The African print prom dress that 18-year-old East Orange, N.J., student Kyemah McEntyre created was a fashion moment. Shortly after, 3LW artist and Power actress Naturi Naughton hired McEntyre to design a dress for her to wear to the BET Awards. Again Kyemah’s design became an online sensation.
McEntyre said she initially wanted to wear her African-inspired dress to the prom to send a message to other teens that it’s okay to be yourself, and that natural beauty is too be loved and admired. Not only did she garner lots of attention, but she was also crowned prom queen. But there is a lot more to McEntyre than her prom dress. McEntyre, who is raising funds to pay for the tuition at Parsons School of Design on GoFundMe.com, is also an artist with plans to build a business that will incorporate both her paintings and her designs.
MadameNoire caught up with Kyemah by phone. Here’s what she had to say.
MadameNoire: Let’s start off with your sensational prom dress. Did you think it would break the Internet?
Kyemah McEntyre: Well, I did want to become known locally. I wanted people in my area to understand the message behind it, which is to just be yourself and find beauty within yourself. Sometimes I think people conform to other people’s standards of beauty. And I wanted to tell people it’s okay to be comfortable with yourself. But while I wanted to get the attention of people locally, I had no idea it would take off the way it did.
MN: Why did you decide on an African print dress?
KM: It’s been in my head since I went natural. However, when I decided to sketch it for the prom took me only two days. I have been natural since in I was in seventh grade.
MN: Was it a difficult transition to make?
KM: At first it was difficult for me to be very comfortable to be in my natural state because a lot of people around me had not gone natural. But I was always taught by my family that my own standard of beauty is what’s more important and you don’t have to be ashamed of your natural beauty. Also I always just liked the look of a large Afro.
MN: There have been reports that you had something to prove to people who bullied you in school and that this was the inspiration behind your dress.
KM: That came from a quote I said, but I wasn’t talking about me being bullied. I said: “This is for always being labeled as, ‘ugly’ or ‘angry.’ Thank God, stereotypes are just opinions.” What I was trying to convey was that the pressures Black women face from society to conform to their standards and this hard to deal with for all Black women. And this is a form of bullying in a way. But I want Black women to see that you don’t have to be apologetic for being themselves and not conforming to the European standards of beauty.
MN: How did you come to design Naturi Naughton’s dress for the BET Awards red carpet?
KM: Our conversation lasted about 20 minutes and she wanted to uplift and show what the generation was about. She said she really liked my story and my positive message. As far as the dress, she pretty much told me what she needed for the BET Awards. She told me a couple of things she wanted the dress to feature. And I pretty much included all of these things in my sketch and we went from there.
MN: What was it like to see your design on a celebrity and on television?
KM: I couldn’t breathe. My mom and I were watching it on TV and it was so real and to see her say my name on television, it was huge for me.
MN: Have other celebrities come knocking?
KM: Niecy Nash has contacted me and says she wants something. And Also India Arie has contacted me just to say how much she loved what I was doing. I think we will do something together.
MN: You are entering college. How will you juggle your growing business and school?
KM: I will be starting at Parsons School of Design in New York where I got accepted for fine arts, but I do plan on changing degree. I might push back starting until January as I get my business set up. And I will not just focus on my fashion designs, I want to showcase my work as a painter as well. I have a few projects lined up, so I will be doing both.
MN: Have you always wanted to be a designer?
KM: Funny thing is I never studied fashion before. I was in a mentor fashion program before in New Jersey but I have never studied. In fact, my prom dress was actually first design and creation.
MN: How will your promote your brand?
KM: I started an Esty online store called Mind Of Kye about a month ago. It focuses on my paintings; I wanted to show people the other side of me, that I am more than just one side. People can purchase prints of my artwork.
MN: And your fashions?
KM: I am in the process of organizing that now. I can say more about this soon.
MN: This must have been an exciting few months. But what has been the most important business lesson you have learned in the process?
KM: I have more than one. One of them is to learn to live in the moment. Success is great but you need to slow down and enjoy what is going on right now. The other lesson would definitely be believing in yourself. In order for other people to believe in me, I have to first believe in myself.