The Culture LP interviews Bianca Kea, founder of Yo Soy AfroLatina to shed light on her transition to New York City and how she’s built a lifestyle brand that echoes what it means to be Black and Latina.
New York draws creatives from all corners, bringing with them their own stories and heritage, and elevating the city itself. Giving and taking from the artistic lifeblood that runs in NYC’s streets to create something new is exactly what Detroit-born Bianca Kea and her lifestyle brand, Yo Soy AfroLatina has done. We sat down with Bianca a few months back to get her take on 21 Questions about living, loving, and creating in NYC.
The Culture LP: So, where did you grow up?
Bianca Kea: I’m from the ‘burbs of Detroit.
Have you always created or is that something you feel has come later?
Creating came later. I didn’t have a lot of time to dig into creative things as a kid but the older I got, I had more resources.
When did you create Yo Soy AfroLatina (YSAL)?
That’s a difficult question. The concept for YSAL came when I first moved to NYC in early 2015. I knew I wanted to create something that spoke to my culture of being both Black and Latina but I didn’t know how I was going to execute it. It was almost a year later when I was in LA when I said “Let me actually put it into fruition.”
What was the biggest learning curve?
To be selective with who you engage with. Who are you giving your time to as a brand? Who are you investing in?
Since coming back to NYC, has the city continued to play a role?
I think New York is always going to play a role because it’s the only place I’ve been (in the US) where I’m seen as me, as this diverse Black woman with culture, you know? I feel this sense of cultural pride when I'm here in NYC and that's something I try to express in all pieces. When people wear our pieces, I want them to feel proud of their roots.
When you say resources, what do you mean?
Hmm, ok. Well, it’s been nice this summer so I have photo shoots throughout the city because you can go anywhere, you can go uptown and get a Dyckman feel, you can go downtown and shoot in TriBeCa, there’s so many options. Because the city has been built up where it allows you to grab anything you want and run with it.
Are there any failures that have been more impactful for you?
Earlier this year I left my job at a major media agency. I wouldn’t call it a failure but it ended differently than I thought. Leaving that job has been the biggest blessing in disguise. By closing that door, it pushed to pursue my passions.
What motivates the projects and collaborations you seek out?
From a brand perspective, when I look for people to collaborate with I’m not just looking at social influence but I’m also looking at their engagement and communications. I want to work with people who have influence in their community but have implemented some sort of strategy into their business. When I'm looking to collaborate with other creatives, I look for authenticity. People can have a ton of followers but I'm looking to collaborate with real artists, who are serious about their craft and have an impact in their community.
What’s been one of your proudest creative milestones?
I’ve had small milestones but I don’t feel like I’ve hit a big milestone yet. One milestone is when I was featured in ‘Remezcla’ for the first time in November 2017. Then shortly after that I was featured in Buzzfeed. I didn’t even know it was happening so when I saw YSAL on the Buzzfeed page I was like, “Oh shit, I guess people are fucking with it.” I don’t feel like I’ve reached my peak though, I’m still climbing.
So, you have a day job, (Digital & Social Media Content Specialist at iOne Digital) with YSAL- how have you navigated having a rent-paying job and a side hustle that you want to grow?
I think it’s just time management, truthfully. Because I don’t think I do anything different than anyone else. It’s important to understand that time is very valuable, and you need to have time management. That comes from when I was in advertising and I had to do it so now I know how to do it. It’s also important to create small goals for myself because it can become too much otherwise.
Where do you want YSAL to be in two years, five years?
YSAL started as a lifestyle brand but I’m learning that I really like connecting with other Afro Latinas around the world and I want to bring a community aspect to it. I also want YSAL to be informational and help people build skills. As of right now, YSAL is still a lifestyle brand but I’m looking to expand into other things- imagine a Brit + Co meets Skillshare meets a Legendary Rootz, I wanna do that.
Do you see YSAL staying a one-woman shop?
Ideally I would love to have at least one person right now but like I said, I’m very selective with who I work with so I’ve been slow to put any kind of listing out there. But yes, YSAL will definitely expand to more people.
Where do you get inspiration from, would you say you have a creative top 5?
Someone I follow on Instagram is Karena Evans she does a lot of Drake’s music videos- her visuals are amazing. There’s a digital illustrator by the name of Laci Jordan. Most of her pieces are of Black women and I love that because they look like me. Looking at her works makes me feel seen and represented in the digital illustration world. I’m also really inspired by Refinery29’s ‘Unbothered.’
Would you say that Instagram the platform that you lean into the most?
Yes, that’s how I connect to all these people around the world. For Latinas Abroad (a social-editorial initiative utilizing Instagram Story where YSAL followers could tap through IG highlights and learn more about a featured Afro Latina) that was all through Instagram.
In NYC, have you found mentors?
I don’t really have a mentor per se, but I have people that inspire me in my head. Social media-wise, they’re my mentors even though they don’t know they are. These are people where I look at their work and get inspiration.
Are there people you’ve worked with that inspire you, even if what they do is different than what you do?
Yea. I collaborated with an artist named Fanesha Fabre recently. She created a logo pin for YSAL. It was my first YSAL collaboration and it was amazing.
What is the best professional advice that you have received? And how have you applied it?
The best professional advice I’ve received came from the president of my company (Interactive One); he said that you’re not going to like your job all the time, even your dream job you’re not going to love 100% of the time, so try to find something that you do like and are interested in and are good at, and get paid for it.
Are there places in the city that help you recharge?
My apartment. Bae and I just moved into this quiet neighborhood in Harlem and I love it. I never thought I would be able to find an oasis in this city, outside of my bedroom, and I finally found it.
What’s coming up in the next year that has you hype?
I'm excited about the idea of having YSAL as a vendor at a festival like The Afro Latino Festival or Afropunk. but honestly I try to take it day by day because I’m the only one running this show. I have ideas and there’s a lot I want to do but logistically I need to refine the foundation of YSAL first.
Final question: what is your favorite product currently in the YSAL shop?
The YSAL mug. I love it because it’s so me, it speaks to my soul- it’s like I AM Afro Latina, that’s me. It was the first product that I came up with. My girlfriend created the mug and bought it as a gift for me. I love that mug because it's THE original Yo Soy merch, it was the first product I sampled and it's bold. It speaks to my soul. And once I saw it, it was like “Okay, let’s do this.”
Interview by: Jordan Kifer