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Backstage during BET Awards weekend with celebrity fashion stylist Kenya Ware

Kenya Ware GIP_9406

Photo Credit: Earl Gibson

Eleven stylists and costume designers of color gather in a loft for a photo shoot and Q&A. They come from Atlanta, New York and Hollywood. Some are fresh off worldwide tours and here to share their stories, peruse new collections, drink, eat and connect. Sponsors looking to honor these fashion influencers included African Ancestry, Unique Syrups, EmiYoshi Flatware, Fox Home Entertainment and Mixed Chicks hair care products.

It was hot on this particular Thursday afternoon in “The Penthouse” in DTLA’s fashion district before the BET Awards weekend. The 6000 sq. ft. loft felt every bit of the 80 degrees outside. Interns from the Art Institute of Hollywood buzzed around, adjusting hangers, mannequins and helping Chef Chris put the final touches on the cuisine being served. We were running really late.

Particular designers like Conrad Booker, who created the stunning front display straw dress using 65,000 black straws and Swarovski crystals, wasn’t happy with our set design so he went about the task of making it picture perfect and he was a success. And Christopher Dixon (creator of the Christopher Coy Collection) was also busy re-arranging his display of double-heeled shoes. I will admit that when I breezed through the suite at 1:30 p.m. still wearing my sneakers and jumper, I wasn’t really listening to Dixon’s complaint. I was just proud of these two dynamic black male designers being in the suite.

By 2 p.m., the first custom designer had arrived and I was still undecided about what dress to wear. Kenya Ware was the first. Always early, she came from Long Beach and fell right into the preparation-mode of it all, asking if she could help in any way.

Kenya Ware has a diverse and ever-expanding career in costume designing. She married into the profession and has fought tooth and nail to get and impress every job since. As a proud member of the Costume Designer Union 892 of California, Ware is best known for her work on Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva” with the powerhouse Brooke Elliott as the lead actor. Her hands have worked on films like Fast Five, American Reunion and most recently Straight Outta Compton and Ride Along 2. –darralynn hutson

Fun Facts about Kenya:
She loves working with full-figured actresses making them feel and look beautiful) She worked most recently with Tamela Mann on Bounce TV’s Mann & Wife.
Kenya married and has one daughter with Daz Dillinger of Tha Dogg Pound who first cousin to Snoop Dogg. She got her start shopping for Death Row Records on all of the artist videos.
Her current project is as a costume designer for All Eyez on Me, the Tupac Story in production now.
Kenya’s BFF is Kim Ettheridge, the CEO of Mixed Chicks both hustlers from Baldwin Hills, California.
Kenya lived in Atlanta working at Death Row records Marketing director before moving back
Kenya will be partnering with classic menswear designer Karl Kani to launch a new line catering to the black church market.

How did you get started in your career?
In 1991, I was married to Daz’, Snoop’s cousin and I started shopping for all of Death Row. They use to ask me “Why do you want to Work” my response was “Cause this might not last.” I wanted to know all of this. I became the west coast marketing rep and I would hand delivery the clothes on set and I’d wonder, who are these people putting the clothes on them? Deciding what goes with what? I knew then that “I wanted to do that.” Man it was hard to get in because I have to admit it that some of my sisters would not give anybody the blueprint how to get in. At all. It was an older lady and a white woman that gave me my first brake in 1998 and I haven’t stopped since. With my sisters, I believe they think that everyone after them should go through what they went through and they made it hard for me. But when I pray to my God, he has a path for me that’s unlike anyone else’s path. That’s why when I find a young girl who wants to know more about this business, I jump at the chance to help. I can tell her what to say, I can tell her what to do, Who to meet and what to bring, because I want to bring as many black girls to costume designing as possible. I white woman named Rosemary helped me. A lady named Stephanie that gave me my first job. If the sisters just knew the blueprint. We can’t stop helping each other. I can’t. Everybody has their reasons for why there are where they are and I’m here to help people: that’s my calling. It’s a problem. It’s a big epidemic of people just not being willing to help each other. When I think of who really helped me take my career to the next level, it’s been my Caucasian friends.

Where are you from?
People have gotten it all confused because I stayed in Atlanta for 8 years; but now I’m an LA girl ; bonafied 100%. I’m a Baldwin Hills girl; half and half LA.

It appears you’ve been on a phenomenal ride. What have been your biggest challenges?
Kenya Ware: For a sister in this business, we have to constantly fight to be represented. Just breaking through those barriers. But I walk in with a smile to let them know that I’m coming and my work knocks ‘em down. They end up loving me and embracing me; but we still have to fight. Coming in the door, you have to work ten times harder than your counter part. But I’m up for it. I gotta lot of muscle built up (hitting her forearm.)

What are some items you can’t do without while working on a film/TV set?
My purse game has to be tight at all points. When I see a sista walk into the room; I’m looking at the purse. My LV 10th year edition is my go – to bag; it’s still fly. It’s the Miami, Hawaii, it’s the Bahamas and it’s mine. I can’t live without it. Mixed Chicks is the second thing I can’t do without. Kim has this cream that goes on your hair and lays down the edges and make it look pretty. I can’t live without it. My Karl Kani liquid jeans that show off my that butt…