Kijafa Frink and Blair Sandlain have taken their ideas for affordable fashion and created an elephant in the room-- PNKElephant. Conceived in 2008, their funky and flirty accessories are for fashionistas looking to ball out on a budget. All vixens know that accessories make an outfit, so we got the inside scoop on how these two ladies came together to create cop-worthy necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings worth spending dough on. --Niki McGloster
VIXEN: Blair, you had two boutiques in Michigan. How did you get your start in the fashion business?
Blair: Well, they were actually my boutiques. My mother and a closer friend of mine helped me fund it, but I was still in college, so I would travel back and forth between New York and Detroit. Of course, throughout the majority of the buying, I was in the New york area because the vendors were here. It just got to be too tedious, and the economy continues to dwindle in Michigan, so I made the executive decision to close that venue down. Just get myself together and regroup, and a couple of years later I met Kijafa.
How did you two meet to collaborate for this accessory line, PNKElephant?
Blair: My friend is a designer by the name of Michael Hall, and Kijafa found him on Facebook. She wanted him to make clothes for her, and he actually met her one time at my house, so she saw my stuff and what I was doing-- running the whole thing out of my house at that time-- and she wanted to be apart of it and we just kinda clicked.
Kijafa: I was just in disbelief of how affordable [the accessories] were. And I was really just joking around with him like, "Let me know if she needs a partner," and he did ask her and she actually said, 'Yeah.' So, we hooked up from there and here we are now. That was this year, so this is a new baby for me, not Blair.
Why the name PNKElephant?
Blair: Elephants to me have always meant good luck, so um, i grew up with my grandmother having them in the house and I remember walking into an older person's house and they always had like this little like porcelain looking elephants so I decided to name it pink elephant to give it that girly, chic-y feel, but I just had a really good feeling about the business from the beginning.
Kijafa, with you being engaged to Michael Vick and being a mother to two daughters, how difficult is it to be a CEO of PNKElephant?
Kijafa: It's crazy at times. Sometimes I don't know if I'm going or coming [laughs], but most importantly I make sure I have time for my little girls. Like, I make sure that I attend all of their school events. I always try to make time for my kids and do everything that they need me to do. It's definitely hard though you know. Mike, his life alone demands so much of my time, but I still wanna always do things that I'm proud of for myself as well, so I don't get too lost or caught up in his life.
How important was it for you to make the pieces affordable for consumers?
Blair: It was very important, I mean, I grew up middle class, so I always tried to find things to give me that look to get that look from the higher end designers, so it was something that I wanted girls from my neighborhood or girls from lower income neighborhoods to afford and still be able to feel good and not feel like we're not being left out of the fashion circle.
Where do you draw inspiration from for the pieces?
Kijafa: Well, we definitely look at current season and what's out--trends. Mostly, what we like…
Blair: We don't draw anything down. Kijafa and I, we think things and draw inspiration from other designers, from just people just walking on the streets on New york,, from ours friends and our family, and what we'll do is take it to our manufacturers and they have in-house designers and they'll do the drawing and the sketches and we'll say to change that, add this, do this…
Do you meet any difficulties being black female entrepreneurs in the fashion world?
Blair: I guess for any woman, not just a black woman. I've had quite a few experiences how when you walk into the manufactures, they look at us, you know, we're not in a suit, we're in like knee boots, and jeans and a sweater, so maybe w're not your typical customer, so we do get second stares, and they don't' take us seriously until we're pulling out the checkbook.
What can fans expect from PNKElephant in the near future?
Kijafa: Definitely a possibility of a boutique. We're in debate about what city we wanna start a store in-- New York or Philly.
Any advice for young ladies that want to do what you do?
Blair: I would say be persistent and don't give up. Like I said before walking into the vendors and manufacturers they're not gonna take you seriously until you actually take out your checkbook. literally, I'm in their face everyday [laugh]. You know, I never gave up, and stay educated. Read books even if you don't wanna go the college route.
Kijafa: yeah, definitely research. A lot, everything that goes into your business. Like, the designs that you want, costs, target market, you know…It's a lot of information that you need before you start your business.
You can check out the exclusive line at PNKElephant.com.