Alumni Coordinator Shabnam Valiyeva ‘15 (Barda, Azerbaijan/ Swansea, IL) interviewed FLEX alumnus Mahammad Kekalov ‘18 (Zagatala, Azerbaijan/ Boonsboro, MD) about his project KEKALOVE, an adaptive fashion brand with the goal of making fashion accessible for people with disabilities.
Shabnam: Tell us about your project. How was it started?
Mahammad: KEKALOVE is an adaptive fashion brand that designs and produces clothing for people with disabilities. I first came up with the idea when I was attending the Harvard Business Program in Dubai and we were discussing start-ups during a business entrepreneurship lesson. I mentioned my idea about accessible fashion and received a lot of support from my peers. After returning home I posted on the FLEX Azerbaijan Facebook group requesting partners for this venture, to which Turan Jabbarli ’14 (Baku, Azerbaijan/ Oxford, NC) and Mahhamadali Rzayev ’18 (Baku, Azerbaijan/ Dinuba, CA) responded. We created a business model and presentation and applied to many incubators. Since April 2019 we have been a start-up brand with the Baram Incubation and Entrepreneurship Center.
Shabnam: Where did you get your inspiration for this project?
Mahammad: I grew up in a household where my grandmother had a visual disability and taking care of her was just a part of our everyday life. Additionally, my host family in the United States was working in the field of accessibility for people with disabilities, allowing me to gain a new perspective on this topic. It was with my host family that I first learned about the difficulty some people with disabilities have in dressing themselves. This prompted me to start doing research about the issue and developing sketches for more inclusive clothing.
Shabnam: What is happening with KEKALOVE right now?
Mahammad: Currently one of the looks is being showcased at an exhibition within the Yarat Contemporary Art Centre in Baku. FLEX alumna Sayyara Huseynli ’12 (Sheki, Azerbaijan/ Kennewick, WA) offered us the chance to display the line as part of an exhibition. Due to this exposure, we are getting more attention than we ever expected and are receiving a lot of positive feedback.
Shabnam: How can the FLEX alumni community support KEKALOVE?
Mahammad: FLEX Alumni can share our project on social media, which can be found through the hashtag #KEKALOVECOUTURE. We are also eager to hear feedback and connect with people who can share ideas or even donate to our start-up.
Shabnam: What is your goal for KEKALOVE for the near future?
Mahammad: I want to make KEKALOVE a sustainable brand and make sure that we reach the communities we intend to: people with disabilities.