Updated: May 18
At 19 years old, Shakya Geiger was at a crossroads in her life. She didn't know if she wanted to continue with school or start her own business. Like most entrepreneurs, the 9-5 standard way of living wasn't appealing to her. Shakya is a creative person who loves to experiment with different concepts. While spending a semester living abroad in Ecuador, she experienced a powerful insight.
She said, "So when I was in Ecuador, I was studying, and I had a lot of free time. So a lot of that free time allowed for a lot of self-reflection. I was going through a lot, just from being in high school and college and feeling depressed and having issues with my hair.
Like just taking out my emotions on my hair, cutting my hair off, and just trying to learn how to cope, and so when I was in Ecuador, it was a very different feeling, a very different scene for me. People appreciated my hair, people appreciated who I was, my culture. And so I guess it's something about America when I was in Ecuador, I just felt like I belonged.
I felt like I had a purpose. I felt like there was space for me to love myself like I had the capacity to love myself and my hair and learn how to do that."
Shakya noticed that in Black and Brown communities, primarily women didn't know how to maintain their hair properly or didn't know how to love their hair. She committed to changing this narrative and created The Morenita Collection. Shakya would always receive compliments about her head wraps in Ecuador. Her host mother gave her a needle and thread, and she started creating. She enjoyed picking out the different fabrics and bringing them all together. The locals would affectionately call her morenita, and that's how she created The Morenita Collection.
What fears did you have along the journey?
Shakya was fearful about starting a business and failing. She shared it with friends and family when she thought about the idea, but she didn't receive the support she thought she would.
She said, "People just don't see you for where you're at. They don't understand the places you're trying to go. And most especially, I think again, just this American mindset, like people think, wait, you're doing something way out of the ordinary, like, that's not gonna work. That's gonna fail. You shouldn't do that. So I allowed the projection of other people's fears to impact me for a short time. I had to let that go. At some point in time, I was like, you know what? This is their fear is, you know, again, projected on me." Shakya didn't want to remain stagnant or spend a lot of money going to school when that wasn't where her heart was.
She said, "And so I guess school was like my safety net. Cause again, this is like something that was out of the ordinary. I didn't have friends. I didn't have family who was running businesses and felt confident."
Tell us about a major setback and how you recovered.
Shakya admitted her first setbacks were with herself. She had to find ways to get out of her own way to build her business. Her second setback was managing the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. She said, "When it comes to entrepreneurship, like you're making money, you're reaching people, your product or selling out. You know, your marketing is great. You're doing these pop-up shops, you're up there, and then you kind of fall flat for a little bit. And so it's kind of like, how do you recover from that? How do you continue to like and maintain your confidence, trust, and faith in your business-like business as an entrepreneur?"
Shakya allowed her thoughts to take over, and there were times she was worried about whether she would make it as an entrepreneur. She wondered if she would have to scramble to put a plan b in place. She said, "Like, why aren't people buying my product? Maybe this is not the time anymore. Let me just nix it. And I'm like, no, I built this for a reason, and I can't prove people right. I feel like there was a pride thing. I had to prove people wrong because this was for me. And, like, I had a purpose behind it. So it wasn't like I was doing a business cause I wanted to make money. It's like, no, I have a story to tell, and I want to share this impact with other people."
Shakya took time off to do volunteer work in Puerto Rico during that time. Then took another month off to do a soul journey where she did yoga and art, and that allowed her to rebalance and reconnect with her purpose of starting the company in the first place. She picked up where she left off and resumed business.
Shakya further said, "The number one thing that entrepreneurs realize is most of your support will not come from the people you know."
What's the biggest risk you've taken?
Shakya quit her job and didn't return to school to fully commit to The Morenita Collection. But she also feels that starting the business was also an investment in herself. As an entrepreneur, she had to make do with little to no income in the early stages. Each investment in herself brought her a few steps closer. Shakya invested in classes, and materials, to help push her business and herself forward. She said, "We don't know what's on the other side, and we don't know what will come from this investment. The investment might fall flat, or it might really boost you two steps forward. But again, it's just about taking that risk and just stepping out on faith always."
What are you most proud of when it comes to The Morenita Collection?
