03 Mindful Representation and Diversifying your Product Lineup with Kid Swag’s Kimberlee West

Apr 25, 2021 | Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Episodes, Impact Business

My Kindness Calendar's Maran Stern-Kubista



In today’s episode, we chat with Kimberlee West, from Kids Swag. Kids Swag is a brand built on the idea of mindful representation. We learn what she looks for when sourcing products for her shop. About the social cost to conventional toy curation and the lasting effects of not seeing yourself represented in the toy aisle, how you can diversify your playroom and why diversity, empathy, and inclusion need to be carefully considered in the product design phase.

Kid swag is an e-commerce store dedicated to helping raise confident kids. Confident kids that appreciate difference. The founder of Kids Swag is Kimberlee West an intentional curator. Her e-commerce shop is stocked with accessory items, toys, things like that, that are reflective of the diversity that we have in our world.

if you want to learn more about Kimberlee, Mindful Representation, or to pick up a gift for a confident kid in your life, visit KidsSwag.ca. You can follow along with Kimberlee on her mission to help parents raise confident kids that appreciate difference on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter @kidswagco

About the Host


I'm Jennifer Myers Chua. The Host and Producer of the Cost Of Goods Sold podcast. I'm an entrepreneur, a creative, a cookbook fanatic, mother.  I have always been interested in hearing people's stories and I've been determined to change the world for as long as I can remember.

You'll find me at home in Toronto deconstructing recipes, listening to podcasts, enjoying time with friends or wandering alone through a big city.  I'm excited to have you here. Let's do better, together.


Episode Transcript

Jennifer Chua: Hello, everyone. And welcome. You’re listening to Cost Of Goods Sold with Jennifer Myers Chua episode 03.

In today’s episode, we chat with Kimberlee West, from Kids Swag. Kids Swag is a brand built on the idea of mindful representation. We learn what she looks for when sourcing products for her shop. About the social cost to conventional toy curation and the lasting effects of not seeing yourself represented in the toy aisle, how you can diversify your playroom and why diversity, empathy, and inclusion need to be carefully considered in the product design phase.

Kid swag is an e-commerce store dedicated to helping raise confident kids. Confident kids that appreciate difference. The founder of Kids Swag is Kimberlee West an intentional curator. Her e-commerce shop is stocked with accessory items, toys, things like that, that are reflective of the diversity that we have in our world.

Kimberlee grew up in Canada. She’s first-generation Canadian, like many of us here in Toronto. Her parents immigrated from Jamaica. And it was an opportunity to study in Jamaica that led Kimberlee down the path to building the business. (But more on that later.)

Kimberlee’s very honest about how difficult building a business can be, how draining it can be when times are tough, but also how deeply rewarding it can be knowing that impact that you can make on your community. Kimberlee gets emails from her customers that validate everything that she’s done to build Kids Swag. One mother of a black son found Kimberlee’s shop after her son kept trying to scrub off his skin because he didn’t want to be dark anymore. It’s heartbreaking.

The mother told Kimberlee that she had to become very intentional in what she bought for her son and how Kids Swag had helped her with this process. She’s even now more mindful about ensuring that her son is comfortable being who he is and letting him know that he is beautiful and loved. The goal of Kids Swag is to be a resource to help Kimberlee’s customers raise confident kids that love themselves and appreciate difference. So she was particularly moved by this moment.

Kimberlee West: And it was amazing to be a part of that. Cause she was like, I didn’t even realize that I had to take an active role. I took for granted that he’s black and he lives in a black environment that he should just love himself. And like moments like that, I’m like, all right, there’s a reason I’m here.

Jennifer Chua:  Everything in this store is about representation, but there’s this other piece about inclusion that’s sometimes missed. Kimberlee has been so intentional with the products that she sourced.  And while some of the products stand out as favorites, she feels that the most important product in the store are the Swimma caps. They are allowing a lot of young girls and adult women of black descent with a certain hair texture to get into the pool.  Honestly as a white woman it’s something that i never consider.

Kimberlee West: One thing culturally is that there’s a lot of black women who do not swim because one, their hair doesn’t fit in a standard. Swim cap, but two, the chlorine is very damaging to their hair. And so then it feels like this entire experience of having to worry about hair that you then say, you know what? I don’t want to learn how to swim. And then you are not enjoying the full gamut of all the things that you can do. Surfing, canoeing, kayaking, because of the fear, what will happen to your hair. And so that one to me holds a special spot because even my girls and I wear it and being able to get out to the water and not feeling limited to this idea of, let me just put my feet in. I think that’s really important

 Jennifer Chua: Five years ago, Kimberlee was on maternity leave. She had just had her second daughter. And faced with returning to work in the commercial real estate world. Kimberlee was feeling unfulfilled. But more than that really? She was incredibly sad. She had a good job. She was leading a team, but she felt like something was missing. She didn’t have the freedom to focus on her own goals and her own life. And after spending time at home with her children, Kimberlee had the space to reflect.

