Maker Spotlight: Khadijah Robinson Rice, Owner of the Kay & Kay Group

This article is part of a series spotlighting Philadelphia makers participating in DVIRC’s Level-Up Manufacturing program in partnership with the Community College of Philadelphia.  

One of the biggest fears for entrepreneurs is the fear of not knowing enough. Business owners big, small, and everything in between may possess the idea and the drive without the business acumen. Simply put, not all business owners have a background in business. In fact, only 9% of entrepreneurs have a bachelor’s degree in business. Does that mean that the dreamers, leaders, and makers should stifle their natural drive toward owning a business? No, it means that they need assistance, guidance, and support. 

Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC) offers a relentless dedication to the prosperity and success of small – mid-sized U.S. manufacturers. For 30 plus years, the passionate team of industry experts have been applying their expertise to develop and implement successful business solutions for each and every client. 

In partnership with the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), DVIRC developed the “Level-Up” Manufacturing Course Program, now in its second year, for Philadelphia makers and micro manufacturers looking to advance. Designed to assist entrepreneurs with fewer than ten employees to evolve and take their business to new heights. DVIRC understands that small businesses often lack the time, experience, and structure it takes to adopt best practices. This is especially true for firms with fewer than 10 employees. “Level Up” Manufacturing is a right-sized program that will train and help participants implement the tools and tactics behind some of the world’s most successful companies. 

One of the Philadelphia makers participating is woman-owned, Philadelphia-based, Aqua Waterproof Headwear. DVIRC had the chance to interview co-owner, Khadijah Robinson, to learn more about both her brand and why she chose “Level Up.” 

On your appearance on QVC you mention your motivation for starting the company after having difficulty finding a way to protect your hair when snorkeling. Can you talk a little more about that experience and how you went about creating the company?  

In 2009, I was snorkeling in Puerto Rico and had extensions that I didn’t want to get wet. I didn’t want to worry about my extensions separating from my real hair and having to redo my hair at home. I ended up putting on a baseball cap, which was not waterproof, and I still had to go back to my room and redo my hair. When I got back home, I thought to myself that there must be a better way to protect my hair in a way that was also going to be comfortable and fashionable. I did research on waterproof headwear, organized focus group surveys, and talked to my friends who said they would definitely buy the kind of product I was envisioning – one that was waterproof, fashionable, and breathable. And I even received encouragement from the patent attorneys I worked with who said they too could see themselves buying such a product.  

Khadijah Robinson Rice is the owner of the Kay & Kay Group and inventor of AQUA Waterproof Headwear

One thing I want to add, in terms of protecting your hair in the water, there’s this misconception that swim caps can protect your hair from moisture. However, this is not true, as swim caps are meant to protect your hair from chlorine and improve agility for swimming. They are also not very breathable. To address these challenges, I wanted my product to be completely waterproof, stylish, and breathable.  

Can you talk about who your typical customer is and how they have used your product? What marketing strategies have you used to expand your customer base?   

Our typical customer is the “glam girl.”  She is fashionable, a self-starter, and someone who puts a lot of time and money into her hair but wants to enjoy being in the water without disrupting her hair style. I modeled my typical customer off of myself and was determined to seek out customers who had similar needs in terms of fashion and functionality.  

We also have many Muslim and Jewish customers who want to cover their hair for religious reasons. And, although we don’t sell internationally, we have customers from other countries like Singapore who receive our products from contacts in North America who buy and ship the products to them. Everyone has found us through QVC, other news outlets, or social media.

Discuss your current product offerings. Do you have any plans to expand beyond those product lines, or to scale your business?  

Aqua has three pre-tied turban styles and one versatile headwrap that’s not pre-styledWith the latter offering, you can style the product any way you want (and it’s better for people with braids, locks, or people who simply like to style their own headwrap). The products are made strictly from fabric and have no plastic, latex, or siliconeRight now, we are just in North America, but our goal is to expand internationally. We currently sell our products through the Aqua website, Amazon, and through Empower Global (which was founded by P. Diddy) We were one of the first companies selected to pilot that platform. They can be found at 

We were also elected to be part the Target Accelerators program. The program helps small businesses learn how to enter the mass retail market so that one day they can sell to big box stores like Target.