Shakya is most proud of the positive impact that the head wraps continue to have on her customers. The collection inspires people to want to know more about their hair. Her customers say it makes them feel beautiful. Shakya uses various fabrics, colors, and patterns to accentuate the boldness of The Morenita Collection. But most importantly, she teaches her customers can learn techniques to better care for their hair.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
This was Shakya's first pitch competition. Her mentor would send her numerous pitch competitions, but she ignored them and didn't have faith in her business to move forward. She said, "So I was like, let me just try it out. To be honest with you, I didn't feel like I had a very high chance of winning a spot, but I was like, you know what, let me just submit it. Anything can happen."
When Shakya originally applied, she wasn't invited to pitch. It wasn't until someone couldn't move forward that she became the next runner-up. She said, "I had no idea what to expect—my first time pitching. I was clueless. I was invited to a practice pitch, and I hopped on a zoom call, and everybody was ready, and they got these decks together, and I'm just like, wait a minute. I don't even know what a deck is. People said words I don't even know and talked about target market and percentages."
Shakya interrupted the pitch competition and asked for help. She said, "I was reaching out to people. I was listening, even just like experiencing, observing other people's pitches, how they presented and what things they were presenting.
Did it feel intimidating? Absolutely. Was it super-duper nerve-wracking? Absolutely. But I told myself these people picked me. I was the next one up for a reason. Like I cannot back down, this is a chance for me to have a higher reach. Even if I don't win, I'm still winning.
I had to keep that mindset. I'm still going to win at the end of the day. I'm still going to win because I had the opportunity to present my business to other people. They probably never heard of me. Again, I had the chance to step out of my comfort zone and speak about my business and speak about myself. I believe in myself, and even if other people don't believe in me; I do.
I might not reach 10,000 people, but I'll reach someone. That's something I will take away with me from the pitch competition. There's always someone listening. There's always someone watching. You never know who you can be in contact with and what connection they could make for you.
And so that was something that kept me going. It was a very, very challenging experience, to say the least, very challenging. But I did it."
The pitch competition helped Shakya think more deeply about her business. She thought more about her audience, became more specific about the numbers, how to scale her business, and how to be more intentional about her goals and planning.
Her advice for those looking to pitch is, "Don't take it personally. I used to be in a mindset of wanting people to let me know where I need to grow but give it to me soft.
Like, don't hurt me or hurt my feelings, but in a pitch competition, they give it to you raw. People will tell you how it is because they want you to do better. Develop tough skin and just know that these people only want us to grow. They cultivated this organization so that we can empower one another and to hear each other out.
Do your research to know your business? Sometimes, we think we know our business, and we really don't. Coming into the pitch competition, there were terms, and there were areas of my business where I had no idea even existed or had no idea who my target consumer was. You need to know your business inside and out.
Another thing I will offer is to believe in yourself. It can get super nerve-wracking when you're in front of the judges, and you're thinking, they're going to notice this flaw. Also, even if other people do not believe in you—they don't see your vision. They don't know your plan. They can't even think about how you're going to execute your plan.
And I had to tell myself, like, this is my first time. This is my very first time. It's okay. If I mess up, it's okay. It's all right because again, I can go back and reflect, I can say, oh, this is where I got caught up. How can I be better in the future?"
Shakya used the pitch competition to purchase more products for her vending machine.
Support isn't always given to Black and Brown women in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Shakya shared the gender biases she's received being a woman in business. She said, "When it came to me stepping in and being like, hey, this is my idea, can we work together? It was just like, I felt like I was getting asked a lot more questions because people were uncertain of who I was or if I had my stuff together, if I had the right ideas or if I knew what I was talking about. It was like, does she know what she's talking about?"
She also notices this when she attempts to collaborate with Black men. Shakya feels that she has to go the extra mile to prove her worth so she can create collaborations with other businesses. She said, "Why can't we support each other? We know that it's a community of us Black and Brown people trying to make it.
We're trying to elevate and grow. Like, why can't we be on the same team? Why do you have to challenge me? Because you don't believe in me when, you know, we can just, again, we can grow together. We can bounce ideas off of each other. We can collaborate. We can work together."
What's the most critical lesson that you've learned about business?
Shakya has learned to find ways to remain grounded. She believes that entrepreneurship can often take people off balance, and they forget about themselves. She said, "The hustle can make you feel like you need to keep moving nonstop.
Self-care is so important. You have to please always, always have a very solid, intentional routine of just doing self-care. Because most of the time, when you're an entrepreneur, it's just you. You are wearing the many hats you.
