Representation in fashion is something that has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. The historical images of models on runways have seeped into the styles and clothes we see on the high streets. However, there has been a revolution as more consumers become body-conscious and fashion labels receive criticism for their lack of diversity. Consumers are now also voting with their pockets by shunning or canceling brands that do not change. Whilst all of this has been great progress, one area which hasn’t seen much change is footwear. People with larger-sized feet, regardless of their gendered identity, find it extremely difficult to buy shoes and are often left with dull and bland options. An entrepreneur who is building a shoe brand to tackle this problem is Tskenya-Sarah Frazer, founder of eponymous brand TSKENYA.
Frazer grew up in Hackney, East London, which was rife with gang violence and crime before it became the cultural center it is today. She was fortunate to go to a new academy in the area that mimicked the model of a private school but was free for the students. Additionally, “I remember my mother always taking me to the library and museum when I was young” she says, which made her more culturally privileged than her peers. After doing well at school, she went on to King’s College London to study English Literature and Language with ambitions to become a journalist when she finished university. However, after completing publishing and editorial internships it became very obvious that it was an inhospitable industry for black working-class women – it would be an uphill battle that she was unwilling to climb.
A short while later, as Frazer neared her graduation ceremony, she grew tired of not being able to find footwear to match her graduation dress. Being 5ft9 since she was 11 years old, with size 9 feet meant that this was an issue she faced throughout her adolescence as the shoes that were available were limited and flavorless. This experience coupled with the bullying she experienced for her larger-sized feet and lack of diversity in journalism was the final straw.
Frazer started doing research on what it would take to start her own brand as she was “tired of being a victim of the eurocentric fashion industry” and “wanted to show the fashion world what real authentic sustainable inclusion could look like”. Whilst researching, she realized that it was not just cis-gendered women with larger-sized feet who were excluded from the footwear industry but so were members of the LGBTQ+ community, hence the brand’s stance against gendered marketing and language. In her own words, “we provide inclusive luxury for everybody”.
Launching TSKENYA Shoes
Despite having very little background in fashion production and design, she dedicated years to learning about footwear, production, and sustainability and how these three things could mingle together. With the support of charitable organizations like the Prince’s Trust, and her business mentors she was able to launch a Kickstarter campaign explaining the concept to people and allowing them to order the first batch as a pre-order so she could validate the idea. This campaign was a huge success and it sold out within 48 hours.
With the Kickstarter proving to be a success Frazer was now ready to go about launching the brand at scale so needed to seek out manufacturing processes and inputs that were sustainable and made sense from an ethical standpoint. Looking at her options she quickly realized “how hard business can be” and how tough it was to find sustainable materials at a price where she could compete with other companies on the market. Frazer decided rather than rushing the launch and pushing the brand forward, that she would take the time to build out a supply chain and products that would be truly authentic to the brand’s values, so that she, her team, and those wearing the footwear could feel proud of the product.
After years of work, she was comfortable enough to relaunch her brand which is available to purchase and support now.
Frazer hopes the brand continues to grow and reaches new markets for those “who are in need of affirming footwear in their size” which is why she is currently looking into investment options. Even though sourcing has proved to be tough she has tried her best to make sure it remains as ethical as possible but offers customers great value for money and style.
Outside of building the shoe brand, Frazer has made it her mission to help people support young entrepreneurs build equitable businesses, works as a VC Scout for Ada Ventures, and assists organizations in becoming more inclusive through her consultancy. She is also an upcoming author and has a book being published later this year about black British business in the U.K. titled “A Quick Ting On: Black Brit-ish Business” which is available for pre-order.
This article is part of a series featuring underrepresented people making a difference. To submit ideas for features or keep up to date with new releases you can find me on Twitter – @TommyPF91