CU Alumna Awarded GRBJ's 2020 "40 Under 40"
For influencers like Aleka C. Thrash (B.S. ’18), authenticity has power. What started as a passion for photography in 2001 has transformed into a thriving platform to inspire and empower others. And her influence has led her to accomplish some amazing things, including being recognized as a “40 Under 40” recipient from the Grand Rapids Business Journal.
In the fall of 2020, Thrash and 39 other community leaders and influencers were selected based on personal success and community contributions, according to the GRBJ’s award description. These leaders, all under the age of 40, represent a diverse range of industries, including business, nonprofit, government and social organizations.
Thrash, who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2018 from Cornerstone University, also serves as an enrollment counselor at CU’s Professional & Graduate Studies. Whether enrolling students or teaching how to care for hair, her passion for inspiring and encouraging others makes her a natural fit for this community influencer award.
CREATING BRANDS THAT INSPIRE
With a creative personality and eye for design, Thrash was drawn to photography. In 2010, Thrash began to grow her creative skills and experience by officially launching ACTPhotoMedia. Simultaneously, she learned and researched celebrating the beauty of women and girls through natural hair care. Her lifestyle blog, @NaturallyACT, shares posts about hair care, positive body image and the power of living authentically.
When she taught a natural hair segment at an entrepreneurship seminar, people craved to hear more from her. So, she launched her own series of natural hair how-to events. With a desire to educate others, Thrash also co-founded Kinky Hair Connection, an annual event that supports and celebrates women to embrace who they are, naturally.
As she pursued her own experience and understanding of natural hair, including the use of headwraps through tutorials at events on how to wear them, her platform continued to grow. With encouragement and requests from others, she began selling her own line of headwraps through Wrapped by ACT.
As she launched her business, her audience listened. In 2019, she made it in the top 100 in Start Garden’s 100 Ideas competition. In 2019, she received first place in Spring GR’s pitch entrepreneurship competition.
“All those things showed me that this idea is working and encouraged me to keep going,” she said.
As she researched and learned more about the history and practice of wearing headwraps, she presented her products in a way that went beyond a fashion statement. “There’s a history to headwraps,” she said. “I learned more about what it means today, culturally.”
Like her blog posts, photos and events, these headwraps have meaning behind them. “Everything I do has to have a purpose and meaning,” she said. “Anyone can sell fabric. But I ask myself, why am I selling fabric?” Her brand and messaging inspire women to feel empowered and beautiful, all through expressing their creativity.
Each headwrap design is offered as a limited edition. In addition to satin-lined headwraps, Wrapped by ACT also sells headties and face masks.
BRANDS THAT INSPIRE AUTHENTICITY
From her genuine photo shoots to real-talk blog posts to her heart for teaching and her eye for design in headwraps, Thrash has built her brands on a foundation of authenticity.
Even her brand names and logos represent what she stands for, including her initials and character graphic. And that vulnerability to showcase her life and style is intentional.
“I grew up in a household where being vulnerable and honest was all I knew how to be,” she said.
As Thrash moved to Grand Rapids by herself and faced some difficult seasons alone, she decided to use her experiences to empower and encourage others as they navigate similar challenges.
“When you sit with yourself for that amount of time, you can choose which path to go,” she said. “You can either be sad all the time or you can go and find community and figure out how you’re going to create change. That time alone allowed me to make a decision on how I want to live out my faith and be honest about the things I’m going through.
“Everything I’ve gone through is connected to who God created me to be,” she said. “Then, I can bring someone else to Christ and help someone else through something.”
That sense of authentic living is something Thrash integrates into each and every product, event, post and photo she shares.
“My purpose is to inspire and encourage individuals to live authentically,” she said. “The mission on how I do that is through photography and blogging and different multimedia forms. It all starts with me being authentic, which then hopefully encourages you to be your authentic self without judgment.”
Through her intentionality of being authentic, she hopes that others are encouraged.
“When you put this headwrap on, I want you to feel empowered, encouraged, determined,” she said.
40 UNDER 40 AS A NEXT STEP
With a diverse list of recipients in leadership and entrepreneurship roles across industries, the “40 Under 40” nominations provide the opportunity to celebrate people making a difference in their workplaces and communities.
Thrash says she’s excited that Grand Rapids is taking these steps to share stories of leaders and influencers bringing change in the community and hopes it continues.
While in other years the Grand Rapids’ Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” celebration is held in an in-person party that brings together speakers and influencers, 2020’s celebration looked a little differently. On Oct. 28, 2020, the list of recipients will be shared in a digital format, including 40-second video presentations submitted by each recipient. The profiles will also be featured in the Grand Rapids Business Journal in November.
Photo credit: ACTPhotoMedia