The Design Business Show 238: Scaling for Retail Success + Inclusive Design Tips for DTC Brands with Keyaira Miller

Director : Melissa Burkheimer | July 24, 2023
This episode of The Design Business Show features Melissa Burkheimer as the host and Keyaira Miller, a lead business partner at Target, as the guest. The episode focuses on Keyaira's role in sourcing and growing diverse and women-owned brands at Target. Keyaira shares insights on the importance of partnerships, scaling at mass retailers, and creating inclusive branding designs. The episode explores Keyaira's background, her passion for empowering brands, and her notable work, including curating Target's Black History Month assortments and collaborating with influencers like Tabitha Brown.

Keyaira Miller, Lead Business Partner at Target, brings a broad set of Retail experiences and expertise spanning over 16 years within the areas of Buying, Sourcing, Product Development and Brand Management. Keyaira is a Lead Business Partner on the Merchandising Vendor Development Team at Target Headquarters. In her current role, she is responsible for sourcing, connecting, growing and amplifying emerging diverse and/or women owned brands to support Target’s merchandising strategies and drive inclusive assortment for Target’s diverse guests. Her notable and most recent work includes helping curate Target’s Black History Month Assortments, Tabitha Brown’s Limited Time Apparel and Food launches and Target’s Activation booths and programming at Essence Fest in New Orleans. Keyaira has a passion for retaining and growing brands, allowing them to reach their fullest potential by empowering them with the right foundational tools, partners and resources in hopes that it creates a space to fuel generational wealth and drive economic vitality and equity. Prior to Target, Keyaira was at Amazon Fashion, leading the Women’s Product Development team within Private Brands. Much of what Keyaira loves is involved with collaboration and connection. Assembling a team with gifts different than mine, who shine in ways I don’t have, has been both inspiring and crucial to my success. Keyaira is a 2002 Graduate of West High school in Waterloo, IA and has degrees from The University of Northern Iowa and The Academy of Arts University. Keyaira currently resides in Waterloo with her loving husband and 10-year-old old son.

Here’s what we covered on the episode:

  • How I met Keyaira when she was speaking at a panel at The Black and Brown Summit, a local event I attended in earlier this year, and I wondered how a girl from Iowa got to work with brands at Target
  • Keyaira shares that at an early age she was always was interested in fashion, and was fascinated by how fashion worked
  • She knew that the University of UNI had a great fashion and textiles program and the program showed her the familiarity she needed to know to get the opportunities she wanted
  • Initially, she was interested in the buying part of fashion and she got her first opportunities by networking and cold calling, as this was before the opportunity
  • By building up her network, working in retail in high school, she got her first opportunity in the field at Target in Minneapolis
  • Melissa and Keyaira shared the same experience of not having an awareness of big fashion brands like Louis Vuitton or Manolo Blahnik growing up in Iowa until we saw Sex and the City
  • Keyaira used her experience working at Victoria’s Secret when she was younger and worked as an intern for Von Maur
  • How she got laid off from Target after a few months during the recession, but they called her back shortly after


Knowing Yourself, Knowing Your Wealth, and Knowing the Shelf

  • Why it’s important for Keyaira to equip the brand she works with to be successful at any retailer that they chose, showing them how to know themselves, know their wealth and know the shelf
  • Know yourself: do you know yourself and do you have the capacity + capability to really scale in retail?
  • Being “retail ready” means you must be ready to get a retailer a shipment of 20,000 units in less than 2 weeks when they’re ready to give you a PO, your answer should be yes
  • Know your wealth: You really have to be truthful and honest with yourself that you’re in the right place to be in retail, as it could put you out of business if you’re not ready
  • Know the shelf: you must understand your competition and understand the retailer where you want to be. Where do you want your product to be placed? Go there and take a picture to see if it fits there.
  • Melissa shared how she learned through her own desire to start a mascara line, but she decided to put that on hold
  • Keyaira shares that she currently works within food and beverage, but may crossover in apparel, beauty and more
  • Why Melissa is excited to learn more about what Keyaira does because it helps her and her audience learn how the retail sourcing process works

The ins and outs of how Keyaira’s team at Target works

  • How Keyaira’s team works with retail-ready brands, and learns more about them, like what their costs are, what retailers they’re already in, and making sure that they’re aligning brands that match the merchant strategies
  • Each merchant or buyer has a strategy they want to follow, for example, bringing in more diverse brands for rice and beans
  • Keyaira shares how she finds out about up and coming brands events, online and has a collaborative conversation with her merchant and buyer, who have the final say on who makes the final decision
  • If they’re interested in a brand, then Keyaira helps them get ready for a line review, and making a great impression and staying in touch with your buyer to continue the conversation
  • Why Keyaira recommends brands have patience in the retail process; buyers change hands all the time, timing is everything and next year it could fit right into the new strategy
  • How over the years of talking to vendors and understanding why it’s so important to know yourself before you start a business, even though in this day and age anyone can start a business
  • Keyaira shares an example of a luxury brand who was already on the shelf at Saks, and how they were adamant about being on the shelf at Target, but it wasn’t really a fit for the brand
  • Why having the awareness that as your business scales, your team must scale as well, or knowing when you need to bring in a distributor, and being able to re-evaluate your business on a consistent basis

Keyaira’s perspective on partnerships

  • Keyaira shares an example of a how they did a small activation with Coca-Cola and to amplify black-owned brands like Ghetto Gastro with food demos, and created a moment with guests to have a connection and wanted to have a Coke
  • The goal now is to drive guest discoverability with classic, iconic brands to drive awareness to brands like Ghetto Gastro
  • How Target works with organizations like WBENC, and why those partnerships are crucial to the success because it’s another layer that helps creates success and inclusivity
  • Melissa shares that her experience at Dress for Success Worldwide opened her eyes to different brand activations and partnerships that were out there and happening in the real world
  • How a lot of what Keyaira does is organic and fluid; but how her role and the area of business and the human centric approach matters, and why that’s missing from a lot of brands
  • Why Keyaira loves meeting new brands and learning more about them

Why inclusive design matters

  • How inclusive design has been around for a long time, but now it’s getting recognition it deserves
  • Why there’s power in leaning into inclusive design, and why it’s a huge misconception, for example, that all black-owned brands are only designed for black people
  • A lot of times, the brand is only serving products for everyone
  • Why Keyaira recommends that brands celebrate heritage, and how data shows that buyers wanna support brands that have that messaging that celebrate heritage
  • Why brands are now putting the logos of the causes they support and the certifications you have on your packaging
  • Buyers are looking to bring cultures together; and how Target is seeing data that backs it up
  • Why it’s important for brand to have inclusive brands, inclusive products and as it relates to design and branding, it’s not going away
  • Why more retailers are going to lean into it more, and why brands should lean to it, be authentic to it, showcase it and not hide it
  • Sometimes when brands get ready to be inside of a retailer, they want to change their mission statement but there’s beauty in who you are, and stay authentic to your brand and yourself
  • How you can connect with Keyaira on Instagram or send her a message at

Links mentioned:

Connect with Keyaira on Instagram

Learn more about Keyaira’s role at Target


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