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Picture of Kait James

Kait James

Kait’s Journey: Breaking Into The Medical Aesthetic Industry, Part One

The Journey of Lux’s CEO, Kait & How She Broke Into The Beauty Industry 

I have always operated from the standpoint that your outward persona should be of strength and positivity. I have never been the type to take my struggles to a Facebook status or ask for prayers on a public platform. I struggle in the comfort of my own home, and project success outwardly. As a social media society, we live in a world now where the positivity of online life creates the foundation for comparison, jealously, and a feeling of not being good enough. Looking back on my journey, I realize I have been part of that problem. Moving forward, I want to offer the true story of my challenges breaking into the beauty industry. Outside looking in on Lux, I have a successful, thriving business. But the busines you’re seeing now is my chapter seven, not Lux’s chapter one. In this blog, I am offering you my most vulnerable self. I am not only inviting you into my professional journey of Lux, but my personal journey, as well. 

There are key people in life that drive your story. Turning points where you know if you hadn’t met THAT person, the chain of events would be a different trajectory. While the business of Lux has been important, the people in my life who have been along for the journey and changed my trajectory are of higher importance than the journey itself. At the end of the day, it’s not business that drives the world, it’s people. I truly hope that by sharing my story, I am able to connect to more people in a positive light. 

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When you’re in high school, no one really talks to you about the vastness of the career field and how many hundreds of careers that exist in the world; at least, not in my high school. I don’t personally think it’s fair that teenagers are supposed to be emotionally intelligent and self-aware enough to choose a career path that will decide the trajectory of their life, before life has truly even started. However, in hindsight, at 17 I didn’t really think about it. I just knew that I was supposed to get good grades and go to college. So, that’s what I did. 

I began my undergrad in psychology at Indiana University summer of 2010, immediately after high school graduation. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to pursue in the psych field, but I wanted to understand how brain function effects every single second of the day for every single person on earth. I initially thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist, meaning that I would be doing 8+ years of school. But ultimately, I just wanted to be an adult with a real job. I finished my bachelor’s degree in three years and immediately went out into the corporate world. I did two years of medical device sales, followed by a quick stent as a business analyst.

During my three years in the corporate field, as cliché as it may sound, I found myself. I went from a clueless 17-year-old exploring career options, to a 23-year-old who felt like I had the world figured out. My biggest revelation was that I absolutely loathed corporate life.  Corporate places you in more boxes than just the cubicle your desk and computer screen are located in. I was expected to dress a specific way, answer the phone to a set script, and exchange common courtesies every single day. I didn’t like that within three years and two companies, I ALWAYS had a male boss who would wave off my concerns as me being emotional. I didn’t like that in the corporate world, it didn’t matter how you felt because the thoughts revolving around those feelings were written off due to “tried and true” protocol. I found Monday through Friday very mundane and I had become the type of person who was living for the weekend. My first year as a business analyst, we were blessed with a company-wide layoff. As many of my peers were frantically job searching, I was soul searching. At this point, I knew the field I was in was not fulfilling me. I also knew that I was young enough to change my circumstance, instead of accepting the dreary Monday through Friday fate that society had convinced me was normal.  

During this soul search, I tried to hone-in on what I enjoyed in life. Reflecting on my time at IU, I truly enjoyed all my psych studies related to sex, gender, and the body; I was thoroughly intrigued by the way our self-perception was built from birth and how that self-perception played into our qualities of life. As a female, I had always felt the societal pressures to be “attractive,” but it wasn’t until I started to develop a strong sense of emotional intelligence that I realized that these social standards of beauty were not only a concept, but an entire career field. While I was skating around how I could relate my true interests to a career, I was getting some much-needed tattoo therapy. 

I began getting tattoos at 16 and I honestly haven’t stopped since. By the time I started my corporate career, my body was heavily tattooed: stomach, back, and legs. I always operated with the idea that my tattoos were fine, as long as they could be covered in a professional setting. I have always been a creative, free spirit. Corporate life truly forced me to hide my self-expression. When I showed up to work in slacks and a blouse, you couldn’t even see one tattoo showing. 

