UNI grad realizes her fashion dreams
Keyaira Miller (‘06) took a winding road to her dream career, but it finally all makes sense.
Miller, 37, has leveraged hard work, increasingly responsible career roles, and lessons she’d learned from her family and UNI professors to enjoy twin dream goals:
In April, she oversaw the launch of Amazon’s new Gen Y fashion brand, Wild Meadow, in her role as product developer for women’s fashions,
And on Sept. 11, she will launch her own line of children’s clothes under the label “HarlemsKlubHouse”[cq] at the Cedar Valley Fashion Art Culture Expo at Lost Island Water Park in her native Waterloo, Iowa.
She won Amazon’s internal plaudits for launching a brand that caters to a demographic and trend-focused assortment new to the world’s largest online retailer. The line is aimed at 18-to-25-year-olds who like trendy yet carefree clothes.
The line, with prices ranging from $12 to $35, includes what Miller describes as “fun, carefree, fashion-forward” items such as miniskirts, crop tops, flowy tops, a cool jumper, and a two-piece short-and-top set with a floral, bold-color thumbprint.
Miller’s 8-year-old son, Harlem, sparked her desire to create her own children’s clothing line — she was unimpressed with the few racks of boys’ clothes that she could find in retail stores — and Harlem will be one of the models at the fashion show.
Harlem will model fashions influenced by Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and one of Miller’s favorite TV shows when she was growing up, “A Different World” — a spinoff of “The Cosby Show.”
The clothing line — some of which Miller designed — comprises “really dope brands (and) remixed and reimagined clothes for kids” that are fun and potentially inspiring, she said. That includes hoodies, crew-neck shirts, and shirts that celebrate HBCUs and their renowned National Battle of the Bands. She said several of her family members attended HBCUs.
Miller’s plaudits and accomplishments took time, but her goal all along was to be seen as a creative thinker.
“Employers like someone who has been successful in a variety of roles and who has an out-of-the-box lens,” she said.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree at UNI in textiles and apparel, Miller climbed the career ladder so that she could learn buying, sourcing, retail store management and negotiating inventory domestically and internationally with vendors — whether the product was clothing, electricity, tractors, coal plants, or aircraft cockpit components and electronics. Her employers ranged from mass-market retailers Target Corp. and Icing by Claire’s to Alliant Energy, Rockwell Collins aerospace solutions provider, to John Deere, the world’s largest farm machinery maker.
Then, in a four-month period in 2018, Miller got married, was awarded a coveted “20 Under (Age) 40” award for her community leadership, and donated one of her kidneys to her mother, Lena Phillips.
That whirlwind of emotions and life-changing experiences were followed by the answer to Miller’s long-held dream: Amazon contacted her in January 2019 to work as a senior vendor manager.
That’s when she told her husband, Marquellos, that she couldn’t pass up the chance to return to the retail industry. She and her family now live in Seattle.
But that’s just the icing on the cake. Miller, who has long served as a mentor and community advocate for ensuring diversity and inclusion and to promote young Black women’s success, aims to do the same with the Amazon clothing line.
When Miller previews the website of the brand she oversees, she said she asks, “When a customer is shopping, is there accurate representation from a hair and skin tone perspective?”
That discernment extends to developing colors.
“As I work with our designers, I ask, ‘Have you thought about how these colors work on different skin tones? Is this color palette inviting to an array of skin tones? If not, let’s go back to the drawing board.’”
The same applies to a sizing perspective. “Who wants to call it ‘plus’ size?” she said. “I’ve been challenged and I challenge the team, ‘These are sizing standards, but how can we make it so it feels inclusive? That means making sure it’s illustrated on the website. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have a model to show XL.’”
Miller’s priorities and attention to detail reflect her reasoning in attending UNI — for its well-rounded curricula that included buying and business sourcing, complete outfit design, and understanding how fabrics and their densities were a key aspect of quality assurance.
“When I graduated, I had career options,” she said.
Miller credited Annette Lynch, professor of textiles and apparel, who Miller said “pushed us to think creatively and consider the ‘psyche’ and other aspects of clothing and fashion.
“That was the one course that really stuck with me,” Miller said. “Clothes are selling you without you having to say a word. You’re giving people that first impression, so make it count.”
“Keyaira has empowered so many by her stellar example of what is possible with a Textiles and Apparel degree from UNI,” Lynch said. “She was a standout student who also demonstrated initiative, a habit that led to her outstanding career.
“When [Phillips] has come back [to UNI] live or by Zoom to meet with students, she has provided very personalized mentoring and networking advice that has been much appreciated by UNI students,” Lynch said. “She has also been a role model.
“As captured by the famous quote from astronaut Sally Ride, ‘You can't be what you can't see,’” Lynch said.
Former UNI Professor Theresa Winge, who Miller said was instrumental in influencing her decision to earn a master’s degree, was also an inspiration. Miller leveraged Target Corp.’s employee assistance program to obtain her master’s degree online in business, with an emphasis on global retail sourcing and merchandising, from the San Francisco-based Academy of Art University.
Amid Miller’s career changes, she remained steadfast in her community leadership. Her service resume includes:
- Serving as president of Club Les Dames, a program that promotes education, social interaction, family management and personal growth for African-American high school girls. The young ladies end the program with a cotillion in which they present themselves as the mature, polished future leaders they are destined to become.
- Contributing for 13 years as a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which provides outreach and mentoring to young women in resume writing, financial literacy and career management skills.
- Serving on the Blackhawk County Gaming Association Board, where she lent her voice to granting awards for programs, projects and activities that benefit seven Iowa counties. Grants went to creating health and wellness programs; signage for buildings for low-income-based programs, including those that helped women who had been physically or emotionally abused, and helping financially challenged local radio stations stay on the air.
Miller said she tells up-and-coming designers and others who she mentors to “think and dream big.”
“Nothing is too big for you,” she said. “If there’s something you want to do, you have to put the work behind it to see it come to fruition.”
And just as importantly, “Be surrounded by people who want to see you succeed,” she said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my tribe of friends and family who have supported me and motivated me to do better and do more.”