Written by: D’Shonda Brown
The #ShopBlack Interview Series is a new installation that shines light upon budding and booming Black-owned businesses ran by millennials and Gen-Z’ers who are heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. Introducing Zakiya Taylor, the founder of ARYA Brand, a contemporary apparel brand for Black and Brown women. Read below the in-depth interview between D’Shonda Brown and Zakiya as they explore conversational topics from the importance of representation of Brown girls to and hip-hop influence for one of her most noticeable pieces.
Hi, Zakiya! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me about your brand on the latest interview for #SHOPBLACK. Tell us about the Shop Arya brand and how you got your start in design?
I got my start in Design officially back in high school. I’ve always been into the arts; dance, choir, theatre. It was only natural that I’d venture into fashion design, eventually. I graduated with a BS in Fashion Design from Ai of Philly and since then my career in fashion has been steady. In addition to having my own brand, I’m also a Freelance Technical Designer and I’ve designed for a few Philadelphia based brands.
ARYA is a brand I started back in 2016, I had this idea of “Brown Girls Are Better ™️” and I launched in May of 2018. My brand’s main purpose is to provide a safe place of inclusion for Brown/Black women; to see images of themselves in a positive light. Of course, being a fashion designer I plan to incorporate actual ready to wear, but I wanted to start off with T-shirts and sweatshirts with catchy quotes to help celebrate our Blackness and to perpetuate culture-positivity.
Your brand is like #BlackGirlMagic central, even down to your Brown Girl University sweatshirt – which I am absolutely dying over. I always tell people that being a Black woman is being part of an exclusive royal country club that you’re born into, and it’s amazing! What’s the importance of uplifting and encouraging Black and Brown girls through your apparel? How did this message become so important to you?
My Brown skin is like a uniform I proudly wear everyday. It protects me from the harmful rays of the sun and it reflects the light and makes me glow unlike any other. I haven’t always been proud to look the way I do, so I’m sure there are other women in the world who need some affirmation that they’re the shit. As a chocolate girl, of course I’ve been told I’m “beautiful to be dark skinned” so many times I wish I had a $1 for each one. It’s imperative we continue as a people to recognize what makes us great, and to understand the ethereal power we inherently possess.
Obviously, on television screens we have Black girls just straight winning out here from Marsai Martin becoming Hollywood’s youngest producer to Storm Reid covering Teen VOGUE’s 16th anniversary issue – you literally can’t escape Black Girl Magic these days even if you tried. What do you feel is the importance of positive representation in the media for young Black girls, and how do you feel that your brand keeps that conversation going?
Representation is definitely important. Seeing Brandy as Cinderella made me realize what #BlackGirlMagic really was. I remember feeling my belly ignite with butterflies, like “Wow, and she has braids like me, too!” Whenever I wear ARYA, I can always feel eyes on me. People can feel the fire, the confidence, the je ne sais quoi. I always feel most proud because I know there isn’t as much inclusivity as there should be. When shopping for foundation, the deepest shade some brands offer is a shade lighter than mine and my complexion isn’t even that deep. It goes to show and prove that we need more options for us.
One of your most standout pieces is your Around The Way Girl sweatshirt – the door knocker earrings, the finger waves and the long mink lashes. Everything that people typically get on us for being “ghetto,” but then crave what we have so much that they replicate it (and poorly, if I may add). What was your goal when you created this character for your clothing?
D’Shonda! Sis! Im triggered! This particular character is so important to me! It’s more than just a rap lyric, it’s a large part of our culture and what defines Black women’s style and grace. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of the book “Flyy Girl” by Philly native Omar Tyree, it’s my favorite read EVER. The main character Tracy Ellison was my main source of inspiration. I wanted that design to embody everything We are, everything they tried to poach and steal and appropriate. It can be done by none other than Us and the Around the Way Girl character reflects just that.
What was the importance of hip-hop culture in your designs and how does it parallel with the messages you display in your work?
I designed a sweatshirt that reads “I’m Brown Luv, Enjoy” which was inspired by rapper Future’s infamous one-liner “I’m good luv, enjoy”—among many. If you know me then you know I can’t live without my headphones. I’m a Pisces sun, and I love music. I’m inspired by every sound I hear, and each sound evokes a different emotion. I listen to music when I design; Jhene Aiko, H.E.R. And Travis Scott mostly but I love 90’s Hip Hop too. I think Hip-Hop culture goes hand in hand with ARYA because for so many years they’ve tried to change the face of rap/hip hop to a white face; Eminem, Marky Mark & Vanilla Ice just to name a few and my brand is all about keeping it about Us. It’s important for me to incorporate hip-hop culture in the brand, because it’s how We as a people communicate.
Your social media platforms promote positive images of Black women and self-love amongst the Black community. If you could say anything to 13-year-old Zakiya about loving herself as Black girl in America, what would you tell her?
That’s a really great question. I pondered on this one the longest because I’m not done learning and growing yet. I remember back then, I thought I knew it all and had it all figured out. I would definitely tell myself “your hair isn’t nappy sis, it’s called a curl pattern!” Maybe even, “your real friends wouldn’t treat you this way.” I think most importantly, I would speak more self love into myself. I didn’t have much of that at that age, and when you don’t have self love, it’s hard to recognize what love from other sources should be like. I’m so proud to be a Black woman, out loud!
Zakiya can be found on Instagram, @LilSugah and, you can also shop her apparel now available for purchase online and on Instagram @ShopAryaBrand or www.shoparya.com .