When you get tattoos often, you bond with your artists. During this particular session, I was talking with the shop owner who had become a friend, Dave. Dave was asking me about life, and I was expressing my fears around the recent company-wide lay off and the fact I had no direction in life at this point. Dave knew me well; he knew that while I have a degree in psychology, I also had a pre-med focus in preparation for becoming a psychiatrist. Dave was a wise man, and to this day I thank him for how my future has played out. Throughout this chat, he listened very intently and after taking a few minutes to soak it all in he prompted me with the idea of breaking into the medical aesthetic industry, with a focus on laser tattoo removal. At this time, I thought tattoos were incredibly permanent; I had no idea you could just laser them off. But, what a cool concept. That night, I went home and immediately started researching. I spent the next month diving into not only laser tattoo removal, but everything associated with lasers within the realm of beauty and the broader concept of medial aesthetics. 

            This initial research spiraled harder than I ever could have imagined. By the end of the first month, I had chosen a laser academy to gain my certification, developed a business plan for opening a laser spa, and already began meeting with physicians to obtain a medical director and abide by Indiana legalities. 

            I was 23 and had three years of corporate experience under my belt. The company wide layoff from my business analyst position allowed for a decent severance pay. I had always been financially responsible and owned a very calm, cozy house on three acres of land. I was weighing my options. I could easily go into another corporate position… or I could take a risk and try to establish a career I would actually enjoy. I remember, I was laying on a quilt on my back-porch deck, surrounded by my laptop and notebooks, and pages of research scattered all around me, contemplating if I could do this. Could I really trade my corporate world with a salary, insurance, 401K, company car, and stability… to invest in an idea that only even came to my mind a month earlier.

            I wasn’t sure if I would succeed, but I knew I’d never be happy unless I tried. June of 2016, I had put my house on the market to be sold and flew to Texas to be trained by The Texas Laser Academy on lasers within the medical aesthetic industry. I felt liberated. My director at TLA was a spicy, strong female with fun hair, tattoos, filled lips, and a personality the actual size of Texas…. And she believed in me. This was the first time I had ever been submerged in an environment where I felt free to be who I truly was, I felt free to let my hair down. Over the course of the next few weeks while I was obtaining my laser license, I began to be a bit more confident in my plan and started sharing these plans with people in my life. 

            Obviously, a few of my close friends and family members knew my plans. I needed a sounding board and support before taking the lunge. But now that I had begun to put my plans into action, I wanted the world to know. I wanted my social media following to be along on my journey. I wanted input. I wanted to be held accountable; this was now my plan and if people knew, I couldn’t fail. At one point, I shared on Instagram about my new business venture. This business needed a name. My inbox and texts were flooding with suggestions. One of my college besties, Logan, was who ultimately named it though. She’s always been a brilliant, gentle, supportive, force in my life. She came to me with a name a list of reasons why it was perfect. Lasers are light and the word light in Latin is lūx. Lux also sets the foundation for the word luxury. She knows me so well; knows that I prioritize luxury within my every-day life and have since we were freshman at IU. What better name for the medical aesthetic laser business that I am starting than Lux. And so it began… Lux. 

            Once submerged in The Texas Laser Academy, I gained a ton of connections and insight into the industry. My vision board exploded. I was also coming to the stark realization of how expensive starting this business would be. While I had always been financially responsible, I don’t think I had the most solid grasp on financial literacy. At TLA, I met with various representatives of medical device suppliers. I decided that while I truly wanted a brand new, $280,000 laser, that the investment was a bit out of my price range and that the more economically sound decision would be to purchase a refurbished machine. This means that the laser had over a million pulses, but the core of the laser had been rebuilt to a new status. Imagine having a classic car, such as a ’68 mustang, but the engine had been completely rebuilt. This allowed me to have the BEST laser, however, the laser was previously used and loved, so a team had rebuilt the key functioning components. I knew I couldn’t fully commit to this investment until my house sold. So, in the meantime, I was open to various other treatments I could offer at Lux. 

Obviously, I was in Texas to gain laser certification with a focus on laser tattoo removal, but I loved how vast the medical aesthetics industry is and the various machines and treatments that could compliment laser treatments for my target demographic. Before even finishing my laser certification, I purchased the Bellus Medical Skin Pen and enrolled in microneedling training in Detroit, MI. Laser treatments and microneedling were both high end, LUXURY, medical aesthetic treatments. Investing in a microneedling device had a much smaller overhead than the laser. I felt confident in my business plan and course of action. Microneedling was also a complimentary services to laser tattoo removal and general skin resurfacing. 

