"Though you may not have been a teen mom, all of us have faced obstacles in life. You must decide that success is your only option." Altrichia A.Lekay Cook
Altrichia "A.Lekay" Cook is the founder of Allusions by A.Lekay, a swimwear line she created to cover abdominal imperfections after child bearing. Allusions by A.Lekay has been featured at New York Fashion Week and Miami International Fashion Week, as well as covered by a plethora of media outlets including: Essence Magazine, Daily Mail, MTV Style, ET online, People Magazine, Yahoo.com and Marie Claire.
What began as Cook's passion project has turned into a big business; especially since the queen of rap herself, NICKI MINAJ, graced the cover of Cosmopolitan's July 2015 issue wearing her swimsuit.
But this is just one of many accomplishments for Cook. After becoming a teen mom at 18, she still attended university and obtained a Master's Degree while raising her son and working full time. She is also committed to volunteering, giving back and being active in her community. Wow, now that's a #FanGirlFriday!
Every Ella: Tell me about yourself.
Altrichia Cook: I am Altrichia "A. Lekay" Cook! I am a native of Lakeland, Florida. Every heard of it? It's right in the middle of Orlando and Tampa. I was raised by my loving and amazing parents, Al and Debora Cook. I am the baby of two older sisters, Alfreda and Applemania, and a little sister who we call "Lil Mama." I have one niece, Alnasha Cook, one nephew, Gregory Bradford III, and one great-nephew, Shaquill Jr.
I am the mother of the most handsome little guy in the entire universe. He is so charming, daring and smart. His name is Anthony Wilcox, Jr., and he will be 10-years-old in December. His father, Anthony Sr., was my high school sweetheart. We recently reestablished our relationship and are looking forward to spending forever together.
You are one determined women. Was that always the case?
My family often reminds me that they always knew that I was determined to be great. From being the frequent line-leader in grade school to being senior class president, homecoming queen and varsity cheer captain. It's obvious that I was blessed with the ability to lead [Laughs]. With such a bright future ahead and already being accepted into Florida State University, I was devastated to learn that I was pregnant just one month before graduating high school.
What did you decide to do?
My determination and ambition did not allow me to be defeated with the news. Although, at the time, I was only 17. Being fearless, I still attended FSU and raised my son as I pursued my college degree, worked full time and participated in campus activities. Though times were very challenging, my determination outweighed those times.
I graduated in 2009 and continued my education. I attended Florida A&M University and graduated with my Master's Degree -- still working full time and being a mother, which was and still is my first priority. I graduated in April 2011 and returned to Lakeland and worked as a misdemeanor probation officer.
How did you get the idea for Allusions by A.Lekay?
In March 2013, after aimlessly looking for a high waist swimsuit that masked my abdominal imperfections from child bearing, I did what all self-starters do and took matters into my own hands! I designed my very own swimsuit. Working closely with a tailor, my design was brought to life and by huge surprise, my very own business Allusions by A.Lekay Swimwear was born; designing luxury, fashionable and high end swimwear, within just 2 years.
How long did it take from the initial idea to turning it into an existing business?
Well, actually it wasn't a planned business. The entire idea of creating my own design was for my comfort and desire to flaunt a 2-piece swimsuit. I uploaded the photos from my trip on social media and received an immediate response from friends and followers inquiring about where I got my highwaistkini from. Because I had been seeking a business to start, the comments and messages sparked the idea of this being a business venture. I truly think that it was God-sent. It was like an unction from God himself and a soft whisper saying, "This is it! This is your business!" I did some research and literally hit the ground running.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced in launching your own business?
The biggest obstacle was that I lacked the sewing skills myself. I designed a swimsuit that met at the intersection of fashion and comfort, but I needed a middle man to make it happen. Also, the mere fact of going through legal motions without any laws that protect fashion designers was frustrating. And of course, the challenge of others desiring the recognition, success and popularity turned into enviousness and malice. Success is great, but it comes with many things that you must be willing to handle professionally and peacefully. Getting over the negativity and showing love despite hate is the challenge.
Other obstacles were working with a team of other professionals such as graphic designers and photographers and meeting deadlines. Contracting with other businesses and professionals and ensuring that my business was a priority to them was something I had to make sure was communicated as well.
