Army veteran and fashion designer Timeekah “Murph” Murphy didn’t intentionally set out to create a brand celebrities love after separating from the military in 2015. Now, with big-name clients like Nick Cannon and Cardi B in her portfolio, Murphy has overcome a turbulent upbringing in the Bronx and credits her military background for leading to her destiny.
After moving her clothing line, Alani Taylor, from Los Angeles to Atlanta early this year, Murphy said she continues to apply an Army mindset. Her plans to expand her empire include starting a youth fashion design school and reinvigorating her designer-collaboration company “The Zenith Experience.” These goals are connected to the concept “no man left behind.” Murphy’s company seeks to connect emerging creatives with prospective clients to build skills for success.
“Zenith is the highest point of your life, and I’ve been able to reach that,” Murphy said. “When you finally understand who you are as a person and when you find your identity, I think that’s the day you’re born. I’ve probably been through more as a kid than I did in the military, but to come out of it and turn out the way God intended for you in the first place is the ultimate blessing.”
Finding her identity as an “eclectic, high-fashion streetwear” creator with gender-bending designs has earned Murphy notoriety in the industry. Beyoncé’s designer asked for the Zenith Experience collection for the singer’s “Black is King” project with Disney. After that came mentions in Bazaar, Vogue and Paper magazines.
However, she didn’t achieve success without challenges. Murphy earned a basketball scholarship from Duke University before an accident on the court put her in a coma and caused severe memory loss. Getting back to life meant relearning everything, including how to “be whatever age I was at the time.” The accident also snuffed her passion for basketball and ultimately forced her onto another path. That’s when Murphy said she “accidentally” joined the Army.
“Coming from where we do with drugs and murder and not having a mother and father in our lives, my brother decided to go into the Air Force after high school, and I saw a change in him,” Murphy said. “He looked different, and he walked different. When I saw a recruiter, I didn’t know there were branches to the service. I just knew my brother was in the military, and that’s where I’m going. I didn’t know I was in the Army until I swore in.”
After reluctantly realizing she had no idea what she had gotten herself into, Murphy became the model soldier. Her supervising NCOs loved that she applied her athleticism and competitive spirit to master push-ups and miles-long ruck marches. Murphy deployed five times while on active duty and was stationed in Kuwait when she discovered sewing-instruction videos on YouTube.
Limited fashionable options at the post exchange prompted Murphy to call home and ask for a sewing machine and fabric in her care packages. It wasn’t long before other soldiers sought out her handmade off-duty outfits and ultimately jump-started Murphy’s first fashion-design business. Upon returning to her station at Fort Hood, Texas, she participated in her first runway fashion show in Dallas.
“Because of my head injury, I notice I can’t register or maintain information like I would have before — everything has to be visual,” she explained. “I could watch a sewing video and know exactly what they did and how to mimic it.”
Traditionally, a designer creates a pattern to cut fabric for a piece of clothing. However, Murphy’s non-traditional learning style allows her to operate by memorizing body shapes and cutting to fit her model’s body without needing a pattern.
Murphy’s last deployment as a 91D Tactical Power Generation specialist came in 2014. When she returned, Murphy went through being medically separated after 12 years of active-duty service. She endured another head injury, and increasing memory loss became detrimental to herself and her soldiers as a platoon leader.
“I just said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” she said. “I didn’t want anyone’s lives in my hands when I felt like I couldn’t protect myself anymore.”
After separating, Murphy honed in on designing. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and welcomed her daughter Alani Taylor Murphy, her brand’s namesake, all in the same year. By then, Alani Taylor (the brand) had become known for its couture formalwear. Her first client was actress Tiffany Haddish, and this year, rapper Alexis Branch wore a custom Alani Taylor gown down the red carpet at the Grammys.
“Everything about the military has molded me into the designer I am,” she said. “Coming into the fashion industry, a lot of people say they see how I handle things in strategic, tactical ways. I live by my seven Army values every single day.”
Murphy’s next mission is to host the next Zenith Experience fashion show in Atlanta this summer, then open the Zenith House Fashion School by 2023.