Monifa Caines was determined to regrow her natural hair and restore its health from a lifetime of chemical treatments to get it to “lay flat”. She endured a trying period of workplace microaggressions and judgments regarding her “professional appearance” while her straightened hair transitioned to braids, and then to natural hair. But now? Now Monifa was finally ready to reintroduce her natural hair to the world.

She went to a big box retailer looking for hair accessories that could stand up to her type 4 hair. Her natural hair grows in a spiral, coiled shape, like all type 4 hair, and is thicker and heavier than straight type 1 or wavy type 2 hair (learn more about hair types). These traits lend themselves to unique, beautiful hairstyles she couldn’t wait to explore, but they also mean not every hair accessory is up to the job. Type 3 and 4 hair requires larger, sturdier accessories with wider comb spacing and silky or satiny textures so as not to catch and rip out excess hair during use.

She scoured two aisles of hair accessories in her local big box retailer and didn’t find a single usable item. Undeterred, she visited another big box retailer, and then numerous boutiques and department stores only to find the same situation. No one was stocking accessories she could use.

Not a one.

In a way, this isn’t shocking. Hair salons remain one of the most segregated industries in America. Monifa realized that if she wanted to accessorize her natural hair, she was going to have to make the accessories herself.

Monifa’s Military Service

Monifa was a Registered Nurse (RN) when she felt a desire to do more and see more of the world, and found her answer in the US Air Force. She attended Officer’s Candidate School (OCS) in 1998 at Maxwell AFB, Alabama and received a commission as an officer. She served at several duty stations, including Andrews AFB, MD, Nellis AFB, NV, and Aviano Air Base, Italy. She separated in 2006 at the rank of Captain.

Like many Black women serving, Monifa wasn’t just expected to fight for our country, but also battle her own natural hair to conform to military grooming standards. To stay within regulations, she required expensive, monthly, scalp-burning, hair-frying, lye-based chemical treatments to “relax” and straighten her hair so it would lay flat (even more difficult, if not impossible, during deployments).

Thankfully, the military relaxed this painful practice in 2014, and has since adopted a significantly more inclusive grooming standard, providing more options for women serving with type 4 hair. Sadly, the same biases toward type 4 hair held in the military are still prevalent in corporate America, regarding which hairstyles looked “professional”.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Monifa started out creating hair accessories for her own use, as a way to express herself and style her hair. She started with wide-spaced hair combs, ponytail holders, and headwraps. When she’d wear these handmade accessories out, she found she was constantly stopped by women desperate to know where she bought her hair accessories. She decided to share her creativity, and started making things for others in the natural hair community out of her home.

Then she got sick. Her kidneys failed, and doctors put her on an intense dialysis regimen while awaiting a donor kidney. The disability forced her to leave her corporate job in New York City, and move back to Las Vegas, where she was once stationed. After four and a half years of feeling like her entire life was on hold, she was lucky enough to get a new kidney.

Monifa had a chance for a fresh start, and vowed to take full advantage of this new lease on life. Instead of returning to her corporate job, she bet on herself. She moved to Maryland, back to the east coast, and launched her own handmade hair accessory business—Queen of Spades Style.

Connecting With Bunker Labs

Monifa had a lot going for Queen of Spades Style when she opened, notably a huge unserved market she understood well. Business was growing, and she reached out to others in the veteran entrepreneur community to educate herself on launching and running her business. She attended a couple of Bunker Brews, and had a friend, Ronetta Jones of Xtraordinary Solutions, who found great success with the Bunker Labs Veterans in Residence program.

Monifa first applied to the Veterans in Residence (ViR) 20B cohort, but she wasn’t quite ready for what ViR had to offer in terms of formalizing her business. She learned a bit, grew a bit, and tried again, becoming a member of the ViR 21B cohort in Washington DC. While in the program, she solidified a lot of her business fundamentals, improving her processes so things were more organized, efficient, and agile to adapt to new opportunities.

She also learned how to take Queen of Spade Style to exhibitions and orchestrate pop-up retail events to grow her customer base and market her products. Shortly after graduating from the ViR program, Monifa was seeing marked improvements to her sales, marketing, brand awareness, and the buzz around her products.

“It’s great to bounce things off like-minded people, people that want to see you win, people that have knowledge and experience in areas of business you don’t.”

-Monifa Caines

CEO Queen of Spades Style

Finding her Niche

Not long after Bunker Labs, Monifa was looking to bring her business full circle, scaling Queen of Spades Style to sell her products in the same department stores that once had no accessories for her natural hair. She got pretty far along in the process, too, before making a personal choice to protect her work-life balance by remaining a boutique business for the time being.

One of the best things about entrepreneurship is that we get to set our own parameters for success, and for Monifa, that doesn’t mean putting in 100-hour weeks and partnering with a factory to mass produce her designs. Instead, it means building a comfortable life for herself, on her own terms, that includes a lot of travel and good company.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Monifa and Queen of Spades Style aren’t growing. Around the time she was finishing up her first round of ViR, a woman reached out to Monifa about her headwraps, and wanted some instruction on how to use them. It can’t be overstated just how personable, friendly, and compassionate Monifa is at heart. She scheduled a zoom and gave the woman an extensive demonstration on four different ways to wear the headwrap. On the call, she learned the woman was a cancer survivor, interested in her headwraps to hide damage to her hair from chemotherapy.

Monifa has since broadened her business to include products and marketing efforts directed at those going through cancer treatments. As a former Registered Nurse (RN), she knows that in a fight like cancer, a patient’s morale can be almost as important as their treatment, and she is happy to provide options for women to feel a little more like themselves at a time when everything else in their lives is upended.

The Future of Queen of Spades Style

Monifa moved back to Las Vegas last year, and while she’s maintained her loyal east coast customer base, she’s also solving hair accessory needs for new customers in the southwest. She’s expanded her offerings to include products suitable for all types of hair. She’s not done with Bunker Labs, either. Monifa recently decided to go through the Veterans in Residence program again, as a member of our 23A cohort, and currently serves as a Bunker Labs Ambassador for Las Vegas.

Monifa’s spring ’23 collection sold out almost immediately, expanding her scope of offerings to feature different types of headwraps, hand-crafted earrings, bracelets, necklaces, kimono style beach cover-ups, embellished sunglasses, and dramatic beach hats. She also launched a new website last summer, and is currently seeking out partnerships with Las Vegas casino gift shops to serve as brick-and-mortar vendors for her accessories.

Entrepreneurship with Bunker Labs

Makeover your own entrepreneurial journey today with Bunker Labs! Fill out an interest form for our Veterans in Residence Program to grow your regional network and face the challenges of entrepreneurship alongside fellow veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs. Bunker Labs’ Breaking Barriers in Entrepreneurship workshop is also accepting interest forms for its Asian, Black, Latinx, and women cohorts, which explore the unique challenges of running a business for those from traditionally underserved demographics. Start living your best life today, fill out an interest form!

Bunker Labs is Now Part of IVMF

As of January 2024, Bunker Labs is now a part of Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). In addition to ongoing Bunker Labs programming, we’d encourage you to browse IVMF’s deep wealth of entrepreneurship programming, much of it available virtually or at locations across the country. Find the program to help your business take the next step today!