Following her recently announced partnership with Nike and Nordstrom, esteemed stylist and costume designer Zerina Akers and her brand Black Owned Everything has collaborated with Instagram ahead of this year’s holiday season. Stylized as @blackownedeverything, Akers’ brand has evolved from what was once an Instagram page to a movement for Black creatives, movers, and shakers seeking meaningful relationships between Black business, community, and excellence. Talking about a full-circle moment, the award-winning stylist teamed up with the social media platform where her own brand originated for a #BuyBlack guest editor collection for the month of November featuring her favorite Black-owned businesses that you can shop on Instagram.  

Akers revealed to ESSENCE that she was approached by Instagram and praised the platform for being “awesome partners” of herself, her career, and Black Owned Everything since the very beginning. “Whether we had issues with our page, wanted to change the name, or what have you, they’ve always been super supportive. When we launched the e-commerce site, the marketplace, which we had to pull down, they were super helpful with getting us onboarded, IG shopping, and all those things,” Akers said. Unfortunately, there were technical malfunctions that led to order cancellations, but that doesn’t stop her from smiling in the face of adversity when it comes to her start-up Black-Owned baby.

“We’re relaunching it now soon with Shopify. Since the site wasn’t up yet, when they approached us to do a bit of a gift guide, we thought it was a cool way to still amplify the businesses. They’re kind of our official gift guide for this season.” Akers continued, “It’s a combo of self-gifting ideas to friends and family. There are beauty products, self-care things like body butters, and things like that. Earrings, jewelry, unisex clothing, and accessories. It spans across a few different ranges.”

Jenna Gottlieb, Instagram’s Shopping Editorial Merchandiser, shared a few words of admiration about Zerina. “Zerina is not only a serious style force with an incredible eye; she’s a champion of small and Black-owned businesses. Her account @blackownedeverything is an unparalleled resource for discovering and supporting amazing brands—many of which we’ve also featured on @shop and in Editors’ Picks on the Shop Tab. The partnership felt meant to be!” Liz Kim, Consumer Product Marketing Manager for Instagram Shopping, added: “We couldn’t have imagined anyone other than Zerina to kick off Instagram Shop’s Guest Editor series. We’re inspired by the way Zerina shows up and shines a light on her community 364 days a year — she’s outspoken beyond style.”

Kim continued, “Zerina puts it perfectly on @blackownedeveruthing’s bio: ‘For When The Trend Is Over’. With more creators like Zerina, we know supporting Black-owned businesses will transcend trends and never be over. If anything, we have a lot of catching up to do. Our hope is for spaces like Instagram Shop to be in service of visionaries like Zerina and resources like @blackownedeverything.”

From @abstract.affect press on nail sets to skincare treatments from @gloryskincare_, Instagram’s #BuyBlack partnership with @blackownedeverything is inclusive of Black-owned beauty and fashion brands that have not only committed to top-quality customer service but are limitless beyond bounds. Centering the theme of Black excellence, Akers strived to celebrate mainstream and independent brands that will inspire other business owners including  Sydney Ziems, founder of Serendipitous Project. “I was really flattered. I didn’t even know I was on her radar,” Ziems told ESSENCE excitedly. “It was a reminder that you never know who’s watching, and to keep going. I am really happy to see that Instagram/Meta is taking initiatives to continue highlighting the work of Black-owned brands. I hope initiatives like these will encourage others to continue to do so as well.”

Uoma Beauty founder Sharon Chuter, whose brand was also featured in the #BuyBlack Instagram shop, told ESSENCE that Akers has truly given her brand as well as other Black-owned brands the shine they deserve. “To be able to create a platform that is illuminating and helping people navigate through and find Black-owned brands, especially truly Black-owned brands because there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of murkiness on what brands are truly Black-owned, Black-founded, and all of those conversations, I think that’s fantastic,” Chuter said. “To be honest, there’s a lot that we do out there through different mediums, but whenever I’m doing anything that is localized within my community, it always gives me a bigger joy and pride because there’s always more fun associated.”

Ahead, check out ESSENCE’s conversation with Akers about Instagram’s collaboration with @blackownedeverything, her definition of Black excellence, and her hope for the future of Black creatives in the fashion industry.

ESSENCE: What are some of your personal favorite Black-owned businesses and brands to shop?

