–it’s black, but, you know, it passes the resume test. Like, you’ll still–you will still interview a Kethlyn, right? So it’s a really nice combination there. Kethlyn, what’s up? How are you doing?
Kethlyn: Hey, Zach. Thanks for having me. I’m glad I–I’m glad I passed your sniff test.
Zach: No, no, no. It’s not my sniff test you need to pass. You know what–[both laugh] Kethlyn will make it past the resume test. It’s not like a LaQuanda is my point. And Zachary of course is very respectable. Like, Zachary–I mean, how many black Zachs do you even know? You live on the West Coast, but, like, do you know a lot of black Zachs?
Kethlyn: I don’t.
Zach: Exactly. So that with being said, today we’re talking about black, and we’re just talking about self-care and what that really looks like practically. A lot of times, you know, we talk about–we talk about self-care, we talk about–we talk about it from the perspective of natural hair becausae it’s an easy entry point into self-care, but I’d like to really, Kethlyn, give you some space to kind of talk about yourself, talk about your journey, talk about some of the things that you’ve got going on, and then we can go from there. How does that sound?
Kethlyn: That sounds good. So tell me where–tell me where you want to start. You know, self-care, especially in the black community, is a very large topic, and it could cover a wide range of things. I probably would need more than just a podcast episode to really dive in.
Zach: Big facts.
Kethlyn: Where do we want to start?
Zach: You know, that’s a really good question. How about we start with your journey in terms of, you know, your transition from, you know, adolescence and high school to college to then–you know, again, I don’t want to tell too much, but I know that, you know, you spent some time out of the country and you came back, and you’ve continued to grow, and your personal image and how you manage your image has continued to grow and shift as you’ve been in Corporate America. I think that would be a really cool story to tell.
Kethlyn: Okay. Well, I mean, from adolescence ’til now would probably be, again, another novel, so we could probably cut it back, but I think it is an interesting point to talk about, you k now, how do you grow with yourself, especially within not just what you’re doing individually but how you do and how you grow within your job, your entrepreneurial ventures, et cetera. So, you know, for me, you know, I was blessed to go to Spelman College. Well, [I went to] two HBCUs actually. I started at Hampton and I transferred to Spelman, but one of the wonderful things about going to a historically black college is that you really are left with this sense of beauty in all shapes and sizes with people who look like me, who have my skin color and who therefore have very similar experiences. And we all have different backgrounds. We all are completely different people, but leaving an HBCU, you leave with a sense of pride that no one is allowed to take from you, and it gave me–it boosted my self-confidence that I didn’t have going to predominantly white schools as I matriculated, you know, teenage years, right, all the way through high school graduation, and it was extremely impactful for me as I started to navigate the corporate world and entrepreneurship, and one of the biggest legs up I found was that, you know, when it comes to self-care, a lot of that starts at the root with how you manage your time and manage your space, and it’s not easy to do, because when you start on your first job, when you start taking on and tackling, you know, your first venture, you find that there are a lot of people who don’t look like you when you’re a black person, and because of that you end up with a lot of different, sometimes negative, experiences. Sometimes it’s hard to feel comfortable, it’s hard to not feel so challenged. So having that spirit already from the HBCU provided me with a support system that I couldn’t pay for, and so it really did–it really did make a big difference for me as I started to do and started to grow into my roles. I started out in consulting, one because I love technology. My mom, who is a boss in the technology space, she was a CEO of a tech company for about 15 years and now sits on the boards of Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper, you name it, right? And the list will go on and continue. So, you know, she was a huge influence to me, as well as with my dad, around making sure that–you know, they always told me I can do whatever I wanted to do, and I knew I wanted to be in technology ’cause it was the space that it was always going to be there, so I wanted to understand it. [?] an engineer. I didn’t really have an interest in being an engineer, but I loved how engineers think, right? So I wanted to be in the space, and I went specifically into technology consulting because I was gonna get my hands dirty. That was awesome, and so I enjoyed Capgemini out the gate, and man, do they let you get your hands dirty, and I’m talking about drinking from the fire hose.
