At only 33 years old, Zerina Akers is undoubtedly one of her generation’s most influential stylists. In a longstanding desire to contribute something new to the Black community, she pivoted her practice of supporting small black brands and businesses into launching the platform Black-Owned Everything, driven both by success and praise around “Black is King” as well as the racial reckoning that took place in United States during the Summer of 2020. The e-commerce site and market place, now officially on-line, includes independent fashion brands such as Fe Noel, Aliete, Glemaud, homeware and beauty products, and also offers cultural editorial content designed to recenter the Black narrative. At the heart of Zerina’s mission for Black Owned Everything is the desire to provide alternative opportunities to promote Black culture.
Black Owned Everything: A Snapshot
On February 11th, 2021 Zerina Akers officially launched Black Owned Everything, an ecommerce destination for Black-owned brands in fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and design. Encompassing a range of brands in multiple disciplines, Akers founded a meaningful retail home for the development and growth of Black entrepreneurs. The space offers visibility to a curated selection of creators and designers while operating as an active solution against the systemic oppression Black entrepreneurs often confront in the marketplace.
The platform originated on instagram, developing a community of more than 14,000 businesses and exceeding an audience of 200,000 followers. As the online retailer takes shape, brands such as Blackwood NYC, Glemaud, Sergio Hudson, William Okpo and more claim the spotlight with exclusive products available to consumers. Supporting black-owned businesses just got easier and we have Zerina Akers to thank for her part in advancing the long winded mission for equity.
Getting to Know Zerina Akers
The style architect who whispers in the ear of global star, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Zerina Akers, already proved that she could execute a project of grand a scale as she brilliantly did as costume designer for “Black is King”. By injecting opulence and royalty into the fictional epic, she offered a new vision of fashion and a breath of fresh air during the gloomy summer of 2020 when the world was put on hold because of the Covid-19 outbreak and reeling emotionally from the harrowing images of police brutality against Black people.
At the blink of an eye, Zerina consistently imposes her sexy, colorful, and generous touch and renews Beyoncé’s style story as she did for the Global Citizen Festival in 2018 in South Africa. With that event, Akers made the integration of her African diaspora roots a signature of her work. From haute couture to independent designers, Akers travels to the beat of her own drum and does not hesitate to give young African designers critical and iconic career making moments. In addition to Queen B, she also weaves her stylistic magic on Chloe x Halle, from the Parkwood stable. For All the Pretty Birds, she shares in detail how her journey of seized opportunities, tireless work, the unshakeable conviction that her day would come, and the necessity to give back to her community via Black Owned Everything.
(Pictured: Fe Noel Exclusive Capsule for Black Owned Everything, shot by Itaysha Jordan)
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: You’ve newly launched the digital platform called “Black-Owned Everything” to highlight Black creatives worldwide. What has specifically prompted you to express yourself in this way, taking on this enormous, maybe obligatory, responsibility to advocate for your community? Why is it so vital—and how can it promote positive change amidst mass incarceration, Black Lives Matter protests, and the discrimination Black people experience all their lives?
Zerina Akers: It was nice to create a positively charged space. Violent images were barging us, but people don’t realize that it’s nothing new. Essentially, now it’s televised, shared on social media, but it’s not natural to see it. It’s ok to turn off the phone sometimes, to look away because it can create a considerable amount of trauma. It was cool to create a positively charged space where people of all races felt comfortable, felt included, or felt not necessarily guilty to support brands.
Initially, it was a topic that I touched upon in many conversations with friends and colleagues. I saw so many different companies, black brands, being circulated. First, I wanted to keep it in one place, but quickly when I began to discover so many different and beautiful things across so many categories, I was compelled to share the page. I started as a private page, and very quickly, I realized that I was doing myself a disservice if I kept this all for myself. I was inspired to share it on my public page and ask people to share their favorite Black-owned brands and designers. The response was tremendous.
I got thousands of DMs, and the page got 10K followers in just three days, 20K the first week.
There was a yearning for it. This is funny because friends teased me that I was not very good at posting on Instagram; now, all of a sudden, it was fine because It kind of wasn’t about me. That’s how it grew, and now, it’s just about six months in, we just passed 200K followers. My plan is to expand the platform to a digital e-commerce space where these brands don’t have to wait to be validated by the industry. They can come on and get a share of the market. That’s the goal of how I want to evolve it.
AWK: Can you tell us a little bit about your career trajectory? How does one become Beyoncé’s stylist? How do you approach new ideas to someone who has done it all? Where do you find inspiration? Do you surround yourself with elements that inspire you in particular?
ZA: I was working as an stylists assistant at the time. I initially assisted another stylist that worked with her, but that’s not necessarily how I got the job. I ended up meeting her creative director Kwasi Forjour and we became friends. We worked on ten shoots together, separate from many things I now do with her as a personal stylist. Kwasi and I had dinner with a photographer friend of ours one evening, and I shared with him my plan to go out on my own. When I told him, he said: “You know she’s looking for someone.” When someone says something like that, you do not really think they’ll give you a meeting.
I barely had a portfolio because I had been assisting for so long, and It was how I was making my money. I didn’t have a lot of time to do many test photo shoots and things like that. He got me a meeting a month later with her team. It took me about nine months. I did a trial, and I did another trial. It took a long time, just a follow-up every month, and staying at the top of the email chain. Until one day, they called. We trial together for a month, that was back in 2014.
That’s how I started as her personal stylist.