Luckily, my house sold incredibly quickly. I had a very nice nest egg, and I was living in my grandparent’s basement. Honestly, I loved living there; I got home cooked meals daily, the quality time to sit on the porch swing with my grandpa each evening, and the freedom I needed to truly invest in Lux. I purchased a $64,000 laser from a medical device company in Denver, Colorado. I loved this laser; it could do hair removal, pigmentation correction, laser facials, tattoo removal, vein reduction… it could even treat toenail fungus. HOW WILD. I had signed a lease with a beauty loft located in Bloomington, IN. Everything was in motion. I had a medical director and all legalities in place. I had already established a social media presence for Lux and my marketing skills were in my opinion, elite. I was pre-booking clients. My laser was delivered within a month. I was up and running. 

I did it. I brought an idea to full fruition within a six-month time frame. I was exhausted, excited, fearful, proud. I felt everything. But more than anything, I felt protective. I had never loved something more than I loved this little baby business that I had built. 

My laser came from Denver, had to be transported, installed, and recalibrated. There was a 30-day warranty on the laser in case anything went wrong during the install process. On week three, the laser malfunctioned and burnt the (excuse my language) fuck out of a client. Luckily, the client was also a really close friend. That same day, I tested the laser on myself. I needed to know that the reaction wasn’t a one off, crazy reaction on her sensitive skin. Silly me, it took almost 3 years to recover from my laser scars. Obviously, I immediately called my device rep. He flew out his tech and his tech assured us both that the machine looked good to him. How, if the machine looks good is it so severely malfunctioning? I was at a serious loss. I cried my eyes out for a couple days, I was in debt, living with my grandparents, and didn’t understand what I was supposed to do next. I missed my stable, easy, corporate job. 

Thankfully, I’ve never been the type to be bullied. I dove back into research and found the contact information for a gentleman that was on the Board of Laser Safety in Chicago. I called him, explained my situation, and he immediately drove from Chicago, IL to Bloomington, IN to take a look at my laser. Upon his investigation, we found the laser had not been rebuilt. My one million count pulsed laser that was sold on the foundation of being rebuilt, wiping the pulse count back to zero, was now at almost 1.5 million pulses. Obviously, it was malfunctioning. The laser hurt two people, the internal calibration was off, and multiple laser functions were beginning to shut down. The company that I had purchased the laser from, sold me lemon. You know, like when a car dealership sells you a car with a known issue but puts a band-aid on the issue long enough to make it look like a reliable car. My $64,000 laser that I had sold my house to buy was a lemon. I was homeless and I didn’t not know how I was supposed to operate a laser business without a laser. 

Again, alligator tears. I spent the next couple weeks going through the various stages of grief. My little baby business… died. My little baby business died HARD and FAST, over $64,000 in debt within a month. Oof. 

Luckily, when the anger stage of grief hit, I came back with a vengeance. The medical device company I purchased the laser from was no longer taking my calls, because obviously, they knew they sold me a lemon. I was a pretty, naïve looking 23 year-old female, what could I possibly do about it? Of course, the male owner of the device company didn’t take me seriously. Much like every male boss I ever had in the corporate world, didn’t really take my feelings seriously. I hired an attorney with money I did not have, and we got to work. 

The legal case was considered federal because it crossed state lines. The device company was in Colorado, and Lux was in Indiana. I took a bartending job in Indianapolis to continue to pay the laser payments without a laser business. If I stopped paying, the payments would result in negative marks on my credit score while the legalities of the case were playing out. I still had my microneedling device, but the price points on that service weren’t even comparable to laser treatments, and microneedling was a less popular treatment to invest in at the time. I ultimately couldn’t afford my studio rent on microneedling alone. Within just a couple months, I fully moved into and out of my studio. I was commuting from Bloomington to Indianapolis to bartend 8pm-5am, most nights… I was treading water to keep from drowning. A few months into the lawsuit, we got the laser off my credit and my payments were able to default while still fighting to get back my initial investment. At this point, I could breathe again. But I was also still licking my wounds. I had failed. I had failed hard and I had failed fast. I had given up the stability of my corporate job, I had given up my house. I was 23, living at home with my grandparents, without a respectable career. Now what?