Zach: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Kethlyn: Very quickly. And, you know, so you’re balancing and managing how to learn how to do that and start your new job and all that good stuff while also managing your space. So I had to set some rules for myself around how I was going to navigate. I had to make sure that I was networking and getting to know people within, you know, my company while also knowing that there might be some boundaries there that I will have to set for myself because I’m not as comfortable in different areas. So it was an interesting journey, but again, you know, my foundation was set, so from there I really was able to, you know, take it a bit further, and, you know, my self-confidence and my comfort level with who I was as a black woman really made a huge difference as I navigated the workforce, and you can probably ask anyone who I joined and started with. They knew who I was. I commanded every room I went in, and it was not necessarily because of my skills, it was more so because of–obviously that was a part of it, but it was more so because of the presence I had in the room, and that presence came from me understanding what my self-worth was out the gate. So no one was going to be allowed to determine that for me. I don’t care whether I was taking meeting minutes in a meeting or I was facilitating a session, right? No matter what it was, I commanded that space and that presence, and that allowed me to not only grow very quickly, get promoted very quickly and network really well, it also afforded me opportunities to travel and ultimately move to Australia for an awesome four-year opportunity after I got married. So, you know, that’s–I think that’s at the root of where a lot of my, you know, self-awareness comes from as a black woman is, you know, what my parents and family instilled in me, plus, you know, the foundation that an HBCU provided me.
Zach: So that’s really dope, right? And can we–and I want to double down on the part that you said that, like, everyone who–when I was working with you, and I think that, you know, continues forward of course, is that, you know, it’s like, “Hey, Kethlyn knows who she is. She knows what she’s about, and no one’s really gonna shake her from that.” Can you talk a little bit about how your appearance and, like, how you managed–how your hair journey, like, came into play with that, like, from–yeah, from graduating Spelman to then, like, I don’t know, today.
Kethlyn: Sure. Well, I think it’s important to mention that, you know, yes, I am that way now, right? I had to grow into that person. It just so happened that going to an HBCU really helped, you know, catapult me into that. But I still had my awkward–all kinds of awkward phases, especially when it came to my hair, ’cause God bless my mom. She just did not know, right, how to do it, because, you know, unbeknownst to most people, all African-Americans, we all have different types of hair, right? We don’t all come out with the same type of hair. We have different curl patterns, different textures, different thickness, right? My mom’s hair is extremely bouncy, right? It is very bouncy. She’s got these big spirals. So when I came out, you know, she was looking at me–I had a huge head of hair. It’s definitely tighter curls, but it wasn’t just that. It was the fact that the texture was different. So very early on she permed my hair, and it’s not rightly or wrong. she didn’t know what to do, right? And she–and her mom and her family, they all had–they didn’t have that type of hair. They didn’t know what to do. So she permed my hair, and it was straight, and for, gosh, all the way up until I went to college, I stayed perming my hair because that just seemed like what I needed to do in order to get it straight, and at that point in time, straight was all I really saw. My mom’s hair was wavy, so even when she had her curls [up], her hair was still semi-straight, and because I grew up in fairly monotonous areas, I still saw a lot of straight hair, and even with my family–a lot of the black women in my family, they also had perms or, you know, would press out their hair, et cetera. So I saw never really saw curls in their natural state on different types of people. I just didn’t see it. I wasn’t exposed. So when I went to school and I kept trying to keep up that perm process, first of all, that stuff is expensive. It is very expensive. I had–you know, there was only so much I was going to be able to do. My parents would side-eye me when they would see some of these bills and they would think–I was absolutely blessed. My parents were able to support me through college, but they were not trying to hear anything about this hair care stuff. They were, “You need to figure that out.” So I stopped perming my hair, and then I just got it pressed, and I remember talking to one of my hairdressers in Atlanta once I transferred to Spelman. She was like, you know, “Why did you perm your hair in the first place?” I said, “I don’t know. It’s just what happened.” So then she started showing me how I can do things without perming my hair, so then I was straightening it, right?
Kethlyn: But again, that’s just what I did. Fast forward, move to Australia, and I didn’t realize how humid Australia was, but I also didn’t think about it. I don’t know where I was in my mind, right? But I did not consider the fact that there were not gonna be many African-Americans–forget African-American, people of different types of color, right, over there in different parts of the world.
Zach: Right, but you have the aboriginals.