Kimberlee West: Life before Kids Swag was me trying to check boxes and doing all the things that seem like you’re supposed to do, like get married, have kids, have a good job, et cetera. And with Kids Swag, it was me really saying, you know what’s actually meaningful and important to me. And what type of change can I hope to try to drive through the work that I do?

Jennifer Chua: I had the chance to meet Kimberlee when she was starting this business. And it’s been incredible to watch Kids Swag grow. The business was built on one clear core principle that guides all of Kimberlee’s decisions and she has a vision, she’s on important mission and she knows how important this work is to our world.

 Kimberlee West:  The world needs more  listening, like actually taking the time to understand, hear other people’s narratives, their stories, their perspectives, and trying to process it through a lens of not all of my past experiences, but really what’s a new way of looking at the world. What  we need less of is this  knee jerk reaction of just wanting to judge. There’s a lot of times where the first step is really understanding.

I remember coming across a quote that I live by and it’s like, it’s not that you necessarily don’t like someone it’s that you haven’t gotten to know them yet. And I was like, Oh that’s fair because you probably had this initial reaction based on past experiences, how that person looks, the context that they’re within, that you assume that they’re going to be someone that you don’t like, or that you won’t get along with, and then as you start to learn more about them and just see them as the individual, you realize, Oh, that’s interesting. And now you’re so much better off because of it.

Jennifer Chua:  Kids Swag is focused on representation. Do you have a moment that stands out in your mind when you decided that you wanted to focus on that?

Kimberlee West:  So many, there’s so many moments. My background, I, I am from Jamaican immigrants. So identify as being black.  Growing up in Canada. It was very. Few and far between that, I saw myself in any sort of professional and just socially structural environment that was positive. If I watched the news, it was negative. The way that I got some positivity was being Jamaican and of Caribbean culture. There were times through just music, food, family gatherings, and that was the positive images that I was seeing. But overall there is this feeling of being othered and not good enough and not belonging to the Canadian identity.

I had the opportunity in university to do an exchange program. I actually chose to go to Hong Kong, but my sister, my older sister was planning to study law and she was going to Jamaica and she was like, wouldn’t it be cool if we were both in Jamaica? And I was like, Oh, that would be cool. So I was like, all right,  I’ll make to make a first preference. If it doesn’t work out, then I’m going to China. And that’s fantastic. It worked out and studying in Jamaica was transformational when it comes to representation because all of my fellow classmates were black. All of my teachers were black. I studied political science. They brought in special speakers. So the politicians that came in to speak were black and they were all phenomenally well-spoken educated, their perspective, how they carried themselves. It was just all so foreign to me because I had grown up in the world where that was considered. Almost non-existent and if it did exist, it was the exception to the rule of what it actually meant to be black. When I was in Jamaica, I no longer was black. Really. I was Canadian. I was Kimberlee, I was that girl that likes to dance, but I wasn’t identified just based on the fact of my skin tone. And that was exhilarating and freeing and completely changed the way that I show up in the world and have so much more confidence in who I am.

A pivotal moment in my development when I was then pregnant with my first. And this is in 2011. And really excited to start her toy and book collection. I went to my favorite store, which is Chapters Indigo. They’ve made a lot of progress since then. And I couldn’t find anything. So the only books that I could find in the kid’s section were about Martin Luther King and slavery. And I was like, I’m going to be reading this book to my zero month old. I don’t need them to be brought down by this idea that this is the only narrative when it comes to being Black. I just wanted books of little girls or boys going to the park, going to school, just doing regular things. And so that put me on the trajectory of knowing that I was going to have to be very intentional of finding products for my daughter and now daughters. It was really through friends and family that said, well, you’ve already done the work you’re already doing this naturally. Why wouldn’t you turn that into a business? And I was like, that’s not a business. I’m like, that’s like a service I can, like, I can throw something together and just make it easy. And then low and behold, it’s a business and people are really just personally touched by the idea that the story exists, that I’ve made it easy.

And for me, it wasn’t about, I need to create a bunch of products. It was really the discovery piece. I wanted it to make it that much easier for parents to be able to discover. There’s an amazing assortment of brands out there that are dedicated to this idea of representation of all types. It’s just that the mainstream store is not making it the easiest for you to access. I’m going to try to make it easy for you.

Jennifer Chua:  that’s amazing. I’m glad you took on this work seriously.

Kimberlee West:  I appreciate that.

Jennifer Chua:  I seem to think based on what you’re talking about right now, that you’ve always been the kind of person who is interested in creating change. Is that correct?

