It is not every kid who learns to count to 100 by taking inventory on boxes of “chawkulits” in the spare “factory” down the hall.
But that’s how Stamford first-grader Taylor is learning her arithmetic — and there could be far longer numbers to master before long.
Born of the pandemic’s interruption to her daughter’s routines — including mommy time via periodic outings to Luxe Nail & Spa in north Stamford and treats afterward at the Lorca coffee house — Khandice O’Kelley launched Pink Chawkulit on Black Friday, selling nail polishes that leave out toxic chemicals used as ingredients in many brands.
“Taylor would always pick a pink polish and she would get a little bunny rabbit painted on her finger,” O’Kelley said. “I had a child who was home, who had been progressing so much in terms of her learning. … Now her routine was changed.”
With O’Kelley’s days occupied working remotely from home as a pharmaceutical sales manager, Taylor’s TV and tablet time were trending up when not engaged with remote learning — classic cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck and Peanuts are her favorites — and O’Kelley committed to coming up with activity-based alternatives.
“We needed something to do in the evenings that would be her and I — after school and after I am off work — and would keep her from the screen time and keep her occupied,” O’Kelley said. “We did baking, we started an indoor garden which we still have, we did all those things — and then came Pink Chawkulit.”
‘Why don’t we make our own, mommy?’
Deciding to try their own hands at a spa manicure one morning, Taylor asked if O’Kelley could paint one of those bunnies (“no, I cannot” she laughingly recollects her response). But it got her thinking about nail polishes and, by extension, the ingredients that went into them, and she said she became dismayed at the descriptions of some of the chemicals and the damage they can do.
“And Taylor just said, ‘Well, why don’t we make our own nail polish, mommy?’” O’Kelley said. “I said, ‘Let’s do it.’
“We saw a lot of videos and we were able to see how things were made — the colors, the hues,” she continued. “It was very exciting, just learning. … And we talked about starting our own business and what that means, and how we would do it.”
Purchasing an entrepreneurship kit online — they went with Taylor’s choice of an inexpensive kit from BossDivas — they dove in, researching everything from registering the business and trademark, to sourcing U.S. ingredients and manufacturers, to getting a website and payment engine up and running. They chose the alternative spelling after finding that web domain names for “Pink Chocolate” had been scooped up by a cybersquatter charging thousands of dollars for the rights.
Those were big numbers and rough-and-tumble concepts for a girl having only just cleared kindergarten, but O’Kelley said Taylor stuck with it. It has been a different vantage of entrepreneurship from her own upbringing in Wallingford and New Haven, with her father owning a Naugatuck insurance agency and her mother running a New Haven art gallery and bookstore, she said.
Now, in an era of remote learning, Taylor has been getting a home-based MBA of sorts working out the nitty-gritty, glittery details of Pink Chawkulit alongside her mom. Once they identified candidate manufacturers, it took only a few weeks to get their first samples and they were able to choose one and order their first volume shipment in late July.
The debut inventory arrived about 10 weeks later. In the interim, O’Kelley put out her web design requirements and budget on Bark.com and got 20 bids for the Pink Chawkulit job. O’Kelley chose A FireflyStudio from web designer Lynda Norgaard — she offered photography services as well which was huge for O’Kelley — and Pink Chawkulit was on the doorstep of going live, with O’Kelley touting it in advance of the Black Friday launch on Instagram and Facebook.
She said she remembers that first Shopify “bing” from a Florida buyer, with O’Kelley and her daughter fulfilling the order themselves from what they call “the Pink Chawkulit factory” in a re-purposed guest bedroom.
“We launched the website on Black Friday — we call it the ‘Pink Friday’ launch — and our first sale … was at 8:06 a.m.,” O’Kelley said. “We were dancing, we were so excited. … Taylor loved that two of the five [polishes] they bought were ones she named — they were ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Yummy.’”
Pink Chawkulit offers a dozen tones at present, including “Toy Poodles” and “Puppy Kisses” that reference the family dogs Coco and Chanel, two names that were obviously off the table.
Another Pink Chawkulit tone is “Piggy Bank” — and O’Kelley said she will take Pink Chawkulit as far as it will go. At a minimum, she envisions Taylor being set on the summer job front in her teen years — and who knows after that.
O’Kelley described sales as sporadic in December, given intense online competition amid holiday deals from major cosmetics brands, but says Pink Chawkulit is building a following steadily in the new year. Shopify lists Pink Chawkulit’s store traffic in the top 15 percent of companies that began using the e-commerce platform the week following Black Friday.
“We’re only two months in,” she said. “I want this to be something my daughter and I can participate in growing. ... I want this to be my daughter’s first experience of seeing that she can accomplish and do anything.”
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman