We get the closest to our dreams by first recognizing what it is we seek, then applying whatever effort and steps necessary to make those dreams tangible. Touching what once was her dream, our next WBM feature, Keena Fleming, has always aspired to become a shoe designer.
Although she is just getting started, Keena has already accomplished a great deal while making quite an impression in a short amount of time. Luckily for us, we were able snag a few moments with this creative force who is making a difference with how people look and feel.
WBM: Who is Keena Fleming?
KEENA: Well that’s something I’m still figuring out, but I like the direction in which I’m going so far! I’m an island girl, living in a completely opposite world, New York City. I just graduated in May of 2011, and immediately got picked up by Camuto Group as an assistant footwear designer.
WBM: Where are you from?
KEENA: I am from St. Croix, in the United States Virgin Islands. I can live anywhere in the world, but that will always be my home!
KEENA: I love music; I have a very eclectic taste. I use music a lot to inspire me with a mood or feeling that I can direct towards my creativity. Food–nothing makes me happier than good food. Anything in the art world; I love seeing how other people think and how they put things together. Art also forces your brain to understand things differently than you usually would.
WBM: How’d you get involved in fashion and shoe design?
KEENA: I’ve always wanted to be a shoe designer. Coming from St. Croix, I had no exposure to the fashion world, so I didn’t really think it was an option, as far as going to college. I went to Virginia Commonwealth [in] my first year and majored in fine arts because I thought it was the closest training I could get. When I heard about the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, I immediately realized I was at the wrong school and transferred. I was [then] an accessory design major. How weird it was to go to a college to study something so specific like that!
WBM: When did you know this was something you wanted to pursue?
KEENA: My mother is a French and Spanish teacher and in 1996, we moved to Paris for a Fulbright teacher exchange program. I think at that time, the transition of traditional island footwear–flip flops if that–to the Parisian everyday footwear was so shocking to me, especially to a kid who is looking at the ground anyways! And the obsession began, also with the help of a pair of patent blue sandals I was in dire need of at age eight. The obsession only went downhill from there!
WBM: What does it mean to be a designer in 2011?
KEENA: For me, a designer helps make people be who they are or wish to be. What you wear can set the tone of your day and your whole raison d’être. It’s kind of fun altering the mood entirely, but remaining kind of behind the scenes.
WBM: What are some of the things that inspire you?
KEENA: Nature is really what inspires me the most. If you really look closely, there are so many amazing textures and shapes in nature. And when you take something so organic and translate it into something so structural, you get a really amazing shoe!
WBM: Why does what you do matter?
KEENA: This is what I set out to do from the beginning. I’ve worked in restaurants in NYC for most of my time in school, so now that I am doing what I’ve always wanted to do makes me feel very significant and successful. There is a different feeling when working to get by and working because you love it!
WBM: You recently were the runner-up in FIT’s “Fashion News Shoe Star 2011”. Mind telling us a little about it?
KEENA: It was an amazing experience; a nightmare, but great experience. It was kind of like a “Project Runway”, but for footwear. It was near impossible most times to balance two jobs, an internship, being [a] full time student, and the competition, but somehow I made it and did a pretty good job!
We got to work with some amazing people in the industry, like Rebecca Taylor, Blake Mycoskie from Tom’s shoes, Vera Wang [and] Fergie, just to name a few. As a young designer, you develop such an attachment to your work, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything if you and your mom are the only ones who love you work. So when someone successful in the industry recognizes your talent, it makes all the difference in the world!
WBM: You emerged from the competition with a very distinct style. How did growing up on St. Croix influence your style?
KEENA: I’m usually described as the hippie designer! (Laughs) I think the island life made me appreciate nature, and Native American and other tribal artwork. My designs are very much inspired by these things, and are pretty laid-back, like most islanders!
WBM: Define success.
KEENA: For me, it’s doing what I want to do. I actually like going to work every day, even those late nights! And to actually find a job that pays you to do what you’d do in your spare time anyways is definitely a plus!
WBM: Biggest accomplishment?
KEENA: This most recent competition was actually my second one. My first one was a design competition for Saks Fifth Avenue and Jimmy Choo. I designed a shoe inspired by Central Park, and I won! My biggest accomplishment so far is being recognized in the center of the footwear industry twice!
WBM: What’s one thing that many don’t know about you?
KEENA: My left foot is smaller than my right foot, so only one of my feet fits into sample sized shoes! Which means I miss out on a lot of free shoes. A footwear designer’s nightmare!
WBM: What’s next?
KEENA: I want to grow with this company and possibly move on to a higher end company in the future. When shoes are more daring and expensive, there’s more room for creativity!
WBM: Any advice for those looking to pursue their goals and dreams?
KEENA: I was lucky that I knew exactly what I wanted to do from the very beginning. But there are so many amazing different things in this world, you may never know what your dream job will be unless you experience everything you possibly can. Don’t ever get stuck in a job you’re not happy with. We all have crappy jobs at one point or another, but keep those jobs as stepping stones to your dream job only!