Kimberlee West:  It’s always that piece. And I think we’ve all heard the quote be the change that you want to see. And so it’s that feeling of if there’s a problem and that, I think this is also my Caribbean upbringing and having parents that were just like, and like, why can’t you figure it out? So I think, and in a positive way, so it was always that feeling of like, if there’s a struggle or a problem, there’s no reason because of your age or whatever limitation you might have in your mind, why you can’t have some positive effect on it.

Jennifer Chua:  So you had this idea and then what happened?

Kimberlee West:  So I think this is like the funny part because my background was in marketing, but I didn’t really consider myself a marketer, especially not in this world of digital marketing of like Instagram and all of that type of stuff. And so in the early days of starting the company, I knew some very minimal basics where I was like, well, I need to create a website. And then I should have probably create an Instagram account. I didn’t even have an Instagram account. I even a personal one at this point. It’s like, I think I should do that. And then I was like, do I need a store? Like it was like, it was honestly this feeling of I’m on mat leave. I’m trying to be a good mother to my two girls and manage all of that. I was also looking for a full-time job. So as I mentioned, I came from the commercial area, commercial real estate space, realizing that it was just draining on my soul. And I could not go back into that industry,  the industry itself was just draining. And I knew I couldn’t exist in that space positively.

And so I was trying to make a huge career shift and say,  I knew through a couple of reasons that I wanted to work in the tech space. So I was going through a lot of work, just trying to interview and find the right jobs and coffee dates and all this type of stuff. And at the same time, and my husband always thinks that I’m crazy and continues to this day.

I was like, I should start a business. And so the early days was starting as small as I could.  I ordered a bunch of shirts from a printer. They didn’t really come out that great. I ordered some stickers. So I used just artist’s work that I found on Etsy that I felt was good for what the store is going to be about. I was like, all right, I’m going to use that type of character on these different products. Because the products I had found up until this point, weren’t the full assortment. Like when I think about Kids Swag and why I created it, it’s because. For the most part, it was becoming easier to find children’s books that had different black, Indian, Chinese characters. It was really hard to find accessory type items since the term “Swag” that had representation.

When I had my daughter, and I was on mat leave, she was nine months. The older one was four years old. The older one was starting to feel that she wanted to have blonde hair, blue eyes.

That was becoming her sense of what beauty was. And it made me kind of question, what am I doing wrong? Because as I mentioned, I was trying to be intentional representation. But when I looked around the house, I realized the little art table that she had, the curtains, the bedding, the backpack, like all of the other stuff that you don’t really think about, all had Disney characters that were giving her a OneNote sense of what it meant to be beautiful. And so I was realizing that as much as I read books with her every day, the accessory items and those everyday items that children actually interact with when it comes to this building, their own cognitive skills, building, their sense of understanding of the world also needed to be representative.

So like in the early days it was just small things, like little activity books or notebooks and things like that. And I wanted it to be stuff like t-shirts cause you wear that to school. I wanted it to be items like backpacks and lunch bags. I did actually find some of that, which was good. But I was really thinking about what are all the ways that I could find items.

And if I couldn’t find them create items to try to set up this store because the main message I wanted to have come across, and that was really hard was that it wasn’t about any one product in the store. It was the idea of here’s this almost. Guide get started kit on how to ensure that you’re changing your mindset around the different types of items. And so whether you buy a t-shirt or you buy a backpack, that’s one step towards you now thinking more intentionally about having representation in your overall world. Of course you want to embrace a lot of cool storylines and characters, but then you have to try to figure out how to balance it.

Jennifer Chua:  So how are you different from other retailers that are curating children’s products?

Kimberlee West:  I would say the biggest thing for me is one working with small business owners, small creators, but looking for people that are, really intentional. The first thought in their business was I’m creating this particular product line, be it jewelry box swim cap, et cetera, because I acknowledge that there is a pain when it comes to kids not seeing themselves. And so when it came to curating, that’s what I was looking for. The first part of it was of course, black representation, knowing how important that was going to be for my girls to see themselves and for them to have this expanded view of wait a minute, Yes, I’m interested in hockey, but it doesn’t mean that only white people can play hockey. There’s so many different types of people that can play hockey or whatever it is. It was really thinking through how do I ensure that I’m finding creators and finding brands that are on the same wavelength of me. When it comes to trying to create these products. And then on top of that, that they are highly quality products.

As much as I’m an e-commerce store, I think of it as being a brick and mortar store in the sense of if someone was walking through the store and if they picked up this product, would they have that initial feeling of like, Oh, wow, this is a high quality product, or would it be the feeling of like, ah, I’m not too sure because I also have to be mindful of it’s different. If I was creating the products myself, And I’m just the small little handcrafted creator, but it’s because the storylines easier for me to share it with the person that’s buying it, et cetera, but being a reseller of a product, there’s a higher bar that I need to meet, where my consumers are expecting that I vetted the product and I’ve tested it out and tried it and have a sense of the quality level.

