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How Jamaican-American Kalilah Wright is empowering Black women

On April 12th, 2015 Freddie Carlos Gray Jr. was arrested for illegal possession of a knife. A week later, he died in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department. Gray became the latest victim in a trend that continues to this day. For Kalilah Wright, the whirlwind of the murder, the protests, and knowing it will repeat itself again and again was too much.

“I felt like I had a bigger purpose. There had to be something more I should be doing for my community,” she shared over the phone.

Mess in a Bottle was born from that conviction. The simple, yet elegant designs, featuring inspirational and uplifting messages emblazoned on shirts and jackets, come packaged in a reusable bottle. “I had the idea [based on] the 310 BC idea of receiving a message from the ocean,” she explained. “It conjures the idea of a gift meant just for you, traveling across time and space to meet you. Words of affirmation from a future you, the one that benefits from the work you’re doing today. Maybe words from the past.” Kalilah serves a primarily African American clientele, who sometimes need to be reminded of how great they were as a people before colonization. 

For such a seemingly humble idea, Mess In a Bottle has made outsized waves. What started as a bedroom business has long since scaled past the confines of her son’s bedroom and is now a 12-person operation complete with bespoke accounting and marketing teams. Her headline item, a camouflage print long-sleeve jacket emblazoned with large text “Queen, Don’t be afraid to rule like a king,” has captured the attention of an engaged public. Both award-winning screenwriter Lena Waithe, and one of the greatest athletes of all time, Serena Williams have this item proudly hanging in their wardrobes. 

Mess in a Bottle was created to empower, by not only delivering affirming messages, but also by turning Black men and women into canvases of positivity. The mantra carries through outside of her designs. Kalilah runs a Tee Course, a 30-day boot camp where aspiring designers can learn from her trailblazing career directly. Everything from advice, and best practices, to website audits. 

At Essence Fest, Wright preached about the notion of “putting your name in the hat,” her version of “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” She explained, “Sometimes we think because we’re starting something it’s going to be little, or we’re not sure it’s going to be well received. It’s important to put your name out there and see where it goes. You’ll be surprised, too, how many people pick it up and run with it – really resonate with the thing you’re creating.”

From working with her mother in her son’s room, to plotting a foray into t-shirt vending machines, and meeting her business idol, Mark Cuban, Kalilah is the walking embodiment of her simplest piece of advice. “Always try, you never know what the business might morph into.”

Kalilah Wright is a Jamaican-born US immigrant who was raised in Brooklyn, NY. She has blossomed into an accomplished designer and trained architect with a masters degree from Penn State University. With just $500, this vivacious woman started her successful business, Mess in a Bottle, which is still growing. She provides assistance to budding entrepreneurs through motivational speaking and one-on-one consultations. Kalilah is also the 2016 winner of the Wells Fargo Business pitch competition and the 2018 winner of the iFundWomen pitch competition. One of her ultimate goals is to become a published author.

Follow www.messinabottle.com

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