Kethlyn: Yeah, you do have the aboriginals. They do–they live in specific places, and that’s a whole separate podcast conversation, and that is an absolutely an issue in Australia, but I’ll have to put a pin in that. But either way, there wasn’t a lot of different types of cultures, especially when it came to hair, so I spent a couple months over there just trying to find somebody to even help me with my hair because I didn’t know what to do, and, I mean, I had hairdressers come at me with this, you know, fine-toothed comb trying to detangle. I was like, “I don’t know what you’re doing with that. There is nothing you’re gonna do with that on my head, because you’re just gonna break it in my hair.” And so after about three or four tries of that I just said, “You know what? Forget it, this isn’t going to work. Obviously I can’t wear my hair straight. I’m gonna have to figure out what it looks like when it’s curling. So me and YouTube all day, that’s what it was, and one of my favorite, you know, YouTube channels was Natural85, mostly because not only was she making her own products, she made it very easy for me to understand what she was doing. And to be fair, her–I don’t have the exact same hair texture she did, right? So I knew I was taking a risk by trying some of the stuff, but I did it anyway, and I made everything. I made the shampoos. I made conditioners. I made gel. I did it all, and because I was in Australia nobody knew what my hair was supposed to look like. I went through this really weird, awkward, “I don’t know what my hair is doing” probably for, like, a year and change, and nobody knew any better because they didn’t know what it was–people would be like, “Oh, Kethlyn, your hair’s so cool.” I’m like, “Little do you know I look crazy.” But it was–it was definitely liberating, and then once I kind of saw what my hair was doing I was like, “Oh, this is great,” right? You know, I could start to see how amazing my hair really is, because it can do all the things. Yeah, sure, I can have it straight, but it can be curly, I can twist it up, I can braid it, I can let it be out, I can [?] it if I want to, and I was like–it was an empowering and inspiring thing for me to just get in there in my scalp and really figure out what was going on. So that’s really how my journey came to be with my hair, and it was just an extension of me learning about and embracing my self-confidence and my identity and who I was. It was just another level, right? ‘Cause we continue to evolve, right? So this was just another piece of my evolution, connecting more to my hair and my [crown?] in this space, and it was awesome.
Zach: It’s just incredible for me, Kethlyn, to watch you, ’cause I was like–’cause by the time I saw you, like, you were kind of, like, at the end–not the end, but you were at a different part of your journey when you and I met, right? ‘Cause when I met you, you–
Kethlyn: Yeah. You mean specifically with my hair and my awareness? Is that what you mean?
Zach: Right, right, right. So I saw the glory, but I didn’t see all the story–you know, I wasn’t there for the story, you know what I’m saying?
Zach: And so, like, you know, your hair was all big and stuff. I was like, “Oh, wow. Her hair’s just like my wife’s. Oh, wow. That’s amazing.” [?]. That’s really what’s up. Okay, so now as you’ve continued forward, you know, let’s talk a little bit about some of the business ventures that you’re involved in and that you’ve started kind of, like, as an extension of that.
Kethlyn: Sure. So actually, funny enough, when I was in Australia going through this, my best friend Aisha. So Aisha Bates, she went to college with me, she went to Spelman with me, and she came to visit me in Australia. We are–she is definitely my travel partner in crime. So when I was moving to Australia, I mean, she’s looking at tickets. She’s like, “All right. Well, I’m coming.” So she came, and she saw where my hair was at that point in time, and she was like, “You know, Kethlyn, your hair looks great,” and I’m like, “Thanks. Honestly, I feel like that this is just the start, and I feel like it’s still in this awkward phase, but I’m enjoying figuring this out.” Huge caveat here. I had the time, right? It was just my husband and I over there. [?], right? So my hair at that point in time was kind of like my kid. It took a lot of time, so I want to make sure that’s clear, because not everybody has all that time to spend, and Lord knows if I had half of what’s going on what I do now then it probably would have taken me at least a good 2-3 years to figure it out. So that’s just my huge caveat. When she came to visit me, she was like, “You know, I’m gonna try to do this back, you know, in the U.S. Obviously you’re having a hard time here ’cause there’s nobody, right? And there’s no beauty supply stores and no help.” So she went back home to Chicago at the time, and she started going through her own journey, and it was struggle, right? She was [?]