And it also minimizes risks that I ensure that if I’m sending something out in the mail, that I don’t have to worry about returns, et cetera. And so those were really the two key things was that it’s not only that you have products with black characters on them it’s more so. So what was your intention behind them?

That’s fairly easy to find most websites. will give you a story. And about us page, I also connect with the actual owner of the company just to understand sort of their mindset. And then the other piece is what’s the quality of products and that happens through two ways. One me actually getting a sample of the product and then two looking to see, well, what are the reviews, comments on social media, about the product? Just to affirm that, it is something that is of interest that people are enjoying. They’re getting the benefit out of it and kids actually like it.  Most important is always thinking with the child in mind. I have the benefit of having two girls. So when I get the products, they’re usually I call them like my product testers,  usually, their reaction helps me know whether I should carry a product or not.

Jennifer Chua:  You touched on the fact that you’re looking on people’s websites for, cues on how they’re intentional or how they have the same values that you have. Are there any tips that you’d give a small business owner who is on the other side of this? So like a product creator. Is there anything that you might specifically look for that they should be mindful of to include on their site or in their social media?

Kimberlee West:  The biggest thing is story. So it always strikes me as odd. And I get advertisements sometimes from some businesses where. They have a product that looks intriguing. It looks really good. I go to their webpage and there’s not even one page that is about us or our story or anything that gives you a sense of like, who actually owns the store. And that to me is usually a red flag, unfortunately, especially when it comes to children’s products, a lot of them are mass produced. They’re produced in China. There’s an incentive to try to jump on the bandwagon of a current trend. And so it’s like, well, is your intention just to source money or is the intention to actually add to the value, the local good of, society?

And so I look for that because also it helps me when it comes to telling the story of that product, because a lot of the products that people are buying, they’re buying it because of the story. So not only the initial gut of like, Oh, I really love what this looks like. They are also looking at this story. When I look at my analytics on the backend, they’re looking to see what is this product about? Where did it come from? Who created it? Because all of that factors in to them being willing to actually take out their credit card and make that purchase and bring it into their home.

The hardest thing that we always have to recognize with children is that the visual video effect really has a strong impact. Like why does Elsa or Mickey mouse or any of those characters’ do really well it’s because your child can easily access animated ways of actually understanding the characteristics of that particular character. When you’re bringing in a character from one of the products in my store. So let’s say it’s Nia ballerina doesn’t have a cartoon. Nia ballerina doesn’t have a book. Or so the story that the child gets is whatever the parent can tell the child about that character. And so it makes it that much more important to ensure that you’re arming parents with the ability to introduce products, there’s a lot of times where you’ll introduce a new product and they’re not really that interested. They’re like great. You want me to have this product? Because she looks like me and that’s not enough for a kid.  One of the reasons that I always talk about this idea of mindful representation and the main premise behind it is being intentional about the images that you share with your child.

But you don’t need to always talk about race. You don’t even need to talk about the similarities and features between the new product that you bought in them. It’s just the idea of like, Oh, look at this really cool toy, introduce it into this, the regular play cycle. And then over time you can start talking about it like, Oh, was in this little cool that her hair is curly, like yours old when I’m doing your hair, why don’t you pretend to do your doll’s hair, et cetera, because it makes it that much easier for the child to want to play with it. It’s similar to like you teaching a child’s about math versus turning it into a game. Kids don’t really want to be taught to. They want to interact with things.

And a lot of the tips I get aren’t even direct from the industry that I’m in with toys, et cetera. It’s also learning different things from how my children do other stuff like the perfect example. The youngest one is now five. At three is the age where you’re like, I want them to learn their letters and spell their name, et cetera.

She was defiant. She was like, I do not want to sit by a table. I don’t care to hold a pencil. I do not want to learn letters. So we came up with a game just called alphabet hide and seek. And it was the idea of if we turn it into a game. And so like she would hide and seek, they will all play that game. We had little magnet letters. We hit them around the house. And now if you found a letter, she wasn’t able to keep it unless she identified its name. And so it made it easier because she was like, Oh, this is so much fun. So you’re always thinking about the fun factor with different things.

Jennifer Chua:  This might be a product opportunity for you. You might want to workshop that. So when you began to explore this industry a little bit more, or just the children products industry, not necessarily mindful representation or anything just children’s products in general, when you began to look at conventional toys, did you find anything that was surprising?

Kimberlee West:  No. And people might think, of course you’re surprised. No, I grew up in Canada. So I think if anything, what was surprising was that as my girls got older, I started to see a little bit more representation. So growing up, all I saw were white dolls. Like Barbie was like the be all end all. And that’s what you saw.

