Signing out of account, Standby…
Raquel Graham shares what she’s learned in building Roq Innovation and its Headlightz Headbands.
With the growing number of hate crimes specifically targeting the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community, I feel unsafe traveling in public alone. And anti-Asian hate crimes are growing at an alarming rate. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 339% in 2021. Cities like New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles saw surges in hate crimes that surpassed what they experienced in 2020. In early March, a man was arrested in New York City for committing hate crimes against seven women who identified as part of the AAPI community. In the span of two hours, he violently punched, elbowed and shoved Asian women ranging from 19 to 57 years old.
I can’t stop the wave of xenophobia sweeping through our country on my own, but I can be more personally aware of my own surroundings and take measures to protect myself.
As I re-enter the world after periods of isolation, I’m working on being more aware of my own personal safety. “Noting your surroundings and making critical adjustments is the single most important thing to do when traveling alone in public,” Josh Katz, Krav Maga instructor and principal of 419 Strategy, shared with me. “If you’re listening to your phone while traveling, make sure the volume isn’t too high, and use only one earbud. When entering a public area, take stock of who is there with you, and be willing to leave if you feel unsafe. And finally, if you find yourself on a dimly lit street: Take out the ear buds, turn on your phone’s flashlight and give full attention to your safety. A lot of people feel better talking on the phone to a friend when they feel unsafe, but it ties up your hands and distracts you from your surroundings. Your friend isn’t going to help you, but your senses and your instincts can. You just need to give them room to operate at full power.”
Heeding Katz’ advice, I was researching ways to feel safer when I stumbled across Roq Innovation, the makers of Headlightz Beanies and Headbands, named one of O magazine’s favorite things in 2021.
“As someone who enjoyed running in the evening when my kids were in bed, safety was top-of-mind for me,” says Raquel Graham, CEO and founder of Roq Innovation. “I needed a light to see where I was going, not a headlamp.”
The compact Headlightz Headband is hands-free and features an innovative bright white LED light that is lightweight, removable and rechargeable. Choose one of three brightness levels, and the battery will last between approximately 1.75 and 8 hours. It’s super easy to recharge (no loose cords), comfortable and soft and also fits my kids as well as myself. It comes in a number of colors. Most importantly it increases your visibility — you can see where you are and where you are going.
“My mom is 76 years old and lives alone,” Graham says. “She’s of Asian descent, and it’s mind-boggling and frightening the level of hate we are experiencing right now. I am glad to have a product in the marketplace that can keep my mom and all of us a bit safer.”
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Here are three lessons Raquel Graham has learned in building her game-changing invention and company:
Graham’s company started in 2014 as an experiment. “My kids refused to wear scarves during cold Chicago winters,” she says. “So I created a prototype for my kids that they loved. I had other parents stopping to ask me where I got that scarf. That’s when I knew I had to take it to market.”
Graham created that first product, NEKZ, with no retail or manufacturing experience. Her first account was Follett, which helped her get her products into NCAA schools across the country.
After finding success with NEKZ, she founded her company Roq Innovation and hasn’t stopped inventing since then. “My biggest advice is to go after and solve problems that will make your life easier,” Graham says. “Because if it makes your life easier, the solution you come up with is going to help solve problems for a whole segment of individuals.”
Related: How This First-Generation American Founder Is Taking on Fast-Food Giants
Graham has been on the Home Shopping Network (HSN) successfully for six years and has been one of the longest-standing Black-owned businesses featured on the network. But her success didn’t happen overnight. She relentlessly studied and watched HSN so she was ready before she was on it.
“I am obsessed with products and how they can make our lives better,” Graham says. “I watched everything I could on HSN, studying the segments and the formats, and I thought about the story I would tell with my own products.”
She remembers cold-emailing HSN and never hearing back that very first time. When the opportunity to be on the network finally came to fruition, Graham was ready, because she had been preparing for this moment all along. “You have to be ready to go when the call comes. And if you are putting in the work, the call will come.”
Related: This Founder is Starting a Breakfast Revolution by Reinventing One of America’s Favorite Foods
Finally, one of the biggest lessons Graham learned the hard way is when to walk away from opportunities. “While there’s growing support from retailers to support Black-owned businesses and have them represented on their shelves, the reality is many of us cannot fulfill the orders,” Graham says. “We don’t have access to the funding needed. When two big retailers come knocking at the same time, I don’t have the funding to supply the product in such large quantities. And I have had to leave money on the table.”
Graham hopes that more retailers will work directly with banks and help provide financing options to support small business owners. “That’s the type of allyship we need to see more of. If you see Black-owned businesses leaving money on the table, don’t just let them walk away. Help build the solution with them.”
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