Aley Arion is a writer and digital storyteller from the South, currently living in sunny Los Angeles. Her site, yagirlaley.com, serves as a digital diary to document personal essays, cultural commentary, and her insights into the Black Millennial experience. Follow her at @yagirlaley on all platforms!
Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker are bringing humanity back to the psychological thriller genre in the new Lifetime movie, Safe Room. The Kodjoe-directed film stars Nicole Ari Parker as the recently widowed Lila Jackson and Nik Sanchez as her 14-year-old autistic son, Ian. The mother and son find themselves at the mercy of intruders after Ian becomes an eye-witness to a break-in turned deadly. Parker’s valiant character will stop at nothing to protect her son, outsmart her enemies and defend her home.
While playing the role of mother to a son on the autism spectrum, it was important for Parker to establish healthy boundaries with her young co-star, who is on the autism spectrum like his character. “I had to respect his boundaries, personal space, and gain his trust to play his mother because a mother hugs, a mother squeezes,” Parker shares with xoNecole. “I had to make sure that we had a nice, trusting rapport. I felt very honored that he gave me his trust.”
Trust is also paramount in the partnership Kodjoe and Parker have cultivated over their two decades together. The two have graced our screens in films like the cult-classic, Brown Sugar, and continue to create at the intersection of their skilled professions and long-standing union. “We met on a set in a professional situation, so our whole friendship developed in that movie set, television set kind of way,” Parker shares.
Speaking to their creative process, the two have found a sweet spot in knowing when to bring the work home, which is to be expected when you have two performers who are just as much in love with their craft as they are with each other. “Usually, you get to a set and shoot your scenes, then you leave. I took advantage of the fact that [Kodjoe] brought the work home. In this scenario, I was working with the person who was going to make the movie — I love that.”
Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker on the set of 'Safe Room'
Courtesy of Lifetime
In their day-to-day roles as parents, Kodjoe and Parker have found their rhythm creating a safe space to affirm and support their children in challenging moments that come from the outside world. As trying as the last two years in a pandemic have been, Kodjoe tells xoNecole that even in today’s climate, open and honest conversations are key to building confident and fearless children. “We've had long dinner conversations every night and shared our concerns and hopes – and our children do the same. They give us their perspective and we discuss, at length, everything from social justice to equality issues, and obviously, the pandemic.”
Parker, much like her Safe Room character, conveys that being okay with a straightforward approach is essential to connecting with her children. “There's no more hiding anything from them. There's no more walking softly. There's so much coming at them that you have to go right in and be like, ‘Look, I know what's happening. I know what this means.’” She continues, “I have to give them the next level of skills on how to navigate and to be advocates for themselves.”
Safe Room premieres Saturday, Jan. 15th at 8/7c on Lifetime.
Featured image courtesy of Lifetime
It’s the time of year that calls for deep reflection and even deeper self-inventory — and Codie Elaine Oliver, co-creator of the Black Love multi-verse, is feeling the effects, “I've been in this really deep place lately, so forgive me.” It’s a place that many of us have found ourselves in, after a pivot, a moment of self-discovery, or simply in the quiet moments of our day-to-day routines. It’s the light bulb that illuminates in our heart, almost blindingly, to reveal inward truths, “I've learned to recognize that I am tender and require tenderness from those in my life. I've learned to own it as opposed to [trying to] fit into the box of having thicker skin.”
For Codie, whose personal and work life are so intimately intertwined, these moments produce profound awareness, with lessons learned and applied both on and off the camera. In many ways, the Black Love docuseries is an extension of Codie’s lived experiences. The show’s honest portrayal of married life, the best and worst of it, was birthed out of her curiosity of “how to make it work,” stemming from her parent’s divorce when she was just 11 years old.
Photo Credit: Tommy Oliver
Into adulthood, Codie’s earnest allurement for all things love and relationships began to merge with her natural storytelling abilities. Crossed between opposing narratives of a “Black marriage crisis” and her own desires for partnership, Codie began to explore the possibility of her own Black love story, “People tell you the more degrees a Black woman has, the less likely you are to get married. I lived in LA and they tell you you can't meet anybody there,” she continues thoughtfully, “I felt like I could either accept that [marriage] was not going to happen or I could immerse myself in how possible it was.”
Instead of conceding to these disparaging narratives, Codie decided to tell a new story, thus creating the Black Love docuseries.
Cut to now, Codie, alongside her husband and co-creator, Tommy Oliver, have highlighted the journeys of over 250 couples through their docuseries, social platforms, and live events. Together, the couple is able to play off each other’s strengths; with Tommy administering the structure and Codie applying her nurturing essence to make space for transparent discourse to be exchanged and handled with care, “I love the behind the scenes, I love to bring people together. My personality makes it so that I bring authenticity and comfort out of others.”
Photo Credit: Monkeys and Peas Photography
It’s this comfort and authenticity that has, in itself, restored the hope and possibility for love in countless hearts. This points to a legacy that has not only beared fruit in her lifetime but has also planted seeds in her children to carry forward. Or as Codie shares, “the editor of Black Love, Christopher Scott Shapiro, always says, ‘Yes! Keep raising those boys with this trauma-free Blackness.’”
Knowing that you had something special with your docuseries, what were the initial steps to get in the right rooms to pitch your series to networks and eventually OWN Network?
Codie Elaine Oliver: I would say the confidence came from the fact that I just knew that I needed it, I knew my friends needed it, and I knew that I'd never seen it before. I knew there was a hole right in the “market.” That's what kept me going.
When my husband and I started this project, it was meant to be a documentary. So we went the traditional route with an independent documentary and our expectation was to raise a little money or crowdfund, to go to film festivals or maybe in theaters. But it was an independent job and there's an end date or shelf life. When we pivoted from the traditional route, we were met with a lot of pushback. A lot of white [executives] were asking questions like, is that it? What else? People had a lot of questions about traditional documentary storytelling and what we really needed, but we felt like hearing from the couple would satisfy the goal.
Tommy and I decided to make it as “foolproof” as possible; an "inevitable yes" as he would put it. We shot for two years, from 2014 to 2016, edited the first episode, wrote a treatment for the entire season, and did a sizzle for the full season. That gave potential buyers a really clear picture of what this was, the structure, what it felt like. That's how we got around the traditional structure because it's unlikely that we would have gotten it made off of a pitch and no actual video.
What have you learned overall about turning your pain points into purpose?
For me, leaning into the big questions that I've had in my life, my uncertainties, and the things that made me uncomfortable, allowed me to learn about myself and the people around me. A friend of mine recently said, “Trauma is not what happens to you, it's what happens within you.” When I think about people's trauma, I think most of us have had scenarios that may seem small to someone else, but what matters is what happens within us. When I’ve leaned into those experiences, to ask myself questions and seek answers, it’s helped me be a better person, professional, wife, and mother. And my hope is that leaning into those uncomfortable places helps others as well.
"When I’ve leaned into those experiences, to ask myself questions and seek answers, it’s helped me be a better person, professional, wife, and mother. And my hope is that leaning into those uncomfortable places helps others as well."
Photo Credit: James Anthony
They say relationships are like holding a mirror up to yourself. What have you personally learned about yourself through the work that you do along with co-creating with your husband?
Oh, so many things. I'm learning about myself every day. I'm learning about partnership and marriage. I'm learning about what I was always dying to know: which is what it takes to make a marriage work — and I'm learning that through our couples. The show is more than a show for us. Every time we sit down and interview a couple, it's not like we're shooting a TV show, that's not what it feels like in the room. Every time we spend time with a couple, it is an opportunity for us to learn and grow.
For me, the Black Love docu-series is this exciting and sometimes painful therapy. I'm constantly learning, but my greatest lessons have come in the form of seeking balance and peace in my life, amid the blessing of having a business that is my purpose and my passion and having a family.
You mentioned early in our conversation that you’re in a “deep place” right now. What has this time taught you about yourself?
I’ve learned that I have to set boundaries to protect my mental health. Sometimes those boundaries come in the form of difficult business decisions, canceling something, delegating things that I may be afraid to delegate.
I've also learned that I need to treat my mind and body better and speak to them more positively; feed them better, both in terms of literal food and through meditation and movement. These things are key to my personal and professional success. Too often we run all of those things into the ground: our bodies, our minds, our boundaries, our softness, to try to check boxes and meet deadlines. But it's very important to consider when and why to actually sacrifice yourself for something.
“Too often we run all of those things into the ground: our bodies, our minds, our boundaries, our softness, to try to check boxes and meet deadlines. But it's very important to consider when and why to actually sacrifice yourself for something.”
Photo Credit: Breanna Jones
What is your perspective on carrying down generational wealth through love? To your children, tribe, and community?
My biggest goal and passion — and the place where I get simultaneously excited and emotional, is passing that radical self-love to my children in every way. How can I make sure they love themselves so much so that no one can tell them they aren't good enough or attractive enough. I want them to laugh at anyone who thinks that they are not beautiful. That's one of the places where I think we have the greatest responsibility as people because our kids are looking at us. And not just the ones that come out of us; the kids are looking at us. That's where we have the responsibility to really pour into them.
