T-shirt company CEO explains why she walked away from a six-figure job in architecture to launch her own brand

Stacy Jackman
·4 min read

Kalilah Wright is a whole vibe — colorful, outspoken, funny, sassy and very smart — so it should come as no big surprise that she’s the creative genius behind the über-popular T-shirt brand Mess in a Bottle.

But don’t let the company name fool you. There’s nothing messy about Wright’s straightforward business model: “We put messages on T-shirts and they come packaged in a reusable bottle,” Wright tells Yahoo Life.

Mess in a Bottle CEO Kalilah Wright explains why she walked away from a six-figure job in architecture.
Kalilah Wright, CEO of Mess in a Bottle. (Photo courtesy of Kalilah Wright)

Wright began building Mess, as those in the know refer to her business, just five years ago in Baltimore, Md., in response to the death of Freddie Gray, a young Black man who died a week after being held in police custody.

“Though I could go out and protest and get my messages out that way and be loud and vocal I realized that everyone isn't as boisterous as I am,” Wright says. “This was my way of creating messages in which everyone could connect and be a part of the same mission.”

The message has been received loud and clear, apparently, as fans began snapping up Wright’s clever statement tees to express themselves, including her very first one, “A Black Woman Created This.”

“It had so many different meanings,” Wright says. “Some people feel like it means a Black woman created this T-shirt. When my son wears it, it means my mama created this message. So there's just so much pride in someone wearing a ‘Black Woman Created This.’”

Kalilah Wright and her son. (Photo courtesy of Kalilah Wright)
Kalilah Wright and her son. (Photo courtesy of Kalilah Wright)

Pride in her work, an eye for design and her must-have statement tees caught the attention of Target, allowing Wright to fulfill her longtime dream of partnering with one of her favorite stores. The retail giant is celebrating Black History Month with an exclusive collection featuring Black talent, and Wright is included in that initiative, which is a part of the company’s broader Black Beyond Measure campaign.

“I was just astonished to know that Target wanted to collaborate with Mess in a Bottle, and especially for Black history month,” shares Wright, barely containing a huge grin. “Right now we are in over 1,400 Target stores across the US.”

Almost two months after launching Mess in a Bottle, Wright, who earned a master’s degree in architecture from Morgan State University, ditched her 9-to-5, six-figure job at a sports retail company to work on all things Mess full-time. From that focus came her beautifully designed packaging.

“My son and I, he's 7 now, we went to Ikea and I saw these bottles and I just knew that this was the perfect packaging to put our message T-shirts,” Wright recalls. “I use my architecture career and experience to now design these amazing bottles.”

Mess in a Bottle product packaging. (Photo courtesy of Kalilah Wright)
Mess in a Bottle product packaging. (Photo courtesy of Kalilah Wright)

While demand is high for her gear, Wright’s “Messengers,” as she lovingly calls her loyal followers, will have to wait to customize their own messages. “We just create messages that the mass public would love,” Wright says, going on to explain that she designs all content which is inspired by love, life, career, current events — “things that’s happening around us.”

As Wright approaches her five-year anniversary as a business owner, the Jamaican-born CEO says she is still working on what she describes as a difficult transition from employee to employer. But in the very next breath she says that learning how to run her company in a comfortable space is worth facing any challenges.

What’s been easy is being my authentic self and having people love me for being me. In architecture, it’s a very male, white dominated field, and it is very difficult to feel welcomed. I'm now at a place where I don't have to fit myself in a mold,” explains Wright.

Kalilah Wright, CEO of Mess in a Bottle. (Photo courtesy of Kalilah Wright)
Kalilah Wright, CEO of Mess in a Bottle. (Photo courtesy of Kalilah Wright)

Launching with less than $500 in startup capital, Wright has grown Mess in a Bottle into a multi-million dollar company. And like many entrepreneurs sharing her success is high on her list of priorities.

“One of the things that we do is we give back to the community by creating T-shirt courses to help others to start their own T-shirt company,” Wright says. “The Tee Class, that's my way of helping other women and other people who want to venture into apparel to start their own T-shirt company.”

And as a young Black businesswoman, Wright wants others who are uncertain about being their own boss to know one thing.

“I would just recommend to start,” she says. “You never know the amazingness that will come out of your fears.”

To find out more about Mess in a Bottle and its full product line, visit messinabottle.com and follow Mess in a Bottle on Instagram and Facebook.

Business in Black is Yahoo Life’s new video series spotlighting Black-owned businesses.

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