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Keia McSwain + The Black Interior Designers Conference 2019 Recap

by Lauren Chorpening Day

When I feel stuck, uninspired or just isolated in my work, I look to see if there are any conferences coming up. I was at a conference in 2014 when I got an email from Grace Bonney, asking me to submit a second tour sample for a possible interiors writing position for Design*Sponge. Had I not been in a place with endless inspiration and time away from my normal life to focus, I might not be writing this post five years later — who knows. Anyway, I love conferences. I love that they bring likeminded people together — they can create instant community. The information is there for the taking and there’s time to absorb it.

Keia McSwain inherited the Black Interior Designers Network (BID) from founder Kimberly Ward in 2017. She has taken the unexpected responsibility in-stride and has elevated the BID Conference with new ideas, inspiration and support for the community of designers. This year the Atlanta, GA conference was pared down in numbers to give the attendees a chance to make stronger connections with featured trade-only vendors, speakers and each other. The July event was stunning and well-produced, giving insight into everything from contracts to standing out in the industry. Keia has continued Kimberly’s vision beautifully. Today, in our last-ever Life & Business post, I’m talking with Keia about this year’s event — a conference that continues to champion industry inclusivity, empower entrepreneurs, and do it all with style. Lauren

Photography by Charles Dante

Image Above: An industry panel discussion with Cheryl Luckett, Laura Thurman, Veronica Solomon and Rasheeda Gray.

D*S: The conference looked incredible! How do you balance running the Black Interior Designers Network while also planning and prepping for the Conference? You do it all so beautifully.

Keia: Thank you! The conference is always a lot of fun, focus, and sleepless nights. Juggling Kimberly + Cameron Interiors plus the Black Interior Designer’s Network is no easy task. People don’t get to see me exhausted, stressed, or frustrated. Those are just a few perks of doing what I love. I think the “Endgame” is where I focus my heart and my attention. I keep a clear vision and when it gets frustrating, I pray and push through!

The network’s three values are Connect, Support & Empower and the conference is a big part of that. Was there an overall value or theme for the conference this year? 

This year’s conference was themed “The tools to succeed.” We wanted to provide attendees with everything they needed to get started, evolve, rise out of self-doubt, protect themselves legally, and how to take on other ventures within the industry.

Image above: Shavonda Gardner sharing about how to thrive as an interior design blogger.

The event was designed to be more intimate this year with a limited number of attendees. Tell me about how you and your team chose that route.

Intimacy is often overlooked and underrated. It can provide so much freedom for retaining, networking, and more. We wanted to ensure our attendees and both speakers had the opportunity to engage on a much more formidable level.

How has the conference changed over the years?

Everything grows, it’s destined to change. We’ve centered our focus around feedback and what our members and attendees need most. As we transition and evolve, I expect there to always be positive change within the network. I look back at previous conferences and think to myself, “What could be better? What could we do different to ensure a grand takeaway?”

Image above: Keia interviewing celebrity stylist J. Bolin about the intersection of fashion and interiors.

What were a few favorite moments from the conference this year? What makes those stick out?

One of my favorite moments from this year was having the opportunity to fellowship and engage new partners and sponsors. It’s nothing like being shy to start a relationship, then realizing it’s the best decision you could have ever made. My one-on-one [interview] with celebrity stylist J.Bolin was a total highlight for me. Having known him for over 10 years and having him share his testimony and evolution with our group was extremely inspiring and motivating for me.

Image above: BID was two days full of keynote speakers, panel discussions, trade-only vendor presentations and a closing party.

What feedback did you receive from attendees about the design industry? How does BID address those concerns? How can the design media address those concerns?

A lot of our members and attendees want to see more focus on how to elevate in general. They want to know that their features won’t be crammed together and individual focus can take the wheel. Our members understand that community and uplift starts at home. I think the design media can address our concerns by attending more of our events, getting to know more attendees, and digging deeper into the background of these designers and their stories.

What was your biggest takeaway from the event this year?

I noticed a few speakers were very motivational in their talks. I was grateful for that. Oftentimes it’s not about how to make the most money or how to pitch the best publication. We want to hear how we keep our heads on straight in today’s society or how our worth is not determined by our peers. My biggest takeaway from the event this year is simple… I  wholeheartedly agree with Audre Lorde when she says “Without community there is no liberation.” In order to rise, we must all stick together. Collaboration is key and Competition is… not for me.

Image above: Patti Carpenter spoke about incorporating global-inspired design into interior projects.

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