The outside world is going to do what the outside world does, but how can we inflict the least amount of trauma onto our children? Where they simply love each other, and themselves deeply.
You were a 20-something navigating your career and balancing your love life all at the same time. What advice would you give to 20- and 30-something Black women who desire to have a career and family?
I would want to do away with the words, “have it all.” Or at least encourage everyone to define that for themselves and to listen to themselves as they grow and change because you don't really know what “having it all” means or what it looks like until you're juggling it all. I could not fathom what those words meant 10, 15, 20 years ago, when I was still at home, looking at grown-ups, like, “Oh, she has it all right.”
Thankfully, for our generation and those coming after me, we've become more inquisitive. We've become more thoughtful and transparent. We seek authentic candor from one another and from our parents and grandparents, we're asking questions. I hope that the notion of having it all becomes something that we discuss and question earlier; that's my biggest advice.
“Because having it all doesn't mean that I'm happy. Looking at these women that we look up to, what did they sacrifice? What is their self-care ritual? Those are the things I think about. If I can't take a 15-minute walk every day, if I can't feed myself and my soul the way that I deserve, it doesn't matter.”
I wish I could quote Tai Beauchamp, she shared something to the effect of, “It changes depending on the season, but the goal is to be able to do things that you love and still have like peace within yourself,” and that is pretty much the definition that I've adopted. Because having it all doesn't mean that I'm happy. Looking at these women that we look up to, what did they sacrifice? What is their self-care ritual? Does it exist? Those are the things I think about.
If I can't take a 15-minute walk every day, if I can't feed myself and my soul the way that I deserve, it doesn't matter.
Featured image courtesy of Codie Elaine Oliver
If you’re looking back on 2021 like, “Where did the days go?" trust us when we say we are, too. As the holidays approach, it’s natural to become reflective and muse over the peaks and valleys, accomplishments, and tough lessons that the year threw your way—and for many of us, we didn’t do it alone. From the homegirls who helped us through breakups, to the long-distance sisterhoods held together by hours-long FaceTime calls. For the friends who always know what to say when you can’t seem to gather the words, and the ones who see you when you can’t see the greatness in yourself. What better way to say, “you deserve,” than with a thoughtful gift made for and by Black women.
We’re here to drop all the gift-giving gems for every type of woman in your life. And if you find yourself frequently asking, "Is it really Black-owned though?" The answer is: Absolutely. From skincare to the latest style staples, we’ve got you and your homegirls covered this holiday season.
From Oprah’s Favorite Things List to your hands, legs, and shoulders. This hydrating formula is enriched with nourishing plant botanicals with a thick and creamy texture that’s sure to make you a certified Shea Butter Baby.
"It’s time for heavy bleeding, bloating, mood swings, and headaches from your period to stop cramping your style. Thankfully, a new all-in-one supplement just hit the wellness space to help ease your flow and disrupt your PMS symptoms, ASAP. Packed with plant-based ingredients and mood-boosting vitamins like D3, B6, Iron, and B12, your pain-free period is just a bottle/capsule away."
This is your reminder to not leave your undereye area out of your skincare routine because it needs love, too. Add these selfie-ready, all-natural eye masks into your routine for some much-needed TLC and effortless glow.
In need of some new arm candy? We just might have found your new favorite set.
If you haven’t heard about the lip gloss, gather ‘round, because once you’ve got this in your purse, you’ll never want to live without it again. The oil-to-gloss formula provides the perfect shine and brown girl-friendly tint. Snag one or two or six — we won’t judge.
Every Day Journal
We know how you girls love to journal. If tracking everyday growth, memories, and moments has become a newfound self-care practice or something to explore, this journal will fit right into your routine.
Brown Girl Jane
It’s giving opulence, it’s giving confidence, it’s giving drama. If your homegirl’s fragrance collection runneth over, what’s one more gonna hurt?
Good news: the hunt for the perfect red lipstick for melanated skin ends here. This cherry bomb of color is lightweight on the surface and heavy on the coverage.
Have you seen something so beautiful that demands your full and undivided attention? Maybe it’s the viper snakeskin or the signature silver metal logo that shines like a jewelry piece of its own, but whatever this purse is saying, we’re listening. Talk about making a statement.
There’s nothing like a little nostalgia — especially when it comes in the form of dainty everyday jewelry. Inspired by childhood imagery, this brand takes vintage silhouettes and brings them into the 2020s and beyond. Did we mention it’s handmade?
Raise your hand if the majority of your wardrobe has been reduced to loungewear and athleisure? Same, sis. Level up your cozy girl energy with this ribbed bralette and boxer bottom set. Who says those lazy days around the house can’t be sexy too?
