Roq Innovation, a local retail startup that sells tech-enabled, winter accessories, is opening a warehouse space in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood as the company expands and its founder tries to engage with her local community.
Founded in 2014 by Raquel Crayton, Roq Innovation sells two items right now—NEKZ, a simple scarf product, and HEADLIGHTZ, a beanie hat with a built-in light on the front of it.
Crayton, who was the former director of marketing at EBONY Magazine before launching Roq Innovation, is a graduate of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Since launching and bootstrapping the company three years ago, she’s hired four employees, and is expecting revenue for the seasonal items to top $2 million by the end of 2018.
She’s made several appearances on the Home Shopping Network, where she advertises and sells her products. Additionally, she has distribution partnerships with major retailers, like Ace Hardware and Hallmark. And because of the growth she’s seen, Crayton plans to launch two new products early next year, though she couldn’t disclose what they will be.
Now Crayton is opening a warehouse space in Bronzeville, the South Side neighborhood where she’s lived for nine years. She is renting space in a former Chicago Public Schools institution in the neighborhood on 49th Street and Indiana Avenue. The school was closed in 2013 when city government shut down more than 50 CPS schools. Crayton says operations will begin at the space on Dec. 7.
“there’s more goodwill in the community when they know that you are invested in the community that they live in.”
She plans to hire three or four employees to staff the warehouse, where they will receive the products from their manufacturer in China, package and then ship them.
“I think it’s such a great opportunity to live in your community, work in your community and then have your workers come from the community,” Crayton said. “It benefits everyone. There’s more integrity in the work, and there’s more goodwill in the community when they know that you are invested in the community that they live in.”
NEKZ, the first product Crayton launched, is a simple take on the traditional scarf. It’s just a short piece of fabric that can be clasped together at the back of the neck. She thought of the idea for NEKZ during the polar vortex in 2014 when her children refused to wear scarfs.
“The scarf was just not happening,” Crayton said. “So, I just went to the fabric store and tried to figure out how to make something.”
It started as a kid’s product, but Crayton eventually expanded it for adult men and women, too.
HEADLIGHTZ, a beanie that comes in a variety of colors, has a detachable and rechargeable light on the front of it, making for a casual twist on a construction light helmet. The HEADLIGHTZ battery lasts for up to 8 hours.
Crayton designed the hat for people doing activities in the dark, like running or biking. But it turns out many of her customers use the hat, instead of a flashlight, when they’re walking their dogs in the dark.
“So, of course, I’m going to hit up Petco in a minute,” Crayton joked.