I didn’t want to go back corporate; I would’ve hated it now more than ever because of the resentment I held over my failure. I wanted to be in medical aesthetics; I got a taste for the industry and I loved it. Bartending was “quick and easy” money. It wasn’t actually quick or easy. My body hurt at the end of every shift, I had to be nice to drunk men commenting on my body, and I had to baby drunk girls who were drinking their feelings away. But, I left with cash at the end of the night, and I was able to spend my days trying to get back on my feet. 

I made a list of dozens of laser companies in Bloomington and Indianapolis. Bloomington is small, my options were limited, so I knew I had to open my horizons. I cold called every company on my list and politely begged for HR contacts to send my resume to. I would talk to anyone who would listen to me. I went to a few in person interviews. I finally landed a position with a company in Carmel that specialized in laser tattoo removal. This position was medium range paid, no benefits, and no set schedule. But the owner took a chance on me and I was just happy to just be in my desired field. I was bartending at night and working at the spa during the day. I finally recovered enough to move to Indy and got a one-bedroom apartment. I was truly feeling like Dory in Finding nemo, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. I was beyond exhausted. At 23 the bags under my eyes from lack of sleep were insane; not even designer bags…. Just heavy bags that told the story of my recent struggle. Over the course of the next year, I learned so much. I am truly thankful for the position that I landed because the insight I gained from the owner of the business was unmatched. She was a strong, sassy, FEMALE business owner. Her mantra was to keep it “classy, sassy, and a bit bad-assy.” She was my role model. I will always be thankful to her taking me on, investing in me, and teaching me. She taught me more than just business skills, she taught me that I could be a powerful, successful, kind, FEMALE, business owner. I enjoyed my job. I enjoyed performing treatments. I even enjoyed the business-related aspects like record keeping, scheduling, marketing. I loved it all. 

As much as I loved my job, I still grieved the loss of my business. It’s not the same. I took pride in my work, but nothing could compare to the pride I felt for Lux. Lux failed, miserably, but I was finally at the point in the process that my failure was beginning to sting a bit less. My ego pushed all the previous feelings of pride down into shame. I was ashamed that I didn’t succeed. But slowly, my pride started to resurface. I failed, but at least I tried. I wanted to try again. I ended my position at this laser spa. I had a one year non-compete. I took the following year to set the foundation for Lux to succeed. The first time around, I jumped in head-first. I had a business plan but my business plan didn’t necessarily plan for road-bumps. For the next year, I bartended, networked, researched, and established a bigger, better business plan. 

While my time as a bartender was just part of what I had to do, I am forever thankful for the connections I made while bartending. I met this fabulous, kind, quirky man, Jonny, while I bartended. He was one of the top personal shoppers for Sak’s Fifth Avenue. When he found out I was more than just a bartender, he is actually the person who introduced me to the Sak’s GM to discuss a partnership. My previous corporate experience provided me with top-notch business persona. It was an immediate yes; the partnership just made sense. 

Lux reopened with a partnership in Sak’s Fifth Avenue. I was back and better than before! While I loved my laser work, I was still feeling the burn of that failure and I was still battling that lawsuit. I wasn’t paying for the laser, but I hadn’t re-couped my initial investment. Lux reopened offering microneedling, cosmetic tattooing, and plasma fibroblast. I wanted to focus on services and device investments that wouldn’t immediately sore my debt, so that I could slowly and STABILY rebuild Lux. 

At this point, I was relatively well-known in the city from my time as a bartender. I‘ve never been incredibly social, however. I was in the bar to make money. I wasn’t there to party, I wasn’t there to make friends. I have always been a very personable person, without being personal. Not many people know much about me. So, when I opened Lux and the popularity soared due to my partnership with THE Sak’s Fifth Avenue… Have I mentioned that Lux was IN Sak’s Fifth Avenue… to this day, this is still one of my biggest, most prideful accomplishments. It’s THE Sak’s Fifth Avenue… You know, the establishment that is immortalized in culture dating back to year 1902. My partnership negotiations went through Sak’s Corporate, on New York’s Fifth Avenue: the ORIGINAL Sak’s Fifth Avenue. Sorry, got off on a little tangent there. Anyway, my point is, Lux was popular. And with any level of popularity, comes hate. 

At the time, I was not an esthetician. I had a degree in psychology with a pre-med focus that allowed for a trusted relationship with my medical director. I was licensed through various reputable medical aesthetic companies. I was a well-educated, successful business owner and beyond capable of performing every treatment Lux offered due to the various trainings I had completed, with the legal support of a licensed physician that partnered with Lux. 

