Raquel Graham of Roq Innovation: From Mompreneur to Oprah’s Favorite Things
by Nicole Joseph, For Chicago Defender Many people dream of being featured on Oprah’s Favorites Things list. It’s one of the coveted holiday lists of the year, and a simple feature could do wonders for someone’s brand. For Raquel Graham, founder and CEO of Roq Innovation, it marked the realization of a dream she achieved three … Continued The post Raquel Graham of Roq Innovation: From Mompreneur to Oprah’s Favorite Things appeared first on New Pittsburgh Courier.
by Nicole Joseph, For Chicago Defender
Many people dream of being featured on Oprah’s Favorites Things list. It’s one of the coveted holiday lists of the year, and a simple feature could do wonders for someone’s brand.
For Raquel Graham, founder and CEO of Roq Innovation, it marked the realization of a dream she achieved three times before. As a trailblazer in innovative fashions, each feature was a celebration of her success, determination and commitment to the right path.
Not Some Overnight Success Story
Graham’s journey to success wasn’t an overnight success story.
A Northwestern University graduate, she excelled in prominent roles at organizations like J.P. Morgan and Ebony before venturing into entrepreneurship. Drawing on her expertise as a marketing executive, Raquel applied her skills to create strong, engaging and results-driven strategies for her business.
The inception of Roq Innovation was born out of being a concerned mother who, during a polar vortex in the blistering Chicago winter, tried to get her young kids to wear and keep on their scarves while outdoors.
Faced with the challenge of getting her kids to wear scarves, Graham searched online for other solutions. When she realized there weren’t any, Graham embarked on a mission to create her own. The result was NEKZ, a scarf designed with her children in mind, balancing functionality with appeal.
Despite the appearance of overnight success, Graham faced her share of challenges as a Black female entrepreneur. Financial constraints led her to juggle contractual jobs while she endeavored to build her brand. “It was tough getting started.”
But between her jobs and the support of her family and friends — who were eager for her to win — she was able to stay afloat.
“I turned down a lot of business,” Raquel said. During those times, she realized the saying was true, “It takes money to make money. I couldn’t afford it.”
The Turning Point
The challenges of going into business sometimes backed Graham into a corner.
So, instead of giving it her all, as she has done for many organizations, she took a softer approach to her business.
It wasn’t until one of her friends told her, “You were standing in your own way,” that she realized she had procrastinated enough!
This advice was the momentum Raquel needed to commit to her business fully.
Scaling was challenging, but she learned to hire contractors to help since full-time or even part-time employees weren’t an option then. Due to this circumstance, she wore many hats while delegating what she could, which allowed her to understand every aspect of her business intimately.
“You have to know the right people. They have to believe in you, and you have to be able to take action…” – Raquel Graham
After much hard work and dedication, a turning point in her success came with an appearance on “Shark Tank,” the business reality TV series, where she won and secured deals with investors Kevin O’Leary and Peter Jones.
The “Shark Tank” appearance alone garnered major exposure to Graham’s work!
What started out as a business for her kids grew into something for the whole family with product lines like NEKZ, Headlightz and Handy Lightz, where she now sells beanies, headbands, baseball caps, scarfs and more.
Graham’s list of accomplishments includes features on HSN, Entrepreneur, The View, Forbes, Good Morning America and MSN. Her products received accolades from Oprah’s Favorite Things, with mentions like “Hands-free and stylish beanie with a headlamp for kids? Rechargeable? And matching gloves? Ingenious!”
Her Belief in Mentorship and Parting Words
Despite her achievements, Graham emphasizes the importance of being “incredibly prepared” and has partnered with organizations like the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council for support. The organization helped her get corporate accounts and the support needed along her journey.
As a result, Graham isn’t a stranger to success or the challenges that come with it as a Black female entrepreneur. She believes in mentorship and that just because she faces a problem, it doesn’t mean that others have to either.
There are so many ways to engage with her product. As we exit the holiday season, it’s imperative to support Raquel Graham and Roq Innovation beyond the warmth of Christmas.
Graham’s brand is one that can be celebrated year-round as many embrace cold winters, and others gear up to celebrate Black History and Women’s History Month.
Also, with the running season approaching and the 2024 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle kickoff on March 24, running groups should consider these functional yet fashionable, wearable tech products.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, Graham leaves these final words of wisdom:
“You have to know the right people. They have to believe in you, and you have to be able to take action. As entrepreneurs, you have to act and get out of your head.”
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