Global Genes-Rare Disease Interview with Keisha Greaves
Name: Keisha Greaves
Organization: Girls Chronically Rock
Social Media Links:
hDisease focus: Broadly focused on anyone battling a chronic illness
Headquarters: Cambridge, Massachusetts
How did you become involved in rare disease: I have limb girdle muscular dystrophy. I was diagnosed in 2011 when I was in graduate school. It came out of nowhere. I was in denial for quite some time, not knowing what’s going to happen, or what my future holds. I have an undergraduate degree in fashion design and merchandising, so I thought why not start my business Girls Chronically Rock to inspire and motivate others because I know what that’s like to get diagnosed out of nowhere in your early adult life. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and business owner. Everything happens for a reason. Why not share my story?
Previous career: Student
Education: B.A. fashion design and merchandising from Framingham University, and Masters’ degree from Cambridge College in Business
Organization’s mission: My mission is to bring awareness to people with disabilities and create an adaptive clothing line under the Girls Chronically Rock umbrella and bring more awareness of that because people don’t understand how hard it is just for someone with a disability to get dressed on a regular basis. I’m looking to make this bigger and broader, hopefully getting into stores, such as Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s, different health and fitness gyms, and things like that. But I also want to make it into a movement, so everybody knows what Girls Chronically Rock is about and what it stands for.
Organization’s strategy: Getting my story and brand out there and in different media. I was just at New York Fashion Week and will be going to Atlanta Fashion Week. Networking is key in this business.
Funding strategy: I fund this all by myself. I’m using my credit cards. I feel later on it’s all going to be worth it. I’m in the process of getting investors.
What’s changing at your organization in the next year: Hoping for a bigger and better brand, getting into some major department stores, and collaborating with some designers.
Management philosophy: I take it day by day—running a business and managing a chronic illness.
Guiding principles for running an effective organization: Staying focused, and networking and marketing is key. Also, keeping your customers happy.
Best way to keep your organization relevant: Keep spreading the word. Thank god for social media. It’s gotten me to where I am today. I’m tagging major department stores. I’m tagging Oprah. I’m tagging Ellen. I also do a lot of blogging, sharing my story about living with muscular dystrophy. And then I’m hoping to soon start my own podcast as well where I talk and vent about what it’s like living with muscular dystrophy and different challenges like dating with a disability. I realized people like to hear your honest and true story about just your everyday life and that will bring them into Girls Chronically Rock as well.
Why do people like working with you: They can feel the honesty of my story: how I was diagnosed and how I was in denial for a long time, going on job interviews and not sharing with anyone about my condition. I would tell people I sprained my ankle, or I was in a car accident instead of saying I had muscular dystrophy. Once I was diagnosed, it took me a good few years. Every time I went to the doctor, I would think they probably had it wrong. They didn’t know what they were talking about. It took me a good five or six years. I was in denial.
Mentor: I look up to fashion designers Kimora Lee Simmons of Baby Phat and Betsy Johnson. And people I follow on Instagram who also have a chronic illness and have started their own businesses, like the fashion model Jilly Peppa. She’s awesome and I look to her for inspiration. She’s someone with muscular dystrophy. I look at her making strides and doing her thing. That’s inspirational.
On the Job
What inspires you: I think about my mom and how much she’s done for me, paying for me to go to school and believing in my dreams. I feel like I’m doing this for my mom and for my whole family. I want to build an empire and build a movement and be able to take care of her as well. That keeps me going.
What makes you hopeful: Running my business, getting inspirational quotes from other people, thinking positive, thinking about the future, never give up, keep going. That’s my philosophy.
Best organization decision: Being my own PR person and running this business on my own. The amount of press I’ve had is amazing.
Hardest lesson learned: I learn things every day. Learning to run a business, different things like bookkeeping. I’m learning how to keep a spreadsheet. It’s a challenge, but it’s something I’m learning.
Toughest organization decision: Not doing more networking earlier.
Biggest missed opportunity: Not starting it sooner.
Like best about the job: Being my own owner. Doing what I love. Being on my own schedule.
Like least about the job: Not getting emails back from people I expected, like major department stores.
Pet peeve: I’m a very organized person. If a customer orders a T-shirt and I don’t have it in stock. I want them to have it when they wanted it.
First choice for a new career: Being a business owner—a big time entrepreneur.
Most influential book: I like reading business entrepreneurs like Nicole Walters, income strategist and entrepreneur
Favorite movie: Devil Wears Prada
Favorite music: R&B, Reggae, Calypso, and some old hip-hop
Favorite food: Chicken and pizza (it can be separate, but together is even better)
Guilty pleasure: Chicken wings
Favorite way to spend free time: Watching my TV shows. It keeps me sane.