Black women in gold jewelry are our favorite genre. Whether you're looking for simple, timeless pieces, or tapping into '90s classic styles with a twist, you’ll find your steez here.
We all have that one friend that knows how to mix a crafty cocktail and throw a lively party. For her aesthetic-driven eye and knack for flavor profiles, we thank her. Replenish her bar cart in style with this sparkling treat.
Featured image by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images
Traditionally, women with textured hair are taught to exalt their mane with deep reverence: a crown of curly tresses to be intentionally maintained and handled with care. Still, there comes a point in every woman's journey where our body begins to go through changes that can affect the very attributes that we attributed to our confidence and self-image. Such was the case with actress, singer, and mother of three, Christina Milian, with postpartum hair loss.
Postpartum hair loss is more common than one might believe. In fact, up to 50 percent of women in the U.S. are impacted by it, Christina included.
Around 3-6 months after giving birth to her second child, Christina started to notice thinning around her temples and losing small amounts of hair while in the shower. The shocking discovery left her self-assurance in a rocky state, "It's so overwhelming, on top of having a newborn at home, which is stressful, and all of the hormones that come with postpartum, dealing with the emotional impact of thinning hair. It really takes a toll on your confidence." She continues, "It's completely out of your control. You're literally in your head like, is this even real? Are people noticing this? How embarrassing is this?"
Courtesy of Christina Milian
Although she hasn't experienced the shedding after welcoming her new son, Kenna, with her husband Matt Pokora, Christina has decided to take a more proactive approach by incorporating a few products into her beauty arsenal.
Christina has teamed up with Nioxin 5, an expert-hair loss brand, as a step towards prevention. Her current routine includes the Nioxin System Kit 5, which comes equipped with a Cleanser Shampoo, Scalp Therapy Conditioner, and Scalp & Hair Treatment with niacinamide and peppermint oil as key ingredients.
If you experience postpartum hair loss, it's important to know that you are not alone. While on a recent panel, dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara shared that the shedding process is as natural as the birth that led to it. "Postpartum hair loss is our body's response to the physiological and emotional stress of giving birth. Our hair typically goes through a growth and shedding cycle, but after you have a baby, the hair shedding phase out-paces the growing phase, so we experience excessive hair shedding."
Thankfully, Christina's vulnerability in sharing her experience is a step towards normalizing a commonly taboo conversation. "I want to share my story because I know there are many other women going through this that may not realize how common this is and that there are ways to treat it effectively," she reflects.
Christina Milian sat down with xoNecole to discuss the unexpected blessing of motherhood, regaining her confidence postpartum, the balancing act of entrepreneurship, and more!
xoNecole: You recently mentioned that in your 20s, you didn’t really see yourself becoming a mother. And now you have a beautiful family of your own. What advice would you give to young women who aspire to have a career and family, but don’t think they can “have it all?”
Christina Milian: Yes. I can't believe I had three kids. If you ever told me that 10 years ago, or even five years ago, I would have laughed at you. But I think my best advice to them is don't doubt yourself. Sometimes we don't necessarily get [everything] all at once, but there's a reason and it's giving you the space to be able to handle what's happening in your life at this very moment. I think if you continue to have that passion, don't let it go. Sometimes we just feel like we're not able to achieve [our goals] just yet, or wonder, is it ever going to happen? But life is much longer and things happen in our lives at the right time. And I think when it comes down to opportunity; they present themselves when it's the right time for you.
Look at me: having more babies, multi-tasking, and doing the many jobs that I'm doing. When I was in my twenties, I had lost my record deal. I thought my career was over. I thought, 'Oh, I'm too old to come back. I'm not going to be able to do this.' But I put my faith in God and I was open to what was meant to happen. And it all rolled out and its own time.
Your time will come, so don't get discouraged.
"When I was in my twenties, I had lost my record deal. I thought my career was over. I thought my career was over. I thought, 'Oh, I'm too old to come back. I'm not going to be able to do this.' But I put my faith in God and I was open to what was meant to happen. And it all rolled out and its own time. Your time will come, so don't get discouraged."
You have a really popular food truck, Beignet Box, along with balancing your acting career. What are some core values that help you stay grounded as you balance entrepreneurship and motherhood?
I think it's important to stay grounded, be humble, and understand people. It's one thing to know yourself, but you know yourself better when you can be optimistic and understanding of other people's stories, their backgrounds, and why they are the way they are. It makes you a better human and a better business person, especially as an entrepreneur because you're understanding your audience. Being that way opens you up for opportunity and for learning.