I managed her personal wardrobe, I still do, and just grew from there. My eagerness to learn and ambitious was an asset. I knew that I could contribute more to the different projects she had or solve any wardrobe demands that came her way. After working my way up and dealing with all I had to do, I slowly but surely climbed the ladder and gained her trust. The first music video we officially worked on together was “Apes**t”. Before “Apes**t”, I created other memorable looks including the now iconic hat look from “Formation.” Because it became a symbolic visual for that moment, it was quite a validation for me professionally. That brings us to this year and launching Black Owned Everything with her support as an amazing personal milestone.
AWK: What’s the right measure between a mega entertainer like Beyoncé’s artistic grandeur and your styling vision?
ZA: I continuously think about new silhouettes, things that I haven’t done, and push her limits. Many people see her and believe that she has done it all because she’s been in a game for like 20 plus years, and what else can you show her? What else can you do with her? So, I always try to find inspiration in many different ways. Sometimes, it’s a really simple thing that I elaborate to meet the mood she is communicating.
It’s a combination of things, most importantly, listening to her and facilitating her ideas through constant and thorough research and concept development. She is very specific with her vision. For example, for “Black is King” she wanted to highlight to Igbo women and collaborate with this creative director because he has a specific vision. It’s also about being flexible and agile with my creativity and knowing when to revisit unpublished looks from previous projects and adapting them into others like the Burberry coyote look in “Black Is King”. I made that look for the Global citizen concert, and they were terrified of it at that time. It has found its place, and we practically built the set around it.
AWK: Is it more about collaboration?
ZA: For “Black is King”, it was essential to feel real, and we wanted to use creatives from the mainland. At some point, we brought in Trevor Stuurman, who is like a brother to me, who contributed. We were sure get in contact with creators on the continent, as well, to bring that authenticity. Jenn Nkiru from London, who directed “Brown Skin Girl,” the director and photographer Joshua Kissi… we brought in some folks. In the design process, we wanted to find that balance. We used those designers who were selling from their grand-mother living room to haute-couture.
I will not say that she doesn’t care, but if the garment is beautiful and you tell her that some women in Africa did created and hand-dyed the piece and show her the video, she’s going to be more inclined to wear it. She’s excited, and she loves that. Beyoncé adores anything that is authentic and true to her people. It probably won her heart.
(Pictured: Zerina Akers, photographed by Sie Fjordsen)
AWK: There is a plethora of brands, big names, and lesser-known names, and above all, a vision, a passion that permeates every moment in “Black is King”. From Valentino, Balmain, Burberry to Tongoro, KARIDJA & KHADIJA, Loza Maléombho, who is the most remarkable designer, what looks have moved you the most? The brand or designer that seemed obvious to you and would summarize your personality as a stylist?
ZA: There are so many, the Valentino leopard look in the wrapped Rolls Royce in “Mood 4 Eva” was a big moment! The fun part about the video was that everyone in there was wearing the same thing from a deep background. It was through and through opulent. Everyone was sort of equal. Take multiple animal prints and mix them up and inspire a new trend that you never really seen on the runway. The Loza Malemhobo’s look sealed the deal in “Already”. We had been trying to make something happen for a while, and it hadn’t landed yet, and was the first moment when Beyoncé wore one of her garments; it was tremendous and unforgettable.
AWK: Yes, We see you looking, searching on Instagram, falling in love with these new Black and African designers, and finally, exposing them to the world. What do you feel when you see them growing afterward, thanks to the support you offer them?
ZA: It’s amazing. Sarah Diouf, for example, the Tongoro Studio designer’s look was featured in “Brown Skin Girl.” Beyoncé wore her pieces twice before in the previous year. After this exposure, she went from employing seven people to employing 50 people in her business. That kind of reach that you have, it’s wonderful. Many people don’t really realize it’s essential for us, as we have access to this larger platform and celebrities, to share it and spread it. It can’t only be mega-corporations because It makes a difference in independently owned companies. It helps to be more sustainable.
AWK: Some call your style a show-off, a fashion fantasy, voluminous, and richly colorful. All these elements are more magnified in Black is King. Can you describe your style? And how has it evolved over the years? How does it feed on your personal experience?
ZA: We didn’t film it totally; we were filming video by video. It wasn’t really with this gigantic scope of a film. With this insight, I probably would have simplified some scenes, but I wanted to give my all to every scene. Every time she exited the trailer, I wanted everyone on the set to react. I was just taking those things moment by moment, without really knowing how it would end up edited together per se. For example, you only see the tea party scene for five seconds, but I stood there for five minutes. I wanted to do something different, something opulent and spectacular. I tried to breathe a new life in the conversation around African diaspora and be inspired by spirituality and colors that lend to that.
My style, personally, is not very much like that. I have the same silhouette that I love, but at work, I realize I never go for black; colors are what I always go for first. Experimenting, mixing things, and balancing the image is a constant.
AWK: We live in a time of uncertainty. As a stylist, you strive to produce a body of work that is current, relevant, and reflects the moment we are living in. How has your work changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
ZA: I’ve been able to express myself in a cool way with Chloe x Halle. They’ve been the busiest this year. And through social distancing and everything, we have to get creative in promoting their album. That was cool coming out of quarantine. It was a way to clear my head, and limited my access to the big brands that were mostly closed down. It was cool to create things that would be interesting, like cutting off a vintage t-shirt, pulling it all together, and making a new garment.
All in all, I think it kind of pushed all of us to get creative in a space and not to stop. It’s always about bringing a certain amount of fantasy. Visually, we all needed a sort of escape. I think with “Black is King” and working with Chloe x Halle, we were able to provide a much needed escapism this year.
Visit blackownedeverything.co to discover the full brand list, product offerings, and upcoming content features.
This interview took place in December 2020 and has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Lead Image by Sie Fjordsen, @siefjordsen.
Web Images courtesy of Black Owned Everything.
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