 I remember one year, actually Christmas time, I was stunned to see a wall of dolls. It was downtown. So really you have to go to certain places. It was downtown Toronto. And they had dolls from every single background. I forgot what they were celebrating, but it was like dolls of the world. And they had dolls from Mexico and India and just everything. It was just beautiful. And I was like, Oh, those types of things shock me. But on a regular everyday basis, when I go into the stores and I’m looking at the doll aisle, even when they have variety. So you think about like the dolls that have come out, the American girl, my lifestyle, our generation. You go into your regular big box store or whatever store carries it as much as online, those dolls come in a variety of different types of backgrounds, more often than not, the store carries a very small selection of the dolls that are there. And it’s basically the same doll. It’s like three white dolls, but maybe different hairstyles. And you’re like, Oh, you could have carried the wider selection, but you decided not to. And so I think that’s what always stands out to me is that it’s always so hard when it comes to the convenience part of it, or even the expense a lot more times often than not the doll that is of a different origin black, indian anything is more expensive. And so you look at that and you’re like, well, why is it more expensive? It’s because it was probably a little bit harder to sell that company’s thinking about their turnover time to sell a particular product. They’re trying to have some sort of profit margin on it because they didn’t buy as much. They probably put a higher bet in buying, let’s say a hundred units of the white Barbie doll, 50 units of the black Barbie doll that brings it to a certain price point. So that, that could explain why the price is higher, but there always seems to be a more premium price on those dolls. And you’re like, Oh, okay. That’s interesting.

Again, making it a little bit harder when you’re thinking about I’m trying to diversify my space and I’m just talking about dolls. If I think about. On the accessory side. Or even toys activities. When I think about puzzles, if I think about blankets, if I think about ballerina jewelry boxes, I think about all that stuff, all of that is still extremely white.

I think it’s more visceral to be like, Oh, wait a minute. Why is it that black girls can only play with white dolls? And if a white girl has a black doll, it’s like crazy. There was things that came out. Oprah did a series in her own magazine where there was a little white girl standing in front of a wall of black dolls. And she was asking the question. Does this feel odd to you? And it was really to elicit that feeling like why should it feel odd to you because black kids have done the opposite for generations?

In the doll space, you’re starting to see more diversity, but if you think about all the other spaces, like I mentioned, that are so important when it comes to just every day that your child being able to be exposed to different representation, still very one note and still very hard to find.

Jennifer Chua:  If we just kept up with the all white Barbies in the toy aisle and all of our books and our blankets and everything that are representing only white families, which is really heartbreaking, to be honest. What are the costs  the children of the future? If we just keep up the way we’ve been going?

Kimberlee West:  I don’t think people recognize or understand the psychological impact of not seeing yourself. One of the things that I did as I delve more into Kids Swag was reading a lot more and I came across a study and it was saying by the age of three, and it happens earlier, but age three is quite pivotal by the age of three, your child is really understanding their world based off of race. So they’re categorizing people and giving them certain characteristics and traits. So this, basically, this is the beginning of stereotyping at age three. And so you can imagine if in that period of time, they haven’t seen themselves, they’re also characterizing themselves as being something that’s less than, or not really part of the world that they’re in.

If it is a child that’s white and they’re seeing themselves, then it makes it that much harder for them to, even as they get older for them to acknowledge or understand the pain, that probably someone that doesn’t look like them has experienced their whole life because in their world, it will be a feeling of like, why does race matter? It’s not really a construct. Why can’t we all be the same? They’ve had the luxury of being able to identify as just being themselves more so than being white.

It’s very similar to the experience I had in Jamaica when I was in Jamaica. I was just Kimberlee or I was defined by my cultural background in this case being Canadian. So I didn’t have to think about being black. My hair wasn’t even a topic of conversation. It was so easy to find anywhere where I could go to get my hair.

If you live in a world where it’s only that one note, you’re completely alienating bunch of children from feeling like they’re also part of that society. And then there’s the emotional impact. One of the reasons that Kids Swag representation is so important to me is that now, if we look at the corporate side of things, as an example, and people are stunned by stats where they’re looking at it and they’re saying, Oh, there’s not that many visible minorities and director level, et cetera, what’s happening.

The emotional impact of feeling like you’re less than. It makes it feel like you don’t even, you shouldn’t even apply for certain jobs, you start to think, well, do I actually qualify? Like I love this is not even an official quote. This is just something that my friend tells me and I’m like, Oh, that’s interesting.