A common theme of your movies is love. From 'Love Don’t Cost a Thing', 'Falling Inn Love', and recently, 'Resort to Love'. We don’t always get to see Afro-Latina women as romantic leads, so when it comes to representation, why is it important to you to go after these roles and be that positive image?
First, I love love. I'm so happy that with Resort to Love, Netflix took a really good mainstream approach to push the movie. The reason why I do love movies and comedy is to make people feel good and laugh. I think people seek love and to feel that kind of joy. I love the fact that we get to see our people really strive and do films like this. I mean, look at Resort to Love, we were in the top 10, number one movie on Netflix. And that was globally.
It makes me happy because it opens the doors for other people. It's bringing to light that love comes in all forms and stories. And I know that there's somebody out there who's dreaming like I did when I was watching Rosario Dawson and Jennifer Lopez. I feel like there's some girl who's watching and saying the same thing.
So I hope to open doors for them, for them to feel that one day.
For more of Christina Milian, follow her on Instagram. And Netflix and chill with her new movie, Resort to Love, now streaming.
Featured image courtesy of Christina Milian
For most Black women, the journey to find positive reflections of themselves begin at an early age. We choose dolls that match our curls and complexion, we tune into TV shows with main characters who resemble our girlhood plights, and when it comes to our career, we search for role models as guiding lights for what's possible to achieve.
With every new upgrade and evolution on our journey, the need to see ourselves in these spaces deepens, long before we ever arrive. For Marty McDonald, founder of Boss Women Media, her search began on her ascend through the corporate ladder, when she came to a rattling realization. "I didn't see myself because there were no other women who looked like me in leadership at the organizations that I served in. Instead, I was the only one who had to put on a hat every day and code-switch into who someone else wanted me to be," she shares candidly. "When you don't see someone who looks like you doing what you want to do, you don't see possibilities."
Coming to light with this truth has since guided Marty into a career pivot to help other Black women ascend into their pursuit of purpose.
Courtesy of Marty McDonald
The birth of Boss Women Media came just as Marty's corporate journey was coming to an end. It was around 2016, Marty recalls, that she began questioning her corporate surroundings and looked inward for the answers. "I knew that there had to be other women really suffering from this imposter syndrome. How do you find your voice? How do you find yourself in spaces and in systems that were not built for you?" The turning point came while attending a women's conference that, to Marty's surprise, was predominantly and overwhelming, white. She reflects, "When I walked into that space, I knew that I needed to create this for Black women. I came back to Dallas on fire and on a mission to help women solve problems around entrepreneurship, side hustling, and growing their corporate career."
"When you don't see that, you don't see possibility or you gain the mindset of it's only one seat available to you. It's only that one seat that you have to crawl and fight for, and when there's only one seat, it's hard for you to navigate how to pull up a chair for someone else."
Cut to now and it's clear that Marty has achieved that and more. What started off as an intimate brunch experience with 25 business-minded women, has since catapulted into a blooming storytelling organization and conference, the Black Girl Magic Digital Summit. The two-day experience, sponsored by Capital One and Amazon, celebrates and supports women in their professional, entrepreneurial, and collegiate pursuits to tackle areas of financial well-being, generational wealth, career development, and more.
This year, the conference had keynotes from actress Yara Shahidi, to Naturi Naughton and Candace Parker. But more importantly, it created the space and platform for Black-owned businesses to be amplified and have grant money put into the hands of their founders. And for Marty, the mission to fund small businesses is simple, "It's because I didn't have it. There's so much power in, I didn't have it, so let me help my sister out. Because I know that this will change her life." She continues, "I want to make it easier for another Black woman. I want her to win because when she wins, I win, we all win."
xoNecole: When it comes to Boss Women Media, what space did you hope to fill with the organization?
Marty McDonald: It's really a storytelling company. It's telling the story of women who are creating spaces and places, whether they're in corporate America or entrepreneurship so that other women see possibility in themselves.
We're telling stories of women who have done what damn near feels like the impossible. We're telling stories of women who are paving the way for others, but not only are we just telling those stories, we are also giving our community resources on how they can do it too. Because it's cool to hear the story, but you've got to know how can I do it. That's our purpose. Our mission is to change the way we connect through the stories of other women.
You’ve mentioned before, “When you don’t see someone who looks like you, doing what you want to do, you don’t see possibilities.” Could you tell us more about what this means to you?
