Listen: Origin Story – QueenCare
QueenCare in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood is much more than a beauty supply store. Opened in December 2018, QueenCare employs young women of color and provides them with mentorship, job training and support. On top of all of this, they sell amazing-smelling, all-natural skincare products at the same time. QueenCare founder and owner Monika Mathews has made it her life’s work to create opportunity and supportive community for young people.
“QueenCare has three tenants: indulge, engage and uplift,” Monika says. “We want people to indulge in our products that are made with all-natural ingredients. It’s all about self–care and loving your body and taking care of what you put on your skin. So that’s the indulge part, but we also want people to engage—we want people to engage with what’s happening in the community. This is more than just a program. We really are about changing lives.”
Monika created her nonprofit Life Enrichment Group 16 years ago and runs several programs out of the organization, including Young Queens, a personal development program that focuses on self-love, personal development, academic achievement and sisterhood for young ladies. “Entrepreneurship training is one of those tenants that we really focus on, and three years ago at Rainier Beach High School, we got an opportunity from the United Way of King County in the way of funding to be able to start an innovative program that focuses on economic development in Seattle,” Monika explains. “And so that’s where QueenCare really was born.” Girls involved in the Young Queens program at Rainier Beach High began making QueenCare’s line of products and selling them at festivals and community gatherings.
After sweeping awards at the Sharks at the Beach small business pitch event, Monika and her team began looking for ways to expand QueenCare beyond tabling at events. “I remember one day Monica was driving down the street and she goes, ‘Oh my god, there’s a building! We could open up a store, what do you think?’” QueenCare Executive Assistant Ashley McCarver recalls. “And I go, ‘Yeah let’s do it!’ So from September to November we were just driving by, thinking of great ideas, and about October or November, we got the space.” The store opened on December 8 last year, officially proclaimed QueenCare Day in the City of Seattle by Mayor Jenny Durkan. “When the day came, it was just so mind blowing—we really did this!”
Young ladies from the Young Queens program were hired as staff to help run the store, including Kiana, a senior at Cleveland High School who currently works as Youth Manager at QueenCare. Kiana has been selling products with QueenCare since she was a freshman and took advantage of the opportunity to work at the store when it opened. “We get training in a lot of different aspects other than just, you know, interacting with customers and making the products,” Kiana says. “I gained a second support system outside of my family, and it’s good to know that I can come and have people that are there to support me and care about me. I’ve learned to open up to different things and take risks, and just be a lot more open-minded.”
Eva, another student from Cleveland High and employee at QueenCare, agrees that she’s gained a new support system through working with Monika and Ashley. “I was literally just looking for a job and I saw [QueenCare] as a job opportunity, and I took it,” she says. “Now, it’s deeper than a just a job for me. I can rely on them if I need anything, I know that they got my back. There’s this sisterhood, and I know that they got my back too, so it’s one big community.”
Monika knows first-hand that there aren’t enough programs to support young women of color like Eva and Kiana. “There were a lot of challenges that I faced [when I was a teenager] and unfortunately I did not have access to a lot of positive support, either adults or programs,” Monika says. “So when I started Life Enrichment Group, it was really important for me to provide some of those things that I knew I needed as a young person, just to make sure to support the holistic development of young ladies.”
She continues, “At the same time, I saw a lot of young ladies really making not so good choices, like leading into criminal behavior, because they did not have a lot of opportunities to make money. And so that became very important to me, to really create something that young ladies could participate in and earn some cash in doing so, and also learn marketable skills that will help them in this ever-changing region that we’re in.”
Monika says there’s been a learning curve in running the business: “It’s one thing to table at festivals versus actually having a brick and mortar store. So I think that’s been a challenge. But we have been supported by the Office of Economic Development in learning different things, and other entities as well.” Monika has a long-standing relationship with Office of Economic Development staff member Heidi Hall, who works with community members across Seattle’s business districts. “Heidi has been a supporter of QueenCare since day one, before we had these nice labels and everything,” Monika says. “Heidi has just been a wealth of information and a great go-to person for support and encouragement.”
Monika and Ashley have big plans for QueenCare’s future. “The goals are to have more locations and definitely more products. We’re in the making of getting candles, and that’s definitely not the end of it,” says Ashley. Monika adds, “Another one of our goals is to expand our program offerings in the community…We want to have a transitional home, an educational day care center, and a youth development center where young people can come develop their skills and talents.”