And she’s always like, well, do you actually have imposter syndrome? Or is it  a symptom of the people around you who are negative? Is that a symptom of negative people around you? And a lot of the times it’s both the fact that you’ve grown up in a world where you didn’t feel like you were part of it. And then on top of that, you’re around people that are reinforcing that idea and making it seem like not even necessarily because of your race, but just because of your way that you carry yourself, how you talk, all these different things that exist in that space that you don’t belong. And then you self-select out and you think, well, should I apply for this job or even worse? Should I even ask for that promotion to get into those senior levels? And it becomes that much harder when it comes to society progressing and getting to a point of equity, even economically for individuals.

Jennifer Chua:  I’m wondering about these transformative years of yours in Jamaica. Did you visit any toy stores there? What was the toy experience like when you were in Jamaica?

Kimberlee West:  I think what’s funny and a lot of people and may not even realize that this, is where I think I got the shock moreso. Is that when I went to stores, or toystores, in Jamaica, they mainly carry white dolls  . And even in Africa, I haven’t had the pleasure of going, but I’ve had friends that have come from there and they tell me when you go into their stores, it’s mainly white dolls.

As much as you’re in a society that looks like you, again for a child, how you’re interacting with the world, you’re interacting with toys that don’t look like you, and don’t have the same hair texture as you. And this is more anecdotal evidence, but I know for my husband, he grew up born and raised in Guyana. And then he came to Canada at a later age. For him, he said that he always knew that white was better. And I was like, how did you know that? Like you grew up in an environment where it was predominantly black and then they have a large Indian population and he’s like, well, through TV, you just knew that the way that your world was less than a white world.

And I was like, well, that’s crazy. And again, it goes back to the idea of representation and so many different facets. I’m tackling the space of toys and kids, but it’s so important in so many different areas because, and I think we’re seeing it more and more. If you don’t see it, it’s really hard to believe that you can actually exist in that space.

So I now am in tech. I work full time, as well as run Kids Swag. A lot of people hear the terms, artificial intelligence or machine learning, and they feel like big terms and complicated and something that you know is obscure to their life. The main thing to be aware of though, is that the individuals that are creating these tools and creating machines that can self-learn over time that self-learning is based on patterns. So basically what that machine is doing is saying well, because A and B keeps happening all the time. I can predict that A is going to come after B for example, very simple example. I bring that up because it means then that it’s only as good as the individuals who are programming it. And so what’s happened is that there’s one where it comes to facial identity software, and the technology is supposed to identify or predict to a certain, within a certain accuracy, who’s a criminal, who’s not a criminal. Well, it’s filtering through a bunch of pictures of people who are not criminal, but, and this is a particular study. What it found is that more often than not the system, the computer alone was identifying black individuals as being criminal at a three or four times rate higher than any other. And the individuals that it was running through weren’t criminals. This was just like a test of the system, but it was like, well, based on certain factors, I think this person’s a criminal. And so if you think about what’s the cost? If you have systematic racism, that’s been in place. If you have this issue of people mentally thinking that, a certain type of group acts a certain way and then, or even opposite. Cause some people always think racism is this negative, like active act of, trying to exclude people. The opposite of it is the act of pretending like it doesn’t exist because that’s just as damaging. And if we’re honest with ourselves, tech is just the future where everything, what we’re doing right now is based off technology. If those individuals are then programming systems, a lot of it’s based off of their own bias.

So I gave the example of the criminals, the other one, that’s more, I think even more damaging wasn’t even a negative. It was more so the exclusion where the person had set up a very simple system where the soap should pump out. This is a popular one. People might know this one, but when you put your hand under the soap should then come out. It would not come out for the black person that tested it out. And the people who had set up the soap dispenser to work were shocked because the only reason it worked is that he put a white piece of toilet paper in his hand and then put his hand under the soap and it came out and what happened there, that’s a perfect example of being completely oblivious and excluding an entire group of people because you didn’t even consider them.

That’s the social cost. That’s the cost of not even being willing to accept, acknowledge the idea of difference. And that’s why you hear the term “being color blind”. I do not like the idea of being colorblind. Because colorblind means that you’re being complicit in the act we’re trying to erase. Someone’s complete identity, their ethnicity, their culture, everything, because you feel basically that the standard, and I don’t think people realize this when they say they are color blind, you’re making the standard white. And you’re saying, well, I see everybody through this white lens and I don’t even want to take the time to see the other stuff. Whereas I like the term “color brave”. And I think it’s Melody Thomas that coined that where it’s the idea of let’s actually be willing and excited to celebrate the different types of people that are out there. Let’s encourage us to actually acknowledge difference. Difference is a good thing. Why are we afraid to talk about differences? Let’s actually embrace that. I think that’s the most fun experience to say, Oh, wow, look at these different cultures. It’s like, you do what? You act this way? And it shouldn’t be in a negative way. It’s more in this curious, trying to understand, trying to recognize that the way that you live is the only way that you should be living.