It's really a two-lane street: It's through the lane of entrepreneurship and thriving in corporate America. I always say we need Black women in corporate America; they are the trailblazers, they are the voice for Black women across the world. Their space [in corporate] is so pivotal, but only 58 percent of Black women are in corporate America. As a woman who's sitting in these spaces, you connect over stories, you connect over experiences. So when you don't see that, you don't see possibility or you gain the mindset of its only one seat available to you. It's only that one seat that you have to crawl and fight for, and when there's only one seat, it's hard for you to navigate how to pull up a chair for someone else. Even with entrepreneurship, Black women are the fastest-growing entrepreneurs, but we make the majority at the poverty level in our businesses.
So if I don't hear the stories of Black women who are navigating venture capital, who understand how to get SBA loans, who are killing the game with bootstrapping - if I don't see that, again, I don't see possibilities. It's beyond important for our stories to be told, to be heard, and to be seen to be spoken in order for change to happen and to know that this is possible for us.
There’s been a lot of recent talk about “quitting” as it pertains to the arena of Black women and their careers. But often, quitting can be confused with being a quitter. From your experiences of stepping away from your corporate path to pursue entrepreneurship, what are some things that you learned about “quitting” and how has it shaped this half of your career?
When I left corporate America, I never saw it as "quitting." Instead, I found it as a moment to evolve as a woman; to take control over my finances and finally have the freedom that I deserve. As I've grown as an entrepreneur, from that girl who got $500 sponsorships to now, the girl who's getting a quarter of a million-dollar sponsorship, I know that my walk away [from corporate] was a part of my purpose. Corporate America taught me how to pitch, how to get allies, how to influence - I can never take any of that back. It was a part of the marathon that I was on, in terms of giving me the tools that I needed to create the business of my dreams.
But I'm telling you this: burnout is real. As an entrepreneur, you have to take breaks; it is not a sprint, it is truly a marathon and you have to breathe. I am a new mom, I have a six-month-old and I can truly say that I am exhausted at this very moment right now because I have been grinding and going so hard. But I know that because I am self-aware of my burnout, I have to take a break. Taking a moment and pausing is not quitting, it is realizing what my body needs. This world will put such a weight on Black women to achieve more than anyone else in the world when in actuality self-care is needed for us and burnout can easily happen to us.
"Taking a moment and pausing is not quitting, it is realizing what my body needs. This world will put such a weight on Black women to achieve more than anyone else in the world when in actuality self-care is needed for us and burnout can easily happen to us."
Courtesy of Marty McDonald
Your trajectory had led you on a path to refine your purpose and zero in on the mission of creating a legacy and rallying for women. For women who feel like their purpose is still a little unclear, could you share what helped you get clarity on your vision?
I was 30 when I first started this entrepreneurial journey. It's something so interesting that switches when you're entering your 30's when you're searching for your purpose and that impact that you're going to make. For me, it was a connection with God. I could tell you stories of people who have placed my name in rooms that I've never even entered before and that's an encounter of God. I can't take credit for it. I am on a God-driven mission in what I'm creating and really who I'm creating it for.
My purpose is aligned to what my values are and I really had to go on a search and be in prayer and constant connection with God, asking him, "What do you want for my life to be?" But when you ask that question, you have to be prepared for what the answer is. Be prepared for how hard it will be to navigate. There's been plenty of times when I have felt like, should I be doing this? Why is it so hard? Why am I experiencing no after no? Through me finding my purpose, I've learned that you have to stay consistent. Consistency will bet the most talented person in the room every day of the week. Consistency is the key to how you win.
For the woman who's out there who's looking for what is my purpose, you get into alignment with what your values are, your skills, your passion, you figure those pieces out so that you can follow in line with your purpose. And when you find that purpose. You stay consistent every single day.
"Consistency will bet the most talented person in the room every day of the week. Consistency is the key to how you win."
You have an amazing lineup of panelists in this year’s summit. What was it about these women that made you go, “I want them at my event this year?”
This year the Black Girl Magic Digital Summit is all about The Upgrade: upgrading your mind, your voice, your money, and upgrading your wealth. Yara Shahidi is a powerhouse. This young woman is transforming her generation, she's decided that she is the voice and that no one will tell her differently. She's wise and she realizes her space and her place. Candace Parker has upgraded from, not just a WNBA player, but I'm a mom and being multi-faceted. That's what this summit is about: it's about seeing the stories of women who are not taking the road often traveled, but less traveled, and saying that I'm upgrading myself through this experience.
The stories of these women at this event this year are absolutely magical and will give anybody who is tuning in goosebumps. It's all about how you, too, can upgrade in 2021 and go beyond the norm of what the world tells you you are.
When you envision the outcome of this year’s event, what do you hope that the women who attend your summit are able to take away from it?
