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Jayda Cheaves Talks Instagram Fame and Being a Self-Made Mogul

Hours before I’m supposed to interview the influencer best known as “Jayda Wayda,” I wake up and immediately grab my phone to do what most of us do despite our better judgment: check Instagram.

Among the first stories I see is a series of posts from my 17-year-old twin sisters who attended a concert for singer Mariah the Scientist and rapper Dess Dior, one of Jayda’s best friends, the night before. Most of the content isn’t of the concert itself, though. For them, the highlight happened after they’d left the venue.

In the video, they’re standing atop a parking deck with a group of fans, when they look down and spot Jayda “Wayda” Cheaves. The group yells her name in the hopes of getting her attention. She spots them, too, and, naturally, begins to record them back. Despite having 7 million followers on Instagram and 3.4 million on TikTok, she seems genuinely surprised that her presence has caused such a stir. “I love you guys 🥺,” she captions a repost of my sisters’ story following the sighting.

“I was damn-near crying,” Cheaves says, recalling the moment to me unprompted later in the day. “It really touches me because this is what I used to talk about when I was a little girl. I’m really famous.”

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Aside from being conventionally beautiful, Cheaves’ social profile masterfully toggles between wildly inaccessible and aspirational. One minute the 24-year-old is on a yacht, twerking with her friends. The next post, she’s in her warehouse scanning orders from her Waydamin clothing brand before they’re sent out to customers. Of course, most influencers push their new brands onto followers with this type of behind-the-scenes content, but Jayda’s feels authentic. You get the sense that she really is staying behind with her staff to make sure everything gets done.

“[Jayda’s followers] don’t get to see how hands-on she is,” Treasure Donaldson, Cheaves’ friend and the creative director for Waydamin, says. “They don’t get to see how she is in meetings, helping pick out fabrics and trying the clothes on. [She’s saying] what she does and doesn’t like about the fits.” Treasure first met Jayda while working with rapper Dess Dior and has been working with the brand for more than a year.

“She is 100 percent responsible for everything. She invests her own money in everything,” Treasure adds. “We don’t have meetings without her, even if she’s just listening in for updates.

Cheaves, who dated the rapper Lil Baby and shares a son, Loyal, with the musician says she realizes people may be tempted to attribute her success and large following to him. She’s gained more followers because of their relationship, of course, but she also points out that she’s long been an entrepreneur who capitalizes on her social media engagement. “Of course, it amplified over time, but I know a lot of people who have really famous baby fathers and it’s like…what are they doing? It’s hard to run a business. No one is doing this for me,” she says.

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If Atlanta is a Black mecca that is home to numerous actors, musicians, and other celebrity figures, it should come as no surprise that it’s also been a hub for Black influencers. In 2020, The New York Times dubbed the city “the new influencer capital of America,” citing young influencers such as Jalaiah Harmon, and influencer houses such as Collab Crib and Valid Crib. Still, it’s also been documented that local Black influencers have struggled to earn the same amounts as their white counterparts. Cheaves has been a welcomed exception, securing sponsorships with brands such as fast-fashion retailer PrettyLittleThing and launching her own successful clothing line. While her team declined to give a solid figure for her earnings, citing safety concerns, they said she’s cleared seven figures annually for at least the past five years.

When I meet with Cheaves in early May, she’s arriving at her warehouse in Atlanta after picking her son up from swim lessons. She’s wearing a short-sleeved white t-shirt and oversized black pants, a black Hermes handbag, and a scalloped lavender and pink hat that sits atop her head as if a jellyfish has begun to consume her scalp-first. It’s not exactly the type of outfit you’d imagine a founder wearing during a day at the office, but Cheaves is not your typical founder.

Waydamin Headquarters is situated in an unassuming business complex, amid a trade school and construction company, among other things. Hers is likely the only business in the complex that would garner attention from The Shade Room and, hence, she’s covered all of the windows with white pleated paper shades. I follow her to a conference room, where she turns on the screen to reveal the brand name “Waydamin” in giant pink bubble letters.