Jennifer Chua:  It’s that curiosity? Isn’t it? It’s like the most interesting part of life

Kimberlee West:  I remember talking to a friend she’s from India actually. And I was like, well, I want to travel to all these different places, but I just can’t afford it. Now this would be for COVID. So COVID wasn’t even restriction. And she gave me the best advice that I really love. She was like, well, living in Toronto, living in the greater Toronto area, you have exposure to so many different cultures. She’s like, why don’t you just do like mommy daughter dates and you can bring them to different places so you can bring them to a restaurant. At one point, my daughter was obsessed with Russian culture. So it’s like, you can bring them to a Russian restaurant. You’d have them try the treats or different types of food. You can then look at the different types of accessories and toys that they have. And it’s a way it’s that experience piece where it’s not just like open a book. and let’s read about Russia. It’s more so you can be immersed even when you don’t leave the country. And again, people are really happy to share with you like little anecdotal stories of their world. And so I think that’s the piece that we always have to be aware of is like how often I go through it, actually every once in a while, even through Instagram where I’ll go through my Instagram feed and I’m like, it feels like I’m following all the same people. And then I’ll try to find just different people. I’m like, I just need different perspectives. I need people from other countries just because it makes it fascinating to see how other people view the world. And you’re not just viewing it through your own singular lens.

Jennifer Chua: So when you started this business, do you have a memory of a moment where you felt really proud?

Kimberlee West:  I think the moment for me was, so I started in December 2016,  I really started in that month because I went to a pop-up.  My sister had told me there was a place that I could, I didn’t even know about pop-ups to be honest, it’s like, what is this thing? place that I could go, I could have a little table, I could set up the products. And I remember that day. So many people coming by the table and they didn’t even have kids with them. They had come in. I was the only kid booth there, like the demographic was a little bit younger.  They were in their twenties. But having them come up and seeing their reaction of like, Oh my gosh, I love everything here. Where was this? When I was growing up, this is amazing. And then in their mind you could tell them thinking, like, I don’t necessarily need this, but I’m going to buy something.

And I remember that feeling of like, wow, like you fallen in love with an idea. Cause I had the idea. It was October of that same year. That I was like, all right, I think you should start a business. So then within like six weeks, I then built the website and I was like, all right, let’s see what happens. And so to have something that was in my mind, turn it into something that was actually like a physical thing people could engage with. And then to get that reaction of like, This is something that we need really made me feel like I was on the right path. For me, that’s the moment because I was like, wow. And I say it all the time on our Instagram account. I say Kids Swag community because that’s the time when I realized that there’s going to be people that are willing to support.

The reason that we’re chatting. It was because I was like, well, let me just try. And I messaged you on Instagram to ask you some questions and you were amazing. I was like, thank you so much. I’m in this weird world. So I think that moment for me having that pop-up and realizing that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to ask for help and to have the validation that I’m doing. Something that people emotionally are triggered by felt really good.

Jennifer Chua:  When it comes to building a business, is there something that you have done right? Or something that you wish you had done?

Kimberlee West:  I feel like I have more answers for things I could have done the other way, but in terms of what I feel I did right then I, it goes back to even how I go about sourcing products for the store is that I was very clear in my intention. Just with myself, talking to myself, thinking through his idea, very clear in my my intention of what I was trying to build.  It was really about how can I actually try to drive some change that will help kids for this generation and to continue on. And so I would say for anyone, and I hear this advice all the time, but I think it’s so important for anyone starting a business, really thinking through what is it is that “why?” What is that impact that you’re trying to drive? Because then on the flip side about like, what are all the things you wish that you didn’t do? And you have to then try to figure out how to get out of the problems that you’ve created. It will help sustain you through those moments.

And if I think about things that I wish that I did, I think it’s like, One, I wish that I was better at the same time. I’m happy I went through it because it was a point of learning. But I guess the biggest one was the social media piece. I really. Was completely not knowledgeable about social media. And so the first, like two years or so of Kids Swag was mainly just bringing everything that I had to these popups, setting up everything. There was the risk of damage. There’s a risk of loss, all of that type of stuff. It’s hard to capture customer information, to build any type of continued engagement through email or Instagram, et cetera. And so I would say definitely value the importance of digital marketing and understanding that space. Like if you’re just starting out, start off with  I want to connect with people it’s so it’s like I’m posting, I’m ensuring that I’m emailing because I actually want to connect with individuals and in the long run, it saves you so much more time when it comes to actually building your business as well.

Jennifer Chua: Are there any costs to your family life or your mental health? Like how tough was building this business?