You've got your hands in all aspects of the business. You might have an angry customer here. You might have to keep track of your records for taxes here. And you might have to create this product here and do your marketing and do this and this. And I feel like the idea behind entrepreneurship is you have to keep going like you have to have this hustle. And you can't stop. You can't stop. Take it on the chin and take it on the chin when the reality is if you burn out, who will pick up the pace for you."
Shakya has personally experienced burn outrunning her business, and as a result, she couldn't perform the way she wanted to. She said, "It always starts with you."
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to succeed in business?
Shakya believes every entrepreneur needs to have patience and people skills. You'll have to learn to communicate your business and talk to people, whether internal or external. Constant exchanges are happening between you, your product, and the people. She also said, "You have to be professional. You have to know your stuff. You have to show up confident. If you don't believe in yourself, how can I believe in you?"
Shakya believes there isn't an overnight success, and that's where patience comes in because goals take time to develop and achieve. She said, "I feel like you got to work a little harder because you're still learning the ropes."
Shakya believes that entrepreneurs need to remember their impact on people. She said, "So you have to remember always keep it in the back of your head, the result you make on people. How do you show up for people, and how do you allow people to depart from you? Because people are always going to take their first impression, and they're always going to bring it up no matter what interaction they have is always going to be like, oh yeah, I know that business.
And this is what my experience was, whether it was good or bad, like it's your job again, to have that patience meet people where they're at, and just show up for your people."
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Thus far, Shakya has enjoyed creating fun content on TikTok. She also loves to create different patterns for The Morenita Collection and experiment with making other products.
How do you measure success?
Shakya believes success isn't a one-path journey. Success for her is doing the things that make her genuinely happy, being able to grow and develop herself, and encouraging everyone to redefine success for themselves. Shakya said, "What makes you feel full? And do you have the capacity to continue to grow so that you don't stay in this one space, but you know that you can bloom."
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs?
Shakya said, "I think that there is a lot of space for us, but more so on a level of us being aware that we need each other to grow. We need each other to reach different spaces, and we can do it together. Like, I love a good team.
I love a good sense of empowerment, especially for Black and Brown women. Just knowing that we can make it in bigger spaces if we work together, I have faith that it will go there."
Shakya loves to share other Black and Brown women's products, and they're usually surprised by the exposure. She said, "We just cultivated this space where we know that we can grow together. We just need each other's backs."
If you and I were meeting three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel over the moon about your progress?
Shakya hopes to have expanded her business with her first hires. She understands she can't build The Morenita Collection where it needs to be without a team. She also hopes to maintain her drive to continue to grow her business.
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing. How do you take care of yourself?
Shakya has become more intentional with her self-care routine. She used to neglect her sleep and meals because she'd work from sun up to sundown. Now, she ensures that she eats and wakes up at a reasonable hour, and if not, she doesn't beat herself up about it. Shakya separates her days between creating content and creating products. She journals to reflect and release. Shakya meditates and does yoga. She believes movement and breath are important for entrepreneurs because emotions can get held in the body.
Most importantly, Shakya takes days off. She used to work every day of the week, but not anymore. Shakya will read self-help books to get to know herself better and find more ways to remain centered, present, and grounded.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
"Refill your well and stay in alignment with self."
What is a book and podcast that you would recommend?
Book: Mind Your Business: A Workbook to Grow Your Creative Passion Into a Full-time Gig by Ilana Griffo
Podcast: Chronicles Abroad
What's your favorite business hack or app that you can't live without?
TikTok and Shopify.
Name one food item you have a hard time saying no to.
What's next for The Morenita Collection?
The Morenita Collection is focused on getting its vending machines in front of the right audiences in suitable locations, for instance, on college campuses. Shakya is expanding her reach, doing more pop-up shows, and interacting with her community more.
Any last words…
Shakya said, "Just keep going. I feel like sometimes we just need a reminder. Like we want people just to tell us to keep going. Sometimes it feels like you are alone, or sometimes it seems like you're working your business just to work the business, and nobody sees you, and you're not reaching people.
But you know that one video might go viral. Just keep going. I always need to remind myself, or sometimes it's not enough, even if I do remind myself. Sometimes it's more when someone sees me, and they see me where I'm standing, and it's just like, keep going like you got this."