Belle of the Ballroom: Zna.K African Fashion

Belle of the Ballroom: Zna.K African Fashion

Listen to this interview on The Neri Magazine Podcast

Immediately following the beauty extravaganza that was African Fashion Week Toronto (#AFWT2019), Neri Media debuted The Neri Magazine Podcast by having an intimate chat with one of Canada’s leading African fashion designers. Zeena Kay‘s work is exciting and highly impactful. This vanguard de vêtements specializes in custom African prints, and haute couture that spans creative subcategories; including bridal and children’s attire. After our engaging chat I was certain that formal gowns were, above all, what fueled her deep passion for clothing design.

African Designer and Belle of the Ballroom Zeena Kay receiving massive applause at African Fashion Week Toronto 2019. Photo credit: @ladymensahstudios

Talent From the Beginning

She was born in England but returned to Cameroon with her parents as a child. Her interest in designing was sparked at the age of 8 years old. At this young age, Zeena Kay began sewing clothes for her friend’s dolls and altering her own dresses by hand. After that, she progressed to creating garments for family and friends. 2002 marked her arrival in North America, residing in the US where she got her first sewing machine, and then in Canada. Zeena Kay attended and graduated from George Brown College’s Fashion Techniques and Design program. Two and a half years later, she was ready to emerge as a designer and she launched the Zna.k brand. These efforts culminated in 2013 at her first AFWT event where she claimed first prize in the student designer competition.

“The patterns actually look painted on to the garment AFTER they were made.”

Wowed spectator at AFWT 2019

Since then Zeena Kay has been invited back to showcase her work every year. Fashion aficionados all agree that her line’s success stems from her ability to synchronize fabric and design. As a designer, she exerts her creativity and a copious understanding of the female form. It makes her work unforgetable. “The patterns actually look painted on to the garment AFTER they were made” was the compliment one spectator shared about Zna.k’s work. I had to agree. It was impossible to keep my eyes on her work through a lens, especially when it came to the Green Dress (hear all about it more in the podcast), I was spellbound.

Awards and Success

Zeena Kay’s design prowess has already received national acclaim. At Canada’s 2015 Juno Awards, the cocktail dress worn by Alysha Brella, earned the Tanzanian Indo-Canadian singer the title of red carpet’s Best Dressed. The African Fashion Industry also awarded Zna.k Best Ladies Wear Designer in 2016. When asked about her recipe for success, Zna.k humbly said that it’s all in the models and knowing who’s walk, style and flair will work. This was most evident with the Kimzy Mermaid Dress worn by one of this year’s winners of the Rising Top Model award, Roxanne La Kinoise.

I knew she (Roxanne La Kinoise) was going to bring out the beauty in the dress and really show the work and what I’m trying to say in that dress. That is why I chose that dress for Roxanne. I know exactly what she can do.

Zeena Kay
Model and Influencer Roxanne La Kinoise in Zna.K gown.

African Influences

Zna.k’s work is an affirmation of the fact that Africa is the origin of all things. Espescially fashion. It’s obvious that Africa’s fashion industry has emerged and sustained itself when accomplished African designers like Gloria Mteyu gladly opt to work out of Congo, shunning other fashion capitals of the world. Europe’s top design houses have been known for covertly sending agents to places like Kinshasa Fashion Week for inspiration. The claim of Africa’s fashion dominance and influence on fashion worldwide is not an overstatement. Zeena Kay and her work tell us that Africa is a fertile breeding ground. It bears much fruit to feed the world’s insatiable need for what’s innovative and avant-garde in the world of fashion. Zeena Kay plans on opening her first shop in 2020.

Zeena Kay, Afro Canadian designer



Pinky promise.


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