Kimberlee West:  That’s like a whole chapter. It was really hard. It was really hard. The other piece in starting this business was I felt like I was starting the business. I didn’t really think about the impact on my family initially. I was like, well, I think I have some time I can start this business, but. The time that I was putting into the business was time away from my girls. It was time that my husband had to pick up the Slack and do different things around the house that he just wasn’t doing before. It was time with me just being gone for like eight, 10 hours on a weekend when you’re supposed to be doing a family thing. So that was really hard. It was balancing, I was working full-time as well. It was balancing trying to work full-time and be a good employee trying to run this business. And so I would say it’s always hard to juggle and I think the biggest sacrifice was family. It was my husband, it was my girls. And so one of the things that I’ve learned through that is asking for help.

2018 is when I brought someone on to do social media, I was like, you know what? This is highly time-consuming. And in terms of the full gamut of all the things that I have to do, it’s something that I think I can outsource and I did. And then it wasn’t until 2019 that I was like, okay, I think I actually need someone that can help with the whole email side of things, et cetera. So the piece of building a business. It’s extremely hard. There’s times where you feel like you’re not getting the traction that you thought that you were going to get. There’s the feeling of, am I spending time on the right things because you have family or you have your full-time job, or you have your husband. I talk about sacrifice, it wasn’t just family time. It was my own mental health time as well. So that time of unwinding, I barely had, I didn’t give myself space to actually just do nothing. I didn’t even remember what that was anymore. It was like, I was always on, it was like, keep going. And really the realization came to me at the end of 2018. I was completely burnt out. That I ended up in 2018 December any December doesn’t matter. What year is the best time for retailers to be open? I closed the store in December because I mentally knew that I couldn’t handle it. And so that for me was a turning point where I was like, you know what, success I define success differently now. And it’s like, success. Isn’t just sales. It isn’t just revenue. It isn’t even people with positive feedback. That’s all good. Success has to be me being very mindful of my own mental health and taking time for myself.

Jennifer Chua: This is one of the questions that always comes up. What does success mean to you? People talk about this all the time and it means a variety of things to everybody else. But I agree with you. Like, I feel like it’s. Living, according to my values and sticking to those at all times makes me feel successful.

Kimberlee West:  Whenever I have the platform to speak, I always take the opportunity to talk about representation. Even if the person doesn’t bring it up. A perfect example was I was on a panel where they were talking about generation alpha. When I was like, I didn’t know what generation alpha was, kids born after 2010. I should probably know that cause that’s my target audience, but the panel was about generation alpha and about technology and retail and marketing. And there was going to be no talk about representation, but I always take those opportunities to say, well, yes, it’s great. We have this view. And I think that’s always the hard part when even when we talk me in generational terms, we talking in terms of a single narrative most of the time where it’s just like, Oh yeah, all of these kids are in this generation and they’re doing the same thing. And so it’s like, no, let’s actually think about the nuance of, well, what’s the diversity of people who actually have access to technology. As much as all of these kids are born within a certain time. They’re not all living at the same level of income and are having access to the same levels of service. So it’s always thinking through like, how do I ensure that I’m using my voice to advocate and help people acknowledge the recognition that there is more than one narrative to be shared. Having the company, and I’m very transparent, wherever I go, I’m very transparent about my commitment to representation. And I think almost disarms people. It makes people more comfortable to be vulnerable and talk about, what I do actually need help in this space on the corporate side especially with everything happened with George Floyd last year. It was conversations within the corporate space of. What could we be doing better? Do you have suggestions? And I always give the advice. I’m not an expert in diversity equity inclusion, I’m an advocate and supporter and trying to push the narrative, but it’s, I would then give them advice of different people that they could bring in to actually, facilitate consults in that area.

Kids Swag is an embodiment of what’s important to me, just period in my life, which is always thinking about how do we ensure that we’re constantly aware of the inequity that exists the lack of representation that exists, especially in marketing, being in marketing and thinking about the visuals that we use in different things that we are advertising, whether it’s in the business to business space or the business to consumer space, being able to advocate and point out opportunities to actually change things is always important to me.

Jennifer Chua:  You have a really incredible story and you can tell you’re very passionate and I think this is going to help a lot of people. What should I have asked you that you would like people to know? Is there anything that I missed?

Kimberlee West: Starting a business is extremely hard. It’s really important to know that you are going to make mistakes, but if you have a clear sense of why you’re actually doing it, and you’re humble enough to acknowledge that you’re going to need help along the way, and you seek it out, you don’t just do in sadness and just want to give up. I think it’s really rewarding. And you can really drive a lot of really good impacts. And I think that’s what really  pushes me forward.

Jennifer Chua: if you want to learn more about Kimberlee, Mindful Representation, or to pick up a gift for a confident kid in your life, visit Kids Swag.ca. You can follow along with Kimberlee on her mission to help parents raise confident kids that appreciate difference on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter @kidswagco



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