–she was subscribing to all of the boxes and everything and, you know, just like, you know, a lot of people will tell you, right, they’re a product junkie. You know, you open your bathroom cabinet and there’s, like, 20 million things in there. And, you know, she remembered–she had a very vivid memory at the time where she went to a beauty school just looking for conditioner. I think she might have gone in there, like, just having washed shampoo out of her head, ’cause she ran out of conditioner. Because, you know, for a lot of people, we use a bottle per condition, depending on how much hair you have, right? And so she walks into the beauty supply store, and, you know, it’s a little dingy, a little dark, but whatever. She just needs to get conditioner. And the person who was there supposedly was helping her, right? But who owned the store was really not giving her any information. She was like, “I need some conditioner. This is the type of hair I have,” and they’re kind of like, “Well, here’s the aisle,” right? And the aisle has, like, you know, 50 eleven products, and she’s like “Which one?” And she started to describe her hair. They had no idea, right? They’re like, “There’s the aisle,” and then before she even leaves the store, you know, they point her towards weave, and she’s like, “That’s not actually what I want,” and, you know, at that moment she really kind of felt something in her spirit. She was like, “This doesn’t make any sense, plus I could probably do this better than they can do this. I have all of these products in my cabinet. I could probably sell these to somebody else better than someone else could, because I now understand,” so she started Coil Beauty. You know, she–literally she just said, “You know what? Screw it, I’m just gonna do it,” and so she created her business. She got a website, all kinds of stuff, right? And she was a couple months into her journey, and we were talking about it. One of the things that she mentioned is she was like, “You know, the problem is I don’t know where to begin. I know I have a website, [?], these are all the things that I’m doing, but I’m not quite sure, right, if this is really the right way.” [?] and all this stuff, so we started–we started vibing off of that, we started talking, and after a while, not only did, you know, what she talking about speak to me–obviously I lived through it, but there was also a part of me that was like, “You know, we could do this much better. Let’s just try.” So at this point I said, “Listen, I’d love to join you. I’d love to–I’d love to become a part of this journey,” and so I joined her as her COO, and at that point in time I was able to not only help find, you know, a brand manager and a product manager to really help us think through this, right, I was able to bring my obviously IT expertise to it to figure out how we wanted to go through this, right? What journey we were gonna take, and it has been a journey of love and frustration and irritation. We have definitely become closer, but the best part about this is that we’ve created this space for, you know, African-American men and women who are looking for products that are made with them as the primary idea in mind, right? They are made for them. We carry skin care and sunscreen that’s made for people with color–you know, with skin of a darker hue, right? We’ve gotten nail polish, right, with different colors, and it’s vegan, right? Because a lot of our skin can be sensitive, right? So why aren’t we thinking about that? So we carry vegan nail polishes because it’s super important to us. Same thing with lipstick. We have a lipstick brand that literally all they do is make lipsticks for people who want to see bright tones, nude tones for black skin, right? Everything. And once we started digging in–and she really found a ton of different product lines that were made like that. We said, “Well, let’s help them get out there. Let’s give them a platform.” And so, you know, once I joined her vision, it’s–you know, the sky has been the limit. So Coil Beauty is definitely, you know, my love child, and I’m so excited and happy that my best friend was wanting to have me along on this journey with her. But, you know, she has definitely brought her vision to life, and I’m out here executing it for her, and we are continuing to grow, and we love it. And so we’re always looking for new brands. We’re always excited about what people are building. I think eventually we’ll probably have a line of our own, but I think one of the best–one of the best things I’ve seen is, you know, friends, family, people I meet on the street, when they ask me, you know, what color lipstick am I wearing or what kind is it or, you know, what am I putting in my hair, I tell them, and I say, “Oh, by the way, here’s where you can buy it.” They’re like, “I’ve never heard of this brand before,” and then we give them a place to go. So it’s been awesome.
Zach: That sounds incredible, and that’s amazing. And, you know, it’s interesting because I think what we don’t always consider or think about is that, like, we as people of non-white identity, we exist in a space that was not created inherently with us in mind, and so–
Kethlyn: Correct, especially in the beauty space, right? Because beauty standards were European at best, so all of the stores that sell beauty products were aligned to that, and it’s only within a recent year, right? Now, mind you, it’s 2019, right? So it’s only within the recent year that you’ve started to see more of a push, and that’s because we’ve got people, you know, like Pat McGrath and Rihanna, you know, people who are taking, you know, their stuff and putting it in your face to say “We exist out here, and we’re important.” Not only that, “We’re the ones spending the money.”
Zach: Right, they’re the ones spending the money. We spend the money on these products that don’t even–that aren’t even good.
