Caledonia – When you first meet Kyla Charles, you learn she’s a quiet, friendly seventh-grader at Kraft Meadows Middle School who enjoys her studies and plays basketball.
When you get to know her better, you learn she’s also a world traveler, caregiver and young entrepreneur who has experienced much already in her young life.
“My mom works at Amway and used to travel to Japan once a month. After I finished the second grade, my family moved to Tokyo and I went to Tokyo International School for third and fourth grade,” Kyla explained. “I liked learning the language and culture and meeting new friends while we were there and I still keep in touch with them.”
While living and going to school in Japan, Kyla also discovered a passion for playing basketball.
“I started to like basketball in fourth grade and wanted to keep playing when we moved back home,” Kyla said. “I played for my school and now I play for AAU hoops travel team.”
After living abroad, moving back home to Caledonia brought feelings of familiarity and reunions with friends. Shortly after their return, Kyla’s family faced an even more emotional challenge: Kyla’s mom, Melissa, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Learning about my mom’s diagnosis was one of those things you don’t imagine happening, Kyla said. “While you’re in a ‘kid mindset,’ you don’t think about it. It was scary and sad in the moment, but as it was happening our bond got stronger and we started doing more things together.”
Part of Melissa Charles’ experience with cancer included the loss of her hair, which led her to Beautiful You by Profile, a non-profit organization that supports and helps women and girls undergoing cancer treatment look and feel beautiful.
“Beautiful You created a wig for my mom, whose hair didn’t grow back after her cancer,” Kyla said. “They were super kind to her and that wig gave her strength.”
Today, Melissa Charles is cancer-free and Kyla is the founder of Box Out Apparel, an online basketball-themed clothing and accessory business inspired by her love for the sport and her mom’s positive experience at Beautiful You.
Kyla decided to donate a portion of her sales proceeds to Beautiful You and use her business as a platform for starting conversations about cancer awareness.
Creating Box Out Apparel
The idea for Kyla’s business was born during quarantine last year and launched online on April 15.
According to the website Melissa and Kyla designed, the business was named after a basketball move that’s all about increasing defensive intensity.
“I started doing more crafts and playing with my new basketball while I was at home, and I got the idea to combine them and donate to charity,” she said.
As a marketing professional, Kyla’s mom assisted with the business logistics but the ideas for clothing items, stickers and designs were all from Kyla’s imagination.
“Me and my mom brainstormed sayings that were inspiring for clothing and I started drawing simple, cute things for stickers,” Kyla said. “Now I create and draw all the designs, find all the colors and make sure they fit the shirt we buy from a T-shirt company and then have another company print the designs.”
“Throughout the process, I learned there is more to starting a business than you think. It’s a lot of work making a website too,” Kyla said.
Kyla packs and stores all of the clothing and stickers in the craft room at home.
“I like to be organized and ready for when someone places an order. Then we can print their shipping label and my dad — the logistics guy — drives me to the post office to send it out,” she said.
Growing Brand Awareness
“My friends help out with taking photos of the apparel for Instagram. My mom has a camera and a green screen and lights, so it’s like a photo studio in the house,” Kyla said with a laugh. “My grandparents were hilarious about it. They keep handing out my business cards to their friends.”
Kyla’s teachers at Kraft Meadow have also been supportive of her business, and helped spread the word around school.
Seventh-grade STEM teacher Becky Sowerby ordered stickers from Kyla’s website to put on her water bottle.
“She’s been so quiet about her business,” Sowerby said. “She’s not a bragger and is so humble, and that’s hard for a seventh-grader. This experience is giving her the skills to use later in life and her designs are really cute.”
Sowerby and Kyla also connected over Sowerby’s husband’s journey with cancer.
Duanne Petrosky, Kyla’s math and science teacher, described Kyla’s business venture as very low-key, and something Kyla was very excited about.
“I heard about it a week or two ago when one of my students was asking her about it in class, so she showed them the products on her website,” Petrosky said. “Kyla is very goal oriented, friendly and likeable. I hope she continues to learn and grow and figure out what she wants to do in life to make her happy.”
Sowerby insisted her teaching did not play a role in Kyla starting the business, and that she did it all on her own, with guidance from her mom.
“She’s raising money for the cause and keeps her grades top notch; she’s going places for sure,” Sowerby said. “I hope she stays true to herself and that she goes for the moon. Whatever she ends up doing, her tenacity will get her through it.”
Kyla said she is looking forward to visiting with friends she met in Japan and collaborating with her mom on new summer designs.
“Me and my mom have started brainstorming a summer line, things that make us think of summer like watermelons and stars,” she said. “My goal is to keep coming up with ideas and make a lot of donations to Beautiful You.”