Youngest CEO of a Black-Owned Business Lands at Walmart

Desy Papper

What were you doing for kicks at the age of six? That is worth considering in light of Lily Frilly founder Lily Adeleye’s latest news: The six-year-old has lined up distribution in more than 1,000 stores for her label. More from WWD The company was started three years ago with […]

What were you doing for kicks at the age of six?

That is worth considering in light of Lily Frilly founder Lily Adeleye’s latest news: The six-year-old has lined up distribution in more than 1,000 stores for her label.

More from WWD

The company was started three years ago with an emphasis on hair bows, but apparel and accessories have since been added. What started as a creative outlet turned into a business after Adeleye showed some of her designs to her mother’s social media followers.

With Friday’s launch at Walmart, Adeleye becomes the youngest chief executive officer of a Black-owned brand with product offered through the retailer. Four styles of her hair bows are being sold. This is the second major retailer that she has made inroads with for distribution. Last year Lily Frilly was introduced at Target. The mother-daughter team hopes that the Walmart Inc. deal will inspire the next generation of girl-run start-ups.

The youngster is the daughter of beauty and lifestyle entrepreneur Courtney Adeleye, who built The Mane Choice, a multimillion-dollar hair care business. A registered nurse and a University of Michigan graduate, the Detroit-born founder took a science-based approach to developing natural hair care products. The range of offerings is made for all ethnicities and has generated more than $100 million in sales in the past seven years.

”Lily is inspired by business overall. I have three kids and she is the only one who has her own company. She is constantly creating logos and asking to bring new items to market. I don’t know if it’s genetic or that something is just in her,” Courtney Adeleye said. “The plan is to go down as many aisles as we can,” with bags and shoes on her daughter’s to-do list.

This year’s projected volume for Lily Frilly is expected to be nearly $2 million, with hair bows and accessories accounting for 70 percent of the volume and apparel comprising the remaining 30 percent. Lily Adeleye said “seeing little girls happy” is the best part, whereas activations can be a little harder, due to “a lot of picture taking and smiling, when you don’t feel like it,” her mother said. After a recent in-person one in Orlando, she whispered, “‘Mommy, this is hard work,’” her mother said with a laugh. “But she makes sure that she still shows up. She puts a smile on her face and she gets it done.”

In terms of her daughter being the youngest Black CEO with distribution in Walmart, her mother said, “I’ve done some historical things in my career. To see her doing some of the same things at such a young age is — at the end of the day — what I do, to create that legacy and those paths so that they can do what they want to do to secure their future as well. I’m super proud of her.”

The U.S. is the world leader for start-ups with 63,703. As for why the Lily Frilly brand has taken off, her mother said, “We’re in a time where people are seeing that dreams actually come true. You don’t just have to sit and wish. You can put some execution behind it and go for your dreams. We’re in an entrepreneurial period. Now more than ever, because of this pandemic, people are seeing they can become entrepreneurs and pursue things they feel passionate about.”

Earlier this week Walmart revealed that another young start-up brand will soon be sold. Theme NYC’s loungewear founder, 12-year-old Ariella Maizner, will roll out a tween collection next month. Theme by Ariella will retail for $25 or less.

Selling Girl Scout cookies and candy for a long time helped to teach Lily Adeleye that this was something that she could do for herself. Asked about people, who may feel that she is too young to be in business, her mother said, “The main thing is keeping it fun and keeping it [about] doing what they want to do. If this is something that’s in them and they want to do like a sport, I’m going to give her the information and the knowledge just as I would to play an actual sport.”

Keeping the youngster “well-grounded is most important,” and doing things in the community like visiting shelters and children’s hospitals helps her to understand the different things that are going on around the world, her mother said.

Lily Frilly’s parent company Olbali runs the Generational Advantage Fund, which supports small businesses of all kinds. Courtney Adeleye’s own mother, Loretta Murphy, is a nurse-turned-entrepreneur. Watching her get a card game sold in stores, “which was really impossible to do at the time,” helped her to understand what that involved, like ensuring that any shipped orders arrive well before they are due, and “always outperforming when you have the opportunity to do so,” Adeleye said.

Murphy always felt that she “had more in her,” after her business grew quickly and she wasn’t always sure which direction to take it to, her daughter said. “She used to think, ‘Man, what could have been.’ But she said she doesn’t really feel that way any more because life has its way of working through her children and her grandchildren. So she feels just as satisfied. She’s super satisfied.”

All in all, Courtney Adeleye said, people should know they are never too young or too old to follow their dreams. “You can wake up on another day and have the chance to do it over again,” she said.

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