Zerina Akers: It’s so funny, right now I’m opening a package and I just got my Kaleidoscope hair oil. I was like, “I really want to try it. I’m trying that.” I just ordered from the Phila Print brand on the list, the Thank Black Woman bag. I was just super obsessed with the concept of this “thank you” shopping bag. It’s like a tote and it’s just so cool.

ESSENCE: Why is it important to use large platforms like Instagram to highlight black-owned brands and businesses in fashion and style?

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Akers: Systematically we’ve been oppressed in ways that I think sometimes we can’t even imagine. We just did a partnership recently with Nordstrom where we brought in a few Black brands and some of them were selling wholesale for the first time [and] the first time that they’re being sold into a store. Just like how hard it is to finance your brand, front all this money to get into these stores, getting online, going through all of that process almost from scratch with seemingly kind of no one to help you – I think people often don’t realize how to challenging it is. There are a lot of people that get super impatient with orders taken long and things like that.

I often want to challenge the consumer to consider that pre-order is a form of sustainability as well and that in reality, a lot of these brands can necessarily afford to hold stock to store it [and] to pay for it, unless it’s going to be sold for sure. It allows these business owners to, beyond getting visibility, get that experience of what it is, and sometimes it’s trial and error. To be able to see a lot of these brands, the trajectory of their business model, their brand shift, and then be propelled forward is really beautiful to see. You never know how many lives are truly being affected.

ESSENCE: How have you seen the influence of Black culture be utilized in mainstream fashion and style trends?

Akers: Today, yesterday, tomorrow, I feel like we are the standard. Beyond that, it’s interesting to watch how many Black designers are being recognized today. Just two years ago, the industry would almost validate one, and there would be that one designer, whether they were good or not, that would get the award or that one or two. Then that person would get anything or that one Black photographer would just get hired and hired and hired. Now – and I think that even reflected in the CFDA announcement of the winners – you can kind of see the difference of where peoples’ thoughts are, how people are voting now, and what people are aware of. I think it’s quite beautiful to see.

I’ve watched so many careers from last summer, just in a matter of a year and a half. Typically we have our things and ideas, we save them and we don’t really share them. You have your private ventures folders or your saved folders on Instagram, but you’re not really talking about what’s in those folders and something as simple as then sharing what those things are that I’m looking at. As a silence, we are like hoarders, so we don’t want another person’s client to be the first to wear something but we are constantly researching. Something as simple as sharing the information, I’ve watched a number of brands just be propelled in a different way, where now they’re constantly featured on the covers of magazines and on different celebrities.

It’s interesting to see the culture and the industry really see these designers. I just hope that now going forward a lot of partnerships that we do can be geared more towards empowering them and really teaching them. People just don’t feel like they’re just doing anyone in favor because the infrastructure is there and the business is good. 

ESSENCE: What are your plans for the growth and expansion of @blackownedeverything?

Akers: We’re going to relaunch the marketplace platform before the end of the year so that’s exciting. Shopify has helped build some better technology for everything to run all on the same platform because before we Frankenstein’ed it to do what we want it to do. I want to bring more storytelling onto the space with more editorial content from a Black ass voice, you know what I mean? Like a super Black voice and like, “What are we reading? What are we writing”? In the future, I want it to become a bit of a media hub where we can then preview some filmmakers’ content. I’ve been testing out things. We did a cooking show and with the girl that we used, we only put out two episodes, she’s got a segment on Access Hollywood now.

ESSENCE: In the press release sent over to ESSENCE, your quote said the theme is Black Excellence. What does Black Excellence mean to you and who/what can you turn to that exemplifies Black excellence?

Akers: Sharon Chuter – I think she is putting in so much work and seizing every opportunity that’s coming her way so gracefully in a way that she’s really developed and branded her product in such a beautiful way. When choosing the products in the gift guide, I wanted to choose brands that may have been underrated, but have obviously put forth the effort into how they’re presenting their product. How they’re utilizing their packaging, how they’re describing their product, all of that. It can also provide a level of expectation, a level of a reference point rather for other brands and designers to utilize, a way to better way to promote their product, or just a reference point of it being done well. That was important when also selecting it. I wanted to give people something to look at that they could look to and a bit of a standard that they could go off of as well.