For about two years, Topekan Kelana Boykin has been working to address a need in the capital city.
As a longtime resident of East Topeka, Boykin noticed there weren’t many beauty-supply stores in the area that catered to the needs of Black women
“In Topeka, we only have one location to buy Black hair products,” Boykin said. “I wanted to give them another option.”
So in 2019, she stood up Ms. Key’s Beauty Supplies as an online-only shop.
It seemed to be a hit, and during the coronavirus pandemic, Boykin expanded her services to offer porch pickups.
“The need for me when I started porch pickup was overwhelming,” Boykin said. “From there, I said, ‘Let’s give them somewhere to go.'”
Earlier this year, Boykin developed Ms. Key’s even further, opening a brick-and-mortar location at 400 S.E. Lake St.
“We’ve been growing every month since,” Boykin said.
And her entrepreneurial vision isn’t complete yet, as she hopes to make Ms. Key’s Beauty Supplies a one-stop shop for Topekans’ grooming needs.
For those curious about the store’s name, Boykin said she went with “Ms. Key’s” because “that’s what Topeka knows me by.”
“My name is not one of those easy ones that flies off tongue,” she said, “so ‘Key’ is what everyone remembers.”
Starting from scratch
Boykin said her four sons — who range in age from 10 to 23 — helped her get the store organized ahead its April opening date.
“Me and my four sons spent hours in here, putting the things on the walls and getting set up and ready to go,” she said.
And they also help her run the store on a daily basis, as she works full time as a nurse for the Topeka VA Medical Center.
“If it wasn’t for my sons, I probably wouldn’t be able to do it,” she said.
Part of the reason Boykin wanted to start a business in the first place was so her sons would be encouraged to follow their dreams.
“I want them to know that if you have a vision, you can achieve it,” she said.
When it comes to her own vision, Boykin continues to improve Ms. Key’s offerings and inventory.
“We have human hair that is usually used for sew-ins or ponytails. Then, we have our beautiful wig wall,” she said. “This is my bestseller right now, the wig wall.”
Ms. Key’s also carries makeup products, body lotions and soaps, hair care formulas, styling tools, a children’s line and more.
“I am a natural beauty supply store, so you won’t find perms and chemical-based products in here,” Boykin said. “I believe in natural hair care.”
Still, she is open to ordering the products her customers want, and she expands her inventory monthly.
“I have vendors that have been hitting me up and trying to get in here,” Boykin said. “To start from scratch, I didn’t think, to be honest, that we would be as full as we are right now.”
Bringing light to ‘the east side’
Boykin estimates she has invested close to $15,000 in her business venture so far.
“I’m blessed that the building’s mine so that makes a large difference,” she said.
Boykin bought the building in which Ms. Key’s is located about six years ago.
Half of the building — a bright-blue structure that was once home to a fish market — is now home to the beauty-supply store, while the other half is being renovated to house a barber shop, which ties into Boykin’s broader vision for the business. The barber-shop side of the store will also offer such services as hair braiding.
“That is the plan of action — to expand and have a one-stop location,” she said.
Though she doesn’t yet have a firm opening date for the salon side of Ms. Key’s, Boykin said renovations are underway.
“As a mom, you have to do everything in nice strides,” she said.
And as Boykin expands her business, she hopes to bring more life to an area she has called home since she was a kid.
“I’m hoping it’ll bring some light to an area that’s not all that bad,” Boykin said. “Everything’s possible out here. I see the beauty of the east side.”