Kelly Jade Nicholls On Reshaping The World of Children’s Books

Explore the journey of ex-celebrity stylist Kelly-Jade Nicholls reshaping the children’s book world with diverse stories and a focus on black protagonists

ORS Haircare Presents Kelly-Jade Nicholls; this ex-celebrity fashion stylist rewrote her story on gut feeling. There’s changing up your style with the season and then there’s tossing out the whole wardrobe – lions, white witches and all. Kelly swapped luxury labels in favour of delivering fun, captivating stories full of black protagonists and heroes to inspire children. Now that sounds like a better fit.

How did you come to be the successful entrepreneur you are today?

Prior to being in the book industry, I was in fashion and I absolutely loved that.I got into that because I’ve always been extremely creative and just loved art and fashion. I’ve just always worked hard and was brave enough at 30 years old to completely change and step intoa world of the unknown. I knew nothing about the book industry but I think I’m very passionate about what I do– I study it andI make sure that everything I do is to the best of my ability.

Just literally following my gut and knowing that anything I do, as long as I put my all into it, it will be good.

Interior of the Melanin Magic store

Do you have any favourite authors?

Malorie Blackman: she is actually the goat within the children’s industry! Growing up, she is the main person who made me love reading. I was fortunate to have a primary school teacher that would made sure there were books featuring black protagonists. Trish Cooke is another fantastic author and Tolá Okogwu – she’s written a wonderful series called Onyeka; it’s almost like the black Harry Potter and I just see the longevity that that series will have.

Describe the moment you realised you could turn your passion into a career.

I first self-published my own children’s Bible featuring a black protagonist, Jesus was black and all the [other] characters within the stories were black. I realised how much that was needed and it became likea best seller in the US and UK. Celebrities were posting it and I realised thatI could help market other self-published people like me. WhenI realised that there was huge demand, even parents saying ‘we’ve struggled to find books’, I knew that that problem wasn’t just my own; it wasa global problem. I started to think: ‘I’m onto something here, so how can I better serve these parents?’ And that’s whenI came up with the subscription service of Woke Babies.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

Imposter syndrome. I felt that in fashion and I literally got to the top!

I was styling Little Mix, the biggest girl band in the world, but I still never felt like I was a stylist. I styled Jordan Dunn, Rita Ora, I still didn’t feel like ‘ohh I was “big”’, though I was styling big names. Even in the book world, I’ve worked with a lot of amazing people within the industry; we have our Woke Babies Awards with Book Trust, National Literacy Trust, World Book Day. I’m really a hea yweight in the publishing industry, but I still feel like a novice.

It’s more my own self-doubt. Overcoming that has been like my biggest challenge. [Now], for me, it’s not that I need to shrink, I need to do more! I need to do more to make sure I’m not an imposter. So, I [get to] know my game and then set goals, tick them off and think, ‘OK, no, you’re not an imposter you’ve achieved “this”’ and so I just use it more to push myself ahead.

Kelly-Jade at the opening of Melanin Magic bookstore

What makes Woke Babies so unique?

We’re focused on fun for kids. I think what makes us unique is the different educational activities that we create. We turn curriculum-based lessons into board games, making it a really fun experience for children to open up every month and we work really hard in finding the best books!

The effort that we put into the monthly boxes is what really makes us so special and brings smiles to kids’ faces when they see them. Every detail matters the most to me especially, soI think it really shows with our boxes.

Are you working on any passion projects right now?

The Melanin Magic store [in West Norwood] is my passion project. I’ve come across black home brands that are just killing it. So I wanted to create a space where all of those brands are just in one room. We put a lot of effort into the design and when I walk in there, I get joy every day.

How does being a black woman or non-binary person influence your career?

I didn’t feel accepted in a lot of the rooms that I was in; I think that was one of the main reasons that made me want to leave [styling]. When I was in fashion, I very rarely saw people that looked like me in the rooms. When I was in the room, I didn’t really feel as like I was in the clique. Imposter syndrome is probably what enhanced that even more.

Being a black woman, I just feel like I learned so many lessons from my past, almost shrinking myself to fit into the room. And now I’m just unapologetically me! I’m speaking up for the black authors, black illustrators. I’m showing the publishing industry that our opinions matter and that we’re taking up space now and how much there is a demand for our voices. Being a black woman now is one of my driving forces in creating Woke Babies.

What is your favourite part about being a black woman or non-binary person?

I love us, like honestly. With black women in business, I feel like we all kind of we know each other and we celebrate each other’s wins, even though we don’t know each other. It’s just free like social media and stuff. I go toa networking event and so many people will come up to me like I know them and I’m like, I know you as well, because I’m seeing how well you’re doing. There’s a sisterhood, a community and we just love us. I just think that we really empower and encourage each other.

Round the block queue for the opening of the Melanin Magic bookstore in West Norwood

Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

We recently signed a deal with DK (Dorling Kindersley) bringing our own line of Woke Babies books. Our first book has just come out, but we have three other amazing books that will be coming out in the following months. Another book coming out soon is called the Pond in the Park.

What message and/or advice can you give to other black women and non-binary people?

When I was styling, I felt like I didn’t enjoy it as much, but maybe that was my own inner battle of allowing imposter syndrome to take over. But in what I do now, because I’m unapologetically me and I’m speaking up, I’m using my voice positively and I’m making sure that I’m staying true to myself, I’m a lot happier. So the message is: stand strong in your opinion, stand strong in what you believe in and put your all in. That’s when you’ll be your most happy because you know you’re giving it your best shot!

Where can we find you?

Instagram | @Wokebabies
Website |

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