Lastly, prioritizing and balancing life with family and friends and managing my business was a challenge. There were many sleepless nights and missed family gatherings due to traveling to ensure my that my business expanded. I also worked full time. It was a lot.
Being a "Girl Boss" is not about taking cute selfies or taking photos at events, it is much more. My ambition never allows me to be complacent. A girl boss means owning your business, learning, growing, collaborating and most importantly, impacting the lives of others and building a legacy.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned?
The biggest lesson I have learned is to not take things personal in business.
What has been the most rewarding experience thus far in your career?
Hmm… well it is humbling and rewarding when I have women email me about how they are so inspired and uplifted by my story of true fearlessness and never giving up. Also customer testimonials of how my brand empowers them and allows them to feel sexy and confident again. One customer expressed her excitement to wear a 2-piece swimsuit after 20 years! Then you have the monumental moment when the queen rap, NICKI MINAJ, graced the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine with my design. It was truly a priceless feeling because it proved that ANYTHING that I set my mind to, even collaborating with a GLOBAL entity like COSMO, is possible. And my brand is just 2 years old.
Be honest. What's the first thing you did when you found out Nicki Minaj wore your swimsuit in Cosmopolitan?
Oh my God! I seriously skipped a heartbeat! It was jaw-dropping! When collaborating with major fashion mediums and corporations and sending product, there is no guarantee that your product will be used. When the fashion editor and I spoke in March, she warned this and did not inform me of who the model would be. When she circled back, as they were doing a soft launch on May 29th, she emailed me the photo and I SCREAMED! It was such an awesome feeling.
You're extremely active in your community. What kind of volunteer work do you do?
I love to serve my community! I love serving as a mentor to help young girls who are in need of direction. Teen moms are my passion. Because this was once me, according to statistics, only 2% of teen mothers have a successful life. I proved statistics wrong and it is my duty to help other teen moms do the same!
You are passionate about empowering girls. Where did that come from?
Innately, it came from my mother, Debora Cook. She is a jewel! She has a gift of making someone feel special and putting a smile on their face. I watched her do this my entire life. In fact, she still empowers me in some way every time I see or speak with her.
If you had to pick one female who inspired you the most, who would it be?
My mother! Not because it's cliche, but because she showed me the true essence of hard work. She sold Mary Kay Cosmetics and she hustled! She always worked overtime and has been a servant my entire life. My mother is a God-fearing woman and exemplifies the true meaning of being a virtuous woman. She motivates me, encourages me and uplifts me. My mother has truly given and shown me everything I need to know in how to be a successful business woman. Thank you, mommy. I love you!
What advice would you give girls today?
I always tell girls that, "There are infinite possibilities to those who are determined." Though you may not have been a teen mom, all of us have faced obstacles in life. You must decide that success is your only option.
What are your plans for the future?
To continue expanding; soon landing on the racks of major, high-end department stores and television shopping networks. As I grow, I will remain humble and serve others. One day when I am not longer here, my desire is to be still spoken of because I have imprinted on the lives of others. This means that I am leading with love and service; establishing what will one day be my legacy.
More of Cook's recent accomplishments:
- Keynote speaker for the 2015 Career Source Polk, high school graduations, college lectures and leadership trainings
- Panelist with Verizon Wireless and their City Session Initiative and showcased at the Verizon Wireless’ Fashion Moment at the 2015 Essence Festival in New Orleans
- 2013 You Make a Difference Everyday Award, presented by the Polk County Schools Teen Parent Program
- Recognized by Fox 13 Tampa Bay What’s Right with Tampa Bay
- Awarded Best Swimwear Style at the 2014 Best of the Bay Awards, presented by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay
- Honored in the class of 2014 40 Under 40 Up & Comers Award presented by the Tampa Bay Business Journal
- 2015 Black G.I.R.L.S. Rock Tampa Bay Award presented by Black G.I.R.L.S Rock Tampa Bay
- 1 of 3 recipients of the 2015 She Knows Where She’s Going Award, presented by Girls, Inc.
- Finalist for the 2015 Business Woman of the Year Award, presented by the Tampa Bay Business Journal