Shoe Industry Insiders: Here’s How to Improve Racial Diversity

In FN’s latest issue, coming out May 28, we examine the lack of racial diversity in the footwear industry.

To understand the possible solutions for the problem, FN asked men and women throughout the business for their thoughts and suggestions.

James Whitner, The Whitaker Group
“Recognition would be a good start. There are so many talented diverse leaders at brands, but no one knows about them. If people knew these folks existed, maybe this would give other diverse candidates North Stars they [can] aspire to shoot for. How many people know that most of [Nike’s] footwear leaders are African-American? Charles Williams runs men’s, Dave Schechter runs Air Max. And the Nike Energy/Collabs are run by Kris Wright, who arguably has one of the most storied footwear careers no one even knows about.”

Cheresse Thornhill, design consultant
“People don’t mean malice behind things they say. It’s just learned behavior that can change. But we have to approach it from an education standpoint. You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Courtney Delmore, Sole Brothers LLC
“This is a way of life, and we as individuals have to be overcomers. It is our duty to stand tall and present ourselves in a professional manner at all times. It is our duty to keep knocking on the door until someone answers. That will bring about change, and the problem will eventually correct itself. Maybe not today, but who knows — tomorrow?”

Dr. Daryl Jones, former Nike executive
“Companies — really executives — need to become as comfortable embracing and exalting diverse talent as they are in strategically applauding diverse cultures. These phenomenal cultures and subcultures are consistently used to build narratives that drive and support brand initiatives, yet the people who represent and characterize these cultures are often viewed as disposable. That needs to change.”

Robin McCoy, FitFlop
“First, top-level executives need to openly acknowledge the lack of diversity. Secondly, if any shoe company is serious about diversity, they should start recruiting at the college level. For example, partner with [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] to recruit potential candidates. Additionally, companies should start internal one-on-one mentoring programs that pair minorities with senior-level executives who can provide career advice and long-term guidance as minorities advance in their careers.”

D’Wayne Edwards, Pensole Footwear Design Academy
“[The lack of diversity in design schools] has prompted me to create a brand, CHNG.Design, that will work with companies to create co-branded product, with 100 percent of the proceeds going into a scholarship fund. I will also ask the schools to match the scholarship dollar-for-dollar to increase the number of African-American kids in design and art schools.”

Jason Mayden, Super Heroic
“It takes just one person to fight for you. [A high-ranking Nike exec once told me]: ‘Jason, you are valuable. You are worth advocating for. Your talent is exceptional.’ No one ever told me that before.”

Armando Cabral, designer
“Fashion and culture go hand in hand. Our clothes and shoes are a source of nonverbal communication, which sends messages about who we are, where we come from. And that cannot be achieved on a single point of view; it has to be more diverse.”

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