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Black History Month Spotlight: Keeyahri’s Keya Martin On the Power of the Instagram DM and How She Ended Up Collaborating With Beyoncé’s Stylist

2021 marks FN’s fourth year of presenting its Black History Month Spotlight series, which shines a light on some of the remarkable executives, entrepreneurs and designers in the shoe industry. As part of our ongoing commitment to champion diversity across all areas of the footwear business, we will continue to amplify the voices and stories of Black movers and shakers who are worthy to be recognized all year round.

Looking for a conversation starter? A shoe from Keeyahri should do the trick.

Decked out in feathers, pops of color and of course, the brand’s signature sculptural heel, the emerging shoe label comes from Keya Martin, a Miami-based designer who went from working in corporate America to launching a luxury footwear line. Over the past two years, Keeyahri has become a notable brand to watch, generating buzz in 2020 when her label appeared on Beyoncé and her stylist, Zerina Akers’ Black Owned Everything directory, an extensive guide of Black-owned businesses. FN talked to Martin, who just released a collaborative shoe style with Akers last month, on how the partnership came about and what inspires her statement-making designs.

zerina x keeyarhi, keeyahri heels, zerina ackers x keeyahri
The Zerina by Keeyahri and Zerina Akers.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Keeyahri

“I reached out to Zerina in the middle of the pandemic and, you know, a lot of people were home and not doing much, so I felt like that was just the right opportunity to contact people,” said Martin, who initially connected with Akers via direct message on Instagram back in April 2020.

Akers replied and the two began to work on the shoe collaboration in June. The duo’s boot, which just debuted last month, is available on Keeyahri.com for $1,119 in a black and a white option. Martin told FN that a second drop from the collab is expected to release in March.

“The next shoe that’s coming out will be inspired by garden landscapes,” said Martin, who constantly uses architecture and landscapes as inspirations for her shoe designs.

The Miami-based designer credits her love of architecture to the many years she spent traveling for work. “I was able to travel a lot and I spent a lot of time in London and different places around the world,” Martin said, adding that she also uses references from books, museums and magazines.

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The Jenine from Keeyahri is named after Jenine Howard, former NBA player Juwan Howard’s wife.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Keeyahri

Keeyahri’s signature heel, used for a few of its styles, was inspired by the “Ribbon Chapel” a building in Hiroshima, Japan, designed by Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP Architects.

Martin is also inspired by powerful women in fashion such as style influencers, Tamu McPherson and Jenine Howard, with who she reached out via Instagram to see if they would be interested in having a shoe named after them.

The shoe designer notes that most people are receptive to interacting with the brand and that she has no qualms about sending a cold direct message to someone she wants to work with on a project.

“It’s just a message,” said Martin on her strategy of direct messaging on Instagram. “And if they open it they open it, if they don’t, they don’t. I just prefer to take the risk.”

The power of a DM can go a long way, and Martin’s success to date with Keeyahri proves it.

After Beyoncé and Akers released their directory of Black-owned business’ in honor of Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S., Keeyahri’s inbox began to fill up with messages and sales. The list, in tandem with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, put a spotlight on Keeyahri.

“It was a real transition for my business because I received so much support,” said Martin.

Keeyahri also received funding from Harlem Fashion Row, which in partnership with CFDA and “Vogue” created grants for Black-owned brands in the fashion industry. The emerging brand is also a part of the RAISEFashion mentorship program, which was launched by a collective of seasoned industry leaders in August 2020 to help emerging Black talent.

The influx of opportunities has been critical to helping Martin find her footing in the industry and she’s optimistic about continuing to develop and grow her brand.

“I’ve built a community, a tribe who is aware of my designs,” said Martin. “Now I’m ready to get the ball rolling and push the brand to the next level.”

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