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The office is empty, aside from us today. She’s sold out of all her clothing again so there aren’t any orders to package and ship. Otherwise, she tells me, a group of college girls and her mother, who works as her company’s general manager, would likely be on hand to help. Cheaves has only been working out of this new space since last September, but she’s been in the business of selling products to her followers for much longer.

If you ask Cheaves how she amassed a following as a teenager growing up in Savannah, Georgia, she won’t be able to provide you with a definitive answer. “I was just always the popular girl,” she says, shrugging and chuckling. “ It’s not a secret. It just happened naturally.”

“I was just being myself, posting every day on the internet and trying to inspire the girls,” she adds.

A self-described IT girl who had a knack for posting photos of the tweaks she made daily to her school uniforms, her varying hairstyles, and teenage escapades, Cheaves says she realized at an early age that she desired a life of entrepreneurship. Recalling a job she held as a waitress, Cheaves says she was reprimanded once for dying her hair blue and decided she wouldn’t be returning, much to the dismay of her grandmother. Instead of collecting tips while working at a restaurant, she decided to resell her clothes, which were mostly from retailers such as Forever21, on Poshmark. The clothes sold out within hours.

That’s when she got the idea to start selling t-shirts under the brand name Amour My Hustle. She didn’t have a warehouse back then so she transformed the downstairs of her mother’s home into her office, packaging merch in the living room and kitchen. During the day, she was still attending high school.

“I used to dread going to school so bad. I felt like I didn’t relate to the people I was in school with,” she says.

By the time she got to 10th grade, she presented her family with her plans to graduate a year early and move to Atlanta to open her own business, a hair salon. “If I wouldn’t have graduated early, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I did not need another year to be around those kids at school…they were kids to me,” she says, laughing at the irony of a then-teenager viewing her classmates in this light.

“I just want people to know the boss in me was there ever since I was a little girl,” she adds. “I always knew I wanted to be my own boss. I always knew I was going to one day have an empire.”

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Cheaves says she knew she’d outgrown her hometown. And, her business had outgrown her mother’s house. So, around 2017 she moved to Georgia’s capital where, instead of opening a hair salon, she began selling hair. The business quickly taught her a lot about running a business and managing the needs of customers. When she no longer felt she could deliver quality hair to all of her clients, she stopped selling it entirely.

Last fall she launched Waydamin, a clothing line that has consistently sold out of items such as neutral-colored fitted leggings, flared pants, turtlenecks, and cut-out tops. This year, she’s planning to expand the line with a swimsuit line. Where the initial Waydamin launch included two one-piece swimsuits, this new line will feature several more options. And, Cheaves says, she’s adding some neon colors to the line.

She’s learned from previous launches how to best address customer concerns, too. Treasure says they never release a launch date for Waydamin before they’ve received all of the clothing and conducted damage control on every single item. “Even if it comes to creative direction, if there are too many comments that we didn’t include a size, in the next shoot she’s going to emphasize that we need to make sure we have a plus-sized model because that was the feedback,” Treasure says.

In addition to working on the swimwear line that goes up to size 3X, the entrepreneur is also planning to add makeup to the brand. “It’s way different than saying ‘here’s a shirt.’ It’s way more intense,” she says of the process so far.

She’s just getting started, too. Her dreams for Waydamin include having pop-up stores for the brand and being sold in a retailer such as Nordstrom. Outside of that, she recently acted in her first film, which is expected to be released this summer, and she’s set to share more of her life in an upcoming reality television show.

Looking back on where she started as a teenager, though, she’s already achieved many of her biggest dreams. “I love the way my life turned out. All the lessons turned into blessings,” she says. “I wouldn’t tell my younger self [anything]. I would honestly pat her on the back because [she] got me where I’m at right now.”

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