Top Athletic Execs: Diversity Is Critical to the Future of Footwear

Pensole and the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America joined forces for a consumer summit in Portland, Ore., on Sunday to kick off the city’s second annual Sneaker Week.

A panel of experienced industry veterans tackled topics from empowering entrepreneurs to creating hot product. But the majority of the day’s conversation was dedicated to the importance of pushing women and diversity in an industry that’s still lacking.

“Our industry has always been extremely behind when it comes to women. I think brands are slowly still trying to figure out how to attract the female consumer, but their voices need to be a lot bigger. That goes to the diversity of the industry,” said D’Wayne Edwards, the founder of the Pensole Footwear Academy, who has 30 years of design experience for Jordan, Nike and Skechers. “If more women were celebrated in creating product, you would actually get more women to embrace the product.”

Rachel Treinen, product manager for Keen, added that women should do a better job of championing one another. “I am 100 percent on board that women need to lift up other women,” she said. “We need to create an environment where we are supportive of each other. We’ve done a great job of supporting men, and now we need to do it for each other.”

Likewise, the representation of women needs to include external messaging, said Christopher Dixon, designer of special projects at Pensole. For example, he wondered why Jordan Brand doesn’t do more to celebrate Maya Moore. “She is more like Jordan than anyone else,” he said of the four-time WNBA title winner, who’s also nabbed MVP. “She is a champion, and that’s not celebrated. Is it because she’s a lady? That’s a topic that should be [looked at] on a higher level.”

Beyond doing more to promote women on and off the court, Jordan footwear designer Precious Hannah tackled the subject of diversity on a bigger scale.

“It’s not just women; it’s color,” said Hannah. “Just having an assortment of diverse people from all over the continents can help push the conversation forward. It should be mixed because everyone brings a different perspective of how to make better product.”

“Diversity will bring innovation. That’s a fact,” Edwards added. He was one of the first African-American footwear designers who entered the field in 1989 without formal education and went on to be one of the few people ever to design an Air Jordan. “Companies keep hiring the same people and getting the same results. You can’t expect things to change if you don’t change,” he said.

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