Within 6 months of Lux re-opening, I was served a cease and desist from the Indiana Attorney General’s office. A couple of the local esthetician’s in Indianapolis felt that because I was not an esthetician, they needed to take it into their own hands and report me for operating without the proper licensing. Mind you, I had the proper licensing. I had a medical director, sound legal documents, and mal-practice insurance. Anytime a case is reported to the attorney general for unlawful practicing, a case is opened, and the business is shut own until all documents are submitted for review. My medical director and I immediately submitted our legal contract, copies of his physician licensing, copies of my certifications and our mal-practice insurance. I even submitted multiple sets of client forms to show our record keeping process, treatment protocol, and client reviews. I don’t think the girls who reported me ever actually questioned my ability, they were just petty, mean spirited girls who were jealous, maybe intimidated, by the attention that Lux was gaining. 

I don’t think people really think about the consequence of their actions. They didn’t know my story. They didn’t know my struggle. They didn’t know the level of education I had obtained. They just saw a potential competitor and decided to bring my life to abrupt halt. Thankfully, I was still so insecure about my ability to succeed that I was still bartending, so I had something to fall back on. Maybe this was my fault though. I have always been a very closed off person, I don’t let people get to know me. Maybe had I tried to network in the beauty industry and gain allies, they would have liked me and been less threatened by my presence. Maybe not, though. All I knew was, I had been bullied before, I was being bullied then, and it wouldn’t be the last time in life that I would be bullied. As tired as I was of learning lessons, this was just another lesson.  I thought that this would be a simple process once all the paperwork was submitted. But one week turned to two, turned to one month and I still didn’t have the okay to re-open. I couldn’t wait any longer. Sak’s didn’t understand why I wasn’t in office daily; this generally wasn’t a good look. I was beginning to feel Lux slip away…. Again. 

Alligator tears. Hours on the phone with my best friend trying to make it make sense. I spent weeks networking to find someone that could advocate for me within the government structure. I had to lean into my vulnerability and explain to people what was happening, so that I could gain the connections I needed to solve this issue. Vulnerability is not my strong suite. I have always operated from the viewpoint that the outward persona you put on is of positivity and success. I have never been the type to share my failures. Turns out, a friend I had met while bartending has a childhood friend whose mom is a state representative for the state of Indiana. I relayed my story to the friend of the friend and his immediate reaction was “This is bullshit, call my mom.” So, that’s what I did. I called a powerful, FEMALE, state representative. I told her my story and she explained that things like this usually just get buried under paperwork. The government as whole is expansive and dealing with hundreds of cases at any given moment. One tiny, startup business that held no importance to anyone in the government building, held my entire heart. I was blessed to find a state representative that understood that; she advocated for me. Within two weeks, my documents were reviewed, and I was given the okay to resume practice. 

            During the time that I was obeying my cease and desist, I was hit with the “why don’t you just practice quietly? Who’s going to know?” countless times. I probably could have. I didn’t want to. I have always wanted to do GOOD business. I wanted to not only live by a business code, but a moral code. As little respect I had for the mean girls who turned me in, I had a higher respect for the rules established by our government to ensure that businesses are operating from a legally sound place. I knew Lux was legally sound, and I was willing to endure this hardship and play by the rules to prove that I was a business owner that deserved respect because I continued to show respect. 

            I never addressed those mean girls. I was able to obtain all the records from the AG’s office of the initial report, the names of those who made the report, their exact words on the report, etc. I never felt compelled to confront them. I personally cannot imagine being wrapped up in someone else’s story the way that some people insist on inserting themselves in other’s. I have always been so laser focused on my mission and helping others succeed, that never once has it crossed my mind to insert myself in the demise of another person’s journey. This experience reinforced my moral code; treat other’s the way you wish to be treated. Simply put, be kind. 

            Lux re-opened. Again. Lux was busy, successful, lucrative. But I could not shake the feeling that something was going to happen. It was almost a PTSD response to the trials and tribulations I had faced up to this point. As stable as Lux was, I was not secure enough to believe that another curveball wasn’t coming my way. I was truly just thuggin’ it out. I finally quit bartending March 2019. I went ALL IN on my little baby business. I was thriving. I lived in a euphoric state of business for the next year. 

            March 2020, we went into COVID shutdown.   

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