Zerina Akers has kickstarted more than her fair share of trends. As the woman behind Beyoncé’s dynamic looks, as well as Chloe and Halle’s, Akers is at the nexus of fashion and pop culture. But Akers’ fashion acumen extends beyond what she chooses for her clients. After balancing roles as an entrepreneur—her recently launched e-commerce platform, Black Owned Everything, curates exceptional design from creators of color—and stylist, her latest endeavor pushes her into a new arena: footwear design.
This week Akers’ collaboration with Keeyahri founder and artistic director Keya Martin hit the internet. The sleek, metal-heeled boots the pair designed are precisely the kind of Instagram-worthy piece one would expect from two of fashion’s most innovative talents. Offered in black and white colorways, the sexy, over-the-knee style arrives when many are searching for ways to add oomph to their cold-weather wardrobe while remaining cozy. Given the number of footwear options currently on the market, Akers and Martin wanted to go beyond what was already available. “Comfort is important, but I knew I wanted to create something that hadn’t been done before,” shared Akers on the phone from Manhattan. “I noticed that [Keya] didn’t have a boot within her collection and thought that creating one would be an interesting conversation.”
Martin’s two-year-old label currently ranks amongst the buzziest names in footwear. Her sculpted metal heels and decadently embellished mules regularly pop up on social media and on celebrities like Cardi B. While brainstorming ideas for her next season during the lockdown, she realized that collaboration with Akers would be ideal, only one problem: the two had never met. “I decided just to try and shoot my shot, so I reached out,” says Martin. “I’d been following Zerina for a while, and I knew that she’s fashion-forward, well-respected, and for the people.” The idea of working alongside a woman of color appealed to Akers, as did Martin’s chic designs. “I loved the quality of the products that she made, but I hadn’t had an opportunity to work with Keya closely,” she says. “I thought it would be cool to enter into the product space in a way that felt natural and with one of our brands. Typically collaborations are between a stylist and a large corporation, but this was two minds coming together organically.”
Akers and Martin set out to combine their aesthetic sensibilities and optimize wearability. “I’d wanted to do a thigh-high for the longest,” says Martin. “In the past, there have been a lot that looked great but weren’t comfortable, so we wanted to focus on that aspect and make sure the boots felt good. We were finally able to create a new padded sole.” Keeyahri’s striking resin detailing also received a tweak. “Zerina suggested going for a more modern silver heel,” says Martin. “I’d done gold previously, so we wanted to go in a different direction.”
Plotting out the perfect boot got the pair thinking about how they could improve upon other styles, particularly wedges. Noted for their ease of wear, the retro silhouette struck a chord with Martin as she was pouring through architectural reference imagery. The resulting sandals are a nod to some of those visuals. “Hedges inspire the square part of the shoe’s heel,” says Martin. “I kept looking at house exteriors in the Vineyard, so that’s where it came from. Zerina wanted to have a comfortable heel, one that’s chunky to support people who don’t want to be running around in stilettos.”
The more Akers and Martin talked, the more ideas stemmed from their conversations. Their initial collaboration focuses on just two pairs, but they’re eager to keep going. “We just keep coming up with ideas,” says Akers. “After we did the black and white boots, we thought ‘well now we need suede’ and got excited.” With Martin eager to explore luxurious new textiles, and Akers longing for the excitement of the early aughts it-bag and shoe era, there’s sure to be more compelling accessories on the horizon. For the moment, they’re content to take those incredible boots out into the real world. “It’s a big thing for me, finding something that makes you feel feminine, sexy, and powerful,” says Akers. “[Shoes] that make you feel elevated but still comfortable on your feet.”