In June 2017, Keia McSwain received one of those phone calls—an abrupt conversation that made her pulse quicken and her mind race. Her beloved mentor in the interior design industry, Kimberly Ward, was at a hospital in Mississippi, and McSwain needed to come now. Upon her arrival, McSwain received some life-altering news: Ward was losing a private battle with stomach cancer, and she wanted McSwain to take the helm of the Black Interior Designers Network (BIDN), a nonprofit Ward founded in 2010 after realizing that the work of her fellow Black designers wasn’t nearly as lauded or valued as that of their white peers.
“I was taken aback by everything,” says McSwain, a Mississippi native who relocated to Denver in 2018. “Suddenly, I had to figure out how to become an entrepreneur, a boss, a leader. [I was unsure if] people were going to follow me.”
Three years later, McSwain has made significant strides as president of BIDN, which promotes diversity within the design industry by providing its 150 members with brand partnerships, business-development education, and media-coverage opportunities. Just this year—in the midst of the global protests for racial justice—BIDN landed a partnership with Architectural Digest to produce the magazine’s first-ever virtual showhouse led by Black designers, which debuted in November and gave more than a dozen BIDN members national visibility. McSwain and her team also raised more than $230,000 in just two months through the BIDN Ally program, a membership initiative through which individual design firms and corporate brands pay a monthly fee to help fund the organization’s workshops, diversity training programs, and annual conferences.
McSwain’s end goal? To honor Ward’s legacy and “warrior-like spirit” by getting oft-overlooked Black designers the recognition they deserve. “I care about my people growing their businesses—and not being called to talk about being a Black interior designer, but being called to talk about being an expert [in their field],” McSwain says. “That’s what’s exciting to me.”