Kethlyn: That don’t even exist. So we’re–like, there’s no reason why there’s not a shopping experience that doesn’t have to be so painful. We want it to be fun. I shouldn’t have to go into Sephora and it’s, like, really hard to find someone to talk to who I can say, “Listen, I am a black woman, and this is what I’m looking for,” and they’re like, “Oh, yeah. It might be difficult to match–” No. You come to Coil Beauty, what we wanted to do is make it fun. Shopping is still fun. We like to play with makeup. We like to try new hair stuff. We like to see new things, discover new products, where I know when I’m looking at them, all of them were created with me in mind. So why wouldn’t I want to do that, right? That’s really where it came from.
Zach: No, absolutely. That’s amazing. No, that’s super dope, and I just think again, like, anything we can do to, like, just further affirm, like, our perspective and experiences and, like, validate those needs, ’cause they’re real needs. They’re real, valid holes and gaps to close, right? And I mean, even, like, in the simple things around, like, Band-Aids. Like, it took me until I was, like, 23, 24 to realize that, “Oh, the color of a Band-Aid is–like, that’s white skin,” you know what I’m saying? Like, that’s not–like, being the default comes with a myriad of privileges, and I think–and, you know, I think, like, any time we can push up against that by just simply creating platforms, avenues, companies, quote unquote movements to affirm our own identity and perspective and experience and affirm those things, like, all the better. So that’s amazing. So Kethlyn, look here. Before we get up out of here, do you have any shout-outs? Anybody you want to, you know, speak to? You want to let the–we’ll let the air horns go. Anybody at all?
Kethlyn: Shout-out my village. My village is awesome. You know, I have–it’s a beautiful thing, you know? I think that we have downplayed how important is the village is in general. So for me, between my parents and my friends and my brother and my husband and my kids, you know, these are–you know, these are all different aspects. My mentors, people I work with, my colleagues. Everyone helps shape me as a person and continues to challenge me in all of that wonderful stuff. Obviously I have to shout-out my, you know, business, Coil Beauty, which I’m so excited about, and all the brands that we carry, you know, from Mielle to [?] to Pear Nova. I love all of them. Soultanicals. There’s too many to name, right? I could go on forever, but it has–it has been an amazing journey, and I’m excited to see where we go, and my business partner and, you know, the CEO and founder of my company, Aisha Bates, who’s also getting married this year–so excited for her.
Zach: Aye. Come on, Aisha. Aye.
Kethlyn: Right? And I just–honestly, you know, shout-out to you for creating a platform in, you know, Living Corporate, because I think there’s always a need to have conversations about everything. Who knows why and where and what type of impact we’ll have on each other and who might listen to this and get inspired and do something else or have a question, and please let your listeners know I’m always open to questions and, you know, figuring this whole life thing out isn’t easy, especially when it comes to, you know, self-care and self-confidence. It’s not–you know, it’s not a 20, 30-minute conversation. It’s a lifetime worth of experience and challenges and hardships all rolled into lessons learned.
Zach: Man, that’s so real. And yes, Kethlyn, we’re gonna make sure we have all of your contact information as well as Coil Beauty all in the show notes so people can click it and check it out. Now, listen, y’all. Y’all have been listening to the Living Corporate podcast. I’ve been your host, Zachary Nunn. You know you can follow us on Living Corporate @LivingCorp_Pod on Twitter. Follow us on Instagram @LivingCorporate, and then you can find us online at living-corporate.com–please say the dash–or livingcorporate.co, livingcorporate.org, livingcorporate.net. We have all of the Living Corporates except for livingcorporate.com. So you know what, Australia? So check it out. Not only do y’all need to do the aboriginals right–this is the second time I’ve said this, and I’m not playing–you need to do the aboriginals right, and you need to go ahead and give us that livingcorporate.com, ’cause somebody over there, Kethlyn, it’s, like, they own it. It’s, like–not the country, but, like, there’s a company over there that’s–like, they rent out, like, corporate space, and they call it livingcorporate.com. I’m like, “Come on, y’all can give that up.” You know what I’m saying?
Kethlyn: Oh, can they? [laughs] That sounds like you need to work on your negotiation skills, is what it sounds like.
Zach: [laughs] Me and Ade were, like, terrifed at the thought of, like, how much money that would actually cost. I’m certain that it–there’s, like, livingcorporate.com.au. I was like, “Oh, no.” So anyway–yeah, they got it on lock, but anyway, thank y’all. You have been listening to Kethlyn White, mentor, entrepreneur, businesswoman, mother, wife, overall dope individual. Peace.