On next Monday morning, I envision a million women who have tuned in and connected to our programming, who realized that they can create the career or business of their dreams, that there is nothing that will hold them back anymore. Most importantly, they have been able to connect with another woman who was also a part of the summit, and they support another Black-owned business because that's how our community collectively changes the landscape of poverty of wealth and mindset through connectivity and support.
Featured image courtesy of Marty McDonald
When it comes to the fashion world, there's no denying the direct influence and contribution of Black women.
Although recognition and credit tend to go unsaid, the simple truth is: Black women are the blueprint. As the tides shift within the industry, the true measure of sustainable progress will be weighed by how well the new class of designers and emerging brands are embraced and amplified. However, it's important to note that this isn't a request for permission: this is an announcement. Black designers aren't waiting for a chance for their stories to be told, they're letting their brands speak for themselves. And if you truly want to know where the future of fashion is headed, you must first tap into the rising voices who are creating history today.
Meet Sadé Lewis and Shaniya Charles, the design duo behind the self-titled fashion and lifestyle brand, Sadé + Shaniya. When the two Brooklynites met in their high school English class, their bond was formed over their shared interest in extracurricular activities, like Modeling Club and their desire to dissect the ambiguity of the industry they aspired to break into. As Sadé shares, "I feel like we align on things that we didn't like about the fashion industry and how it real mysterious and superficial, as well as not really seeing people that looked like us at the forefront."
Shaniya Charles, left. Sadé Lewis, right.
Photo Credit: Pia Fergus
As graduates of the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology, FIT, the pair have been able to combine their talents beyond the textbooks, weaving their story into the fabric of their take on accessible high fashion and ready-to-wear pieces. Drawing inspiration from their personal journey, Black culture, and womanhood, the complex and nuanced experience that Black women share serves as a natural muse for everything they put their hands to.
Their signature design, the Mora Bag, tells a story of the duality of Black womanhood that serves as a stylish and metaphorical reminder to pack light and be light. "The color palettes that we looking into were [colors] that would trigger us to be soft and more vulnerable. There's always the notion that the Black woman is hard, she's strong, and she can do all these things. And she can, but she also has to step into the power of being vulnerable, being open, and being able to feel like you can release," Shaniya shares.
When the innovation of two Black women joins forces, there's no limit to the possibilities that they can unleash. Luckily, xoNecole has a front-row seat to the beginning stages of these dynamic designers, destined to dominate the fashion world on their own terms.
xoNecole: As Black women, sometimes we don't always have control over our narratives. With storytelling being such a huge part of you all’s design process, how does Black womanhood play the role of muse for you two?
Sadé Lewis: The origin of our collections, everything is based off a real story or feeling. For example, The Looking Glass [collection] was very much about looking yourself in the mirror and seeing this multifaceted person. You don't have to fit into one version of yourself, or one version of what people think you should be, you are many things. So that was our individual journey during that time. Literally, accepting us being women who can be everything at once, you know? It definitely always comes from something that we're going through. We don't try to pressure ourselves to create timing. It just comes when it comes. And yeah, it's always from within us, navigating our own lives, then figuring out how can we make a physical manifestation of how we feel.
Shaniya Charles: We also grab inspiration from the woman that we talk to, the people that we deal with on an everyday basis, and the majority of them are Black women. We try to make sure that we're telling their stories as well. Although it's our narrative, we want to make sure that our consumers are connecting to what we're putting out and feel or see themselves in what we are creating.
Sadé Lewis: As Black women, we want to be safe, we want to be able to control our narratives and our lives. This brand for us isn't just popularity. It's so we can have the freedom to be our absolute selves and create how we want to create, tell our story how we want to tell our story, and live how we want to live - and be an avenue for other people to do the same. The overall goal is to be able to support other women and other creatives in their endeavors.
"As Black women, we want to be safe, we want to be able to control our narratives and our lives. This brand for us isn't just popularity. It's so we can have the freedom to be our absolute selves and create how we want to create, tell our story how we want to tell our story, and live how we want to live - and be an avenue for other people to do the same. The overall goal is to be able to support other women and other creatives in their endeavors."
Photo Credit: Pia Fergus
Let’s get into your short film which premiered on the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)! That was you all’s first short film too. What was the inspiration behind the 'Green Eyes'' story?
Shaniya: First and foremost, we both love Erykah Badu! Green Eyes is one of our favorite songs. Sadé was listening to the song in the shower. And she came out and she was like, "I have an idea. We're going to create a visual fashion show based on this!" From there, we just started planning out what we wanted the story to be, the garments we would create for it, and how that would be an introduction to our actual collection that was coming up. We partnered with a Black woman to create the film; we wanted to make sure that although it's our story, that the people involved in it were also authentic and Black.
