Hooked on LimaLoops

(Photo courtesy of Estefania Mangue)

When Khalima Botus-Foster was 11 years old, she found it difficult to purchase anything that suited her body type and her personal style when she went shopping.

So she did something about it.

After crocheting tops and accessories for herself when she was a teenager, Khalima faced another challenge in college: money. Again, she turned to crocheting for the solution. In the fall 2016 semester, she began selling handmade head warmers to friends for $15 to supplement the income she was earning from her retail job.

Then, on June 7, 2017, after a little encouragement from friends, LimaLoops went live on Instagram.

“I didn’t start selling things until finals week junior year in the fall semester. But I didn’t think anything of it – I was just selling head warmers,” said Khalima.

She credits senior Derek Welcome as being the one who pushed her to start advertising her talent on Instagram.

Welcome said, “We lived in North together and would occasionally hang out and see each other. I always caught her crocheting and one day just asked what she was doing.”

He added, “I encouraged her to market herself on social media because she really had something special going on.” Welcome said Khalima was already dedicated and hard-working. If she decided to expand her hobby into a business, he believed she could be successful.

LimaLoops, a business Khalima runs entirely by herself, recently grew large enough that she could quit her retail job and rely on her popular crochet tops, accessories and outfits to pay her bills, while she completes her final semester at FSU.

LimaLoops’ inventory of tops, hats, head warmers and baby shoes is constantly growing due to sales on Etsy and social media pages such as Instagram and Facebook.

“I just did it to just make money, but then I was like, ‘Wow! People like what I do. Maybe I should get into it,’” said Khalima, while reflecting on her journey as an entrepreneur on a warm day in late February – crocheting the whole time.

Inside her dorm room, a white plastic mannequin sits in front of a tapestry, and a hamper is filled not with dirty laundry, but with yarn.

Khalima said, “I feel like because I’m young, I’m black and I’m a woman, I already have to work my ass off in general. So, I feel like I have to work my ass off four times more because I have my own business. I feel like I have to be my best advocate when it comes down to it.”

Khalima creates everything for LimaLoops herself – from her logo to her products.

She said, “I’ve had support from a lot of people, but this is me, myself and I.”

As a communication arts major, Khalima has access to the iMac computer lab in the library and has also been able to take classes such as Advertising Techniques and Design for Integrated Media, which focus on brand identity and logo design.

She said having access to those resources helps her create advertisements and branding materials to promote LimaLoops in a professional manner.

Jennifer Dowling, communication arts professor, said Khalima “didn’t have a strong visual identity or complete sense of a brand” for LimaLoops when she took Advertising Techniques in the fall 2017 semester.

Dowling said she was hesitant at first when Khalima wanted to use her own company as the topic for her final project because she already had a web presence and logo.

“Khalima is talented and quite versatile with her craft, so I wanted to see where she might go with this,” said Dowling.

She added, “Ultimately, it was a very worthwhile project and it opened my mind to the potential for students to develop an advertising campaign to support their existing company.”

Dowling said the skills students learn in classes such as Advertising Techniques are tangible and transferrable to different fields and positions students may be pursuing.

Khalima has already transferred those skills to her business, as she plays the roles of social media manager, designer and customer service representative to all her clients.

“I don’t ever want to have to report back to anybody. Or have anybody make me feel like I’m any less of a person or at the bottom of the food chain,” she said.

Many LimaLoops customers are FSU students. Senior Clarisol DeJesus purchased a head warmer and said, “[Khalima]’s a very confident and independent girl. I look up to her for starting her own business and feel privileged to have contributed.”

Welcome, who has purchased pieces as well, said compared to things people may purchase at stores such as T.J. Maxx or the mall, LimaLoops’ “quality is better, creativity is outstanding and it’s for the right price. But most importantly, I’m buying something with a story behind it.”

Senior Monét Nikera Johnson called her experience purchasing from LimaLoops “amazing.

“Khalima’s always nice, so it’s super easy to buy from her. I saw the work she was doing on Instagram, and I just had to have one of her pieces,” said Johnson.

She added, “I buy from black [-owned] businesses whenever I can, and she’s a good person, so she deserves all the business she gets. I’m actually a huge fan of her and the business, so even if I didn’t know her before my purchases, I would still be thrilled with my experience.”

Khalima said communicating with her customers is a key part of her business model. “I don’t want to leave anybody hanging because I don’t like to be left hanging, ever.”

She added playing all roles can sometimes be challenging, as people see her as a friend or classmate and may expect her to give them a good deal or be given special treatment. But as far as LimaLoops, she’s a professional and expects to be treated as such.

“I work in order of who paid me first,” she said.

People sometimes approach her with pictures of crocheted items they find online. What they don’t know, said Khalima, is how competitive the crochet business can be.

“All those cute patterns you see on Instagram and stuff – it costs money to learn how to make that,” she said.

Other designers don’t share their patterns or give tutorials on how to replicate items. So, it’s often left to people like Khalima to figure out how to make something look a certain way. For people like her, a self-proclaimed “perfectionist,” it can take a while for a piece to turn out just how she, or a client, envisions it. Then, to market the item for purchase, she must be confident she can reproduce it in different sizes and colors.

Khalima said she must check in with herself to make sure she’s not becoming overwhelmed. She deals with the stress by occasionally not accepting LimaLoops orders, so she can catch up on her schoolwork and other project.

She said she doesn’t want LimaLoops to become a task or something she dreads doing. “I love what I do. I really love crocheting, and I don’t ever want to not love it anymore.”

In addition to selling her pieces through Etsy and social media, Khalima has participated in showcases such as RAW Boston and M.I.S.S.’s event Art in the Dark.

RAW Artists is an organization that holds artist showcases in different cities to help promote small businesses and give networking opportunities to artisans like Khalima.

“They’re well-known. They do shows in different cities throughout the world. So, I knew it was a serious thing because I know that a lot of artists would be honored to be part of a show like that,” she said.

As for the future of LimaLoops? Khalima – and her supporters – don’t see anything but growth in LimaLoops’ future, even with graduation coming right around the corner.

Welcome said, “LimaLoops has been successful because of Khalima. As she continues to grow and develop as an owner, it shows through LimaLoops. I don’t hope, but I know – LimaLoops will be nationwide in due time.”

Khalima said, “I definitely see myself doing it full-time in the future because I know that it’s possible. I know that I can make money off of this, and I know that once I’m out of school and once I have more time, my creativity can flow.”