Queen Mary Alumni

Alumni profile - Keshia East

I love being half Ghanaian; I really embrace and love my culture. My mum was born and bred in Ghana, so when I was growing up, she made sure to teach me the language, culture and how to make the best Ghanaian dishes. I’m so lucky that she taught me these things. Whenever someone meets me and sees how integrated I am into both of my cultures, it gives me great joy!

(History BA, 2013)

 

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Why did you study History at Queen Mary? What sparked your interest in this specific degree?

I have always loved History. I feel that looking at the past always explains the present, and future trends can be predicted by analysing the past. I’ve also always loved debating and I love that even if you gather large amounts of evidence for your argument, there’s always still another point of view, with its own evidence to back it up. Nothing is black and white and I love exploring that.

What aspects of your degree did you find most enjoyable and how has your degree remained relevant in your life since graduating?

I enjoyed my Art History modules the best. I loved exploring how beauty ideals have changed throughout time. My degree has served me well when I’ve been at parties and a war or a debate about a president will come up; it’s always great having that knowledge there to use. But in terms of my career; I feel everything surrounding the degree has helped exceptionally. Research skills, writing documents, referencing, proof-reading – even how to use a laptop – I learnt so many skills at university.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey after graduation and what you do now? How does your current role allow you to explore some of your passions?

I left university and continued working at my part time job which was at MAC Cosmetics. I worked as a makeup artist and, whilst searching for graduate jobs, decided I wanted to be self-employed. I had recently been on a trip and met people who travelled the world and worked for themselves. I found this so inspirational, so decided this was the life I wanted. Before I knew it, I had started doing lots of freelance work with makeup and I had left and was working for myself. This was around six years ago now. As I worked as a freelance makeup artist, I met lots of amazing clients and slowly started working online, creating beauty content for Instagram.

It’s so important to have people that represent you as it makes you feel seen and embraced in society.

It wasn’t until the pandemic hit in 2020, that I branched out and started my own company. All work had dried up temporarily and I found myself with lots of time on my hands, so I decided to take the plunge. Hair tools were always something I felt were lacking in the market. As a curly haired girl, I’ve always noticed the lack of products in retailers, and it can make having natural hair more challenging. Once I launched No Knot Co, it received such an amazing response from the start. I grew it throughout the lockdown, and now I run my company, do freelance makeup, and create beauty content online. I have my fingers in all the pies!

What does Black History Month mean to you and why do you think it’s important to celebrate and acknowledge it?

Black history month is so important as it highlights important figures that seem to have been forgotten in history. For example, Madam C J Walker is a huge inspiration of mine, having launched her own hair brand during a pandemic also (the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic). She then went on to become the first female self-made millionaire in America! I didn’t learn about her until I was in university writing my dissertation on beauty ideals in 1920s America. Black history month gives us the chance to learn about such inspirational black figures who shaped history!

When was the first time you saw yourself reflected in literature and/or popular culture and what impact did this have on you?

I grew up in the nineties when Spice Girls were a big hit. Seeing Scary Spice rock her curly hair made me feel so accepted and I LOVED rocking my curls when I was younger. Unfortunately, there weren’t many figures like her as I got older, and I started wearing my hair straight. I definitely think if there were more curly haired role models, I would have embraced my curls a lot more growing up. It’s so important to have people that represent you as it makes you feel seen and embraced in society. Luckily now there are so many more celebrities who embrace their natural hair, and lots of natural haired YouTubers, and influencers.

What inspired you to start your own business and what have been some of the challenges and rewards that you’ve encountered during this process?

I was inspired to start my own hair tools company because I knew there was a huge gap in the market. I could never find the right brushes, combs or accessories for my hair. For the first time in my life, I had the time to invest into my own company.

The biggest challenge was starting a company when I had no experience whatsoever. It was hard to find advice and guidance online. Luckily, I managed to survive and it has been a great success. The biggest rewards have been winning a Cosmo Beauty Award for best hair brush of summer 2021, getting my brushes into Urban Outfitters in the US and just the general feedback and customer reviews.

Can you tell us about a key turning point in your life or career and the impact this had on you?

My father passed away in March 2020.Photo of alumna, Keshia East, with her dad at graduation This was obviously the worst time of my life and losing someone so close to you changes you forever. I think this played a huge role in me gaining the confidence to start my own business, as it left me with courage, and the idea that life is too short became very real to me! Every day is a blessing and I truly see that now.

The theme of Black History Month this year is ‘Proud to Be’ and its aim is to celebrate being black or brown, and to inspire and share the pride people have in their heritage and culture. What are some of your proudest achievements so far both in your professional and personal life and what makes you ‘Proud to Be’ you?

I love being half Ghanaian; I really embrace and love my culture. My mum was born and bred in Ghana, so when I was growing up, she made sure to teach me the language, culture, and how to make the best Ghanaian dishes. I’m so lucky that she taught me these things. Whenever someone meets me and sees how integrated I am into both of my cultures, it gives me great joy!

What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments?

I loved my time at Queen Mary. I didn’t stay on campus because I lived down the road in Walthamstow. My favorite memory had to be graduating! My whole family came to see the hard work I’d put in over the years and it felt great. One of my proudest moments to date.

Who are some of your role models and why?

Honestly, I think my family are huge role models to me. A lot of my family members are self-employed, which encouraged me to go down this route also. Everyone is so hard working and I love how diverse all our careers are.

What would your advice be for young entrepreneurs?

Start NOW! Once I started my company, I always wondered to myself, what was I so scared of? Starting a business can seem daunting and you never feel fully prepared, but my advice would be to start as soon as possible. Even if your idea doesn’t work out, you will learn so much from the experience and this will help you become a success in the future. Honestly, the best advice is to just start.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Keshia or engage her in your work, please contact Nathalie at n.grey@qmul.ac.uk.