Sadé: That shower moment was literally me listening to the song. It almost felt like I was in a trance. There's no visual for that song, so it was just me envisioning alone and in a way pleading to this man. When it comes to communication between a man and a woman, sometimes it's just not there. We have egos and pride. The story that Erykah was telling was a matter of pride. It's not time to put your pride out there when you really feel this is your person. This is your soulmate, but your pride is literally ruining everything.
It was really cool to work with the director, Kyra Andrews. She has a theme about her work where she does love stories and Black romance shorts. It was really cool to tell her about our ideas and how we connect to the song and see how she could visually support that the film. It was very hands-on for all of us, even the actors in the film. We did it in one day, in the middle of a snowstorm, but it was really fun. Seeing the end result was like, wow.
As two Black women and emerging designers, I’m sure there have been obstacles that you’ve had to overcome through your trajectory. What are some of the challenges that you all experienced starting out?
Sadé: This is an industry that in all honesty, a lot of the cultural, creative, and artistic design aspects do come from Black people - we are at the forefront of a lot of those things. It's also hard as women to be respected and to be taken seriously. I don't know when those challenges will ever end for our people. So when things get hard and we might feel like our message is not getting across or things didn't perform as well as we want it to, we do have each other to remind us why we're here and that we're in it for the long run; we're not in it to be a quick trend.
You both have been friends for over a decade. How has it been working together while maintaining your friendship? How do you all make it work?
Shaniya: Our communication has always been at the forefront. From high school, we've always been very honest with each other. We make sure that we are each others' open and safe space. Even if something's bothering me, or something's bothering her, we try our best to communicate that. And I think the communication aspect and comfortability that we both have in each other allows us to explore different avenues of friendship and business partnership.
Sadé: We don't really have much of a system in place because I know it's important to separate business from friendship; it's not much a strict structure. But I think the both of us know when it's time to talk business and just time to just be friends. We have a good sense of understanding each other's needs. Just having that grace for each other and knowing when to read the room.
"I think the both of us know when it's time to talk business and just time to just be friends. We have a good sense of understanding each other's needs. Just having that grace for each other and knowing when to read the room."
Photo Credit: Pia Fergus
The whole “networking across” concept that Issa Rae famously coined has really become a collective mindset for many creatives. For those who are looking for their creative partner-in-crime, what are some tips that you would give to finding one successfully?
Sadé: I would say, be open and honest about your needs. I think a lot of times when people are doing something creative, or looking for a service, they go to Google and type in, "Photographers. NYC." And it's like, you might know someone from your high school or your college who's into photography. I think we have to have more of a mindset of working together. If we all came together with our respective interests, we could be so powerful.
It's not necessarily always about looking up to these big names. Because a lot of the time, they're not going to have the same respect. Or uphold your ideas and your project to the same reverence as someone who is grinding just like you. And then you'll learn who you can really build with. Just be open to the people around you and what they can offer.
Shaniya: Be authentic to who you are. It's a lot of pressure and there's a lot coming at you at once in terms of being creative, but I feel like you should just be authentic to who you are. If you like photography or designer, you'll align with the people that you're supposed to align with. We have so much pressure around us now from social media and a whole bunch of different outlets saying, you should do this, you should do that. But just be authentic and true to who you are as a person. And whatever is supposed to align with you and the people that you are supposed to meet will come your way and those relationships will foster and grow to be what you need them to be.
"It's not necessarily always about looking up to these big names. Because a lot of the time, they're not going to have the same respect. Or uphold your ideas and your project to the same reverence as someone who is grinding just like you. And then you'll learn who you can really build with. Just be open to the people around you and what they can offer."
Photo Credit: Pia Fergus
It’s really encouraging to hear that you all are able to lean on each other through the ups and the downs of your journey. Is there anything that you all tell each other to keep each other motivated?
Sadé: We have these little moments where we'll just go to each other and we'll be like, "Girl, you the sh*t." Or, "Wow, you really my best friend, you a bad b*tch." Stuff like that. Also, because we put a lot of storytelling and meaning behind our collection, we use that to align ourselves. This work comes from a place within.
It's always from a place based on the story that we're telling and our experiences together. I feel like that is our anchor; reminding each other that you're creating from a real place. And also, we both come from the fashion industry. We studied it in college and we also work in it. It's like, you really know what you're doing. Just trust yourself and keep going.
To stay connected to Shaniya and Sadé's upcoming collection, and cop a Mora Bag of your own, click here.
Featured image courtesy of Sadé + Shaniya