Ghana-born Catherine Addai on turning her passion into a successful clothing company with ‘simply hustle and heart’

Ghana-born Catherine Addai is CEO, designer and lead stylist of Toronto-based clothing label, Kaela Kay, which she describes as a lifestyle brand for the modern woman who wants to express her inner colours in an outward way.

With a degree in Health Informatics, Addai worked in the corporate sector for a decade. In 2017, she quit her job to focus on running her business full-time. Over the years, she has taught herself to sew, design, manage people, be a businesswoman – all with no formal training; as she says with “simply hustle and heart”. She has turned her passion into a successful six-figure clothing company.

In April 2019, she opened her flagship retail store Kaela Kay Fashion Boutique & Design Studio to offer her customers a place to connect with the fabrics, enjoy the shopping experience and to be able to express their personal style, and immediately buy and wear African print fashion & creative fashion. She has won many international and Canadian fashion awards.

How She Hustles, Canada’s leading social networks for diverse professional women, sponsored by CIBC and partner, Rogers Sports & Media, profiled Catherine Addai’s Kaela Kay for the 2019 Startup & Slay digital series featuring inspiring stories from Canada’s diverse women entrepreneurs. Apply by July 31 to be featured in the 2020 series at howshehustles.com.

Tell us about yourself
I am a designer and CEO of Kaela Kay. I’m also a wife and mother to three fabulous kids. I was born in Ghana and my family moved to Amsterdam when I was three and lived there till I was seven. My mother and I moved to Canada and I remember turning seven here in my new country. We came to Canada because we had family here already and knew we would get family support.

Tell us about the work you do. What inspires you?
As a fashion designer and business owner, I am striving to build a brand and a business with purpose and stability – one garment at a time. My clothes focus on using prints native to Ghana but fashioned into modern North American attire. My team consists of three seamstresses, an assistant and a marketing representative – currently all positions are held by women, a fact that is very important to me.  I’m inspired by women, working moms, boss babes who are striving to be better and build the lives they want to live – and do it all looking fabulous. I’m inspired by my heritage and Ghanaian roots as well as my Canadian upbringing and exposure to fashion and style. I want, through my brand, to share my heritage in the prints and share North American fashion through the styles – a beautiful blend.

How did you get started as an entrepreneur? What are you currently working on?
I literally fell into it. My mother bought me a sewing machine and I started sewing for myself and a few friends – the rest is herstory. I’m currently working on a very special but super private project for August as well as a fall collection. I am learning to navigate the future of fashion in a pandemic. My boutique has reopened [after COVID-19] and I’m also focused on bringing clients back in smoothly and safely

What is your advice to other immigrant entrepreneurs or women entrepreneurs?
For me, Canada has been a great place to start my business especially one with such a cultural focus. My brand, my aesthetic and style has been very well received and growing. There are also a lot of great resources and support, some geared towards immigrant women in business. So far, whatever information I’ve needed or looked for, I have found the resource for. Visit government sites and find out about available programs and go for it.
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