Aqua Waterproof Headwear allows wearers to keep their hair dry at the beach and pool and in everyday inclement weather while maintaining fashion style.

You mention on your website that you previously worked in project management and procurement but left those fields to become an entrepreneur. Can you discuss your transition from working for others to jumpstarting your own business? 

 I still work in project management for the government, and Aqua is my second job. Aqua has been completely self-funded. With all the work I have to do, some nights I don’t get to bed until 4am. I don’t get a lot of sleep!  


How has DVIRC’s Level Up class helped you and your business? Feel free to elaborate on how the course’s 6 core principles: leadership, strategy, growth, marketing/sales, performance management, continuous improvement, aided you in your journey.   

DVIRC is a hidden gem! I tell all my friends that they should use the resources the organization offers. I didn’t know about the resources that CCP and DVIRC offer until recently. If I had known about DVIRC my journey would have been lot easier! The Level Up course taught me about the US manufacturing sector, where to obtain samples, and provided me with immense mentorship opportunities. I learned about basic manufacturing terminology, what goes into successful production, metrics, data analytics, marketing techniques, leadership tools, management strategies (i.e. the need to delegate work), and how to maintain warehouses. I also learned how to better articulate my business goals.  

 The terminology aspect is really important since it’s important to search for the “right” terminology when doing market research. When I first started my business, I was doing internet searches on “manufacturers” who could produce my product; DVIRC’s course taught me that I really should be looking for “cut and sew companies” since the former term is too broad. These types of things really helped me get to where I am today.  Another thing I learned from the course is that while it may be cheaper to produce your goods abroad, the tradeoff is that you can’t adequately monitor the production process that takes place internationally. For this reason, and also because I want to keep jobs in the US, I have chosen to work with only US based manufacturers and keep all aspect of my production within the country.  

 Another thing the course taught me was the importance of delegating. When I first started Aqua, I wanted to do everything myself. But the course taught me that if I hire well, delegating will be the optimal way for me to expand my business.  


Aside from DVIRC’s Level Up program, what other resources have you used to bolster your understanding of business management?  

I studied business administration at Temple and have found the school to be immensely helpful with my company. They have interviewed me and placed my company on different shopping guides and holiday guides. I’ve also used my network of friends and family members for business advice. 


How did you go about raising capital to produce your product? What challenges did you face when trying to raise seed funding for the company?  

 I have been focused on applying for grants so that I can scale the company. Right now, the biggest challenge is keeping up with inventory since demand is so high. In the future, I might apply for loans.  


What are some of your long-term business goals? 

We just did an interview with CBS Philly, and sales tend to increase whenever you go on the news. So, right now, I’m trying to keep up with the growing demand for inventory we’re experiencing. I also plan on expanding internationally, since there’s such a big demand for our products from customers outside North America.  


You mention in one of your TV appearances that you hope to inspire other women who look like you to create their own businesses. Can you discuss your interest in diversifying the entrepreneurship pipeline and what can be done to foster greater involvement from women and minorities in this space?  

I’m passionate about teaching minority women about entrepreneurship. I belong to a sorority where I talk to school age girls about their future goals and aspirations. I also have nieces and nephews with whom I discuss the patent process and the time and energy it takes to research and sample products.   


What advice would you offer other entrepreneurs interested in producing their own products and starting their own business? 

Have patience! It is not going to happen overnight. Do your research, know your competitors, and understand that your product is not for everyone. In other words, know your target audience, and learn how to market to that audience. When I first started, I made the mistake of targeting everyone but now my marketing is more niche oriented. My target demographic is me. I invented Aqua headwear because I had a need that wasn’t being fulfilled by the current market offerings. I created a product for women who invest a lot in their hair and want to maintain that style while spending time in the water.  


Please be sure to follow Aqua Headwear on Instagram @aquaheadwear  and Facebook.   

Stay tuned for our next profile!