In honor of Black History Month, FN is recognizing African-American movers and shakers in the shoe industry. From rising stars to accomplished executives, here’s how they’re making waves and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Angelique Joseph is as comfortable designing a pair of shoes as you might be in your favorite pajamas.
The VP of design for fashion-comfort brand Naturalizer, a division of Caleres, began her career in apparel design — of the nighttime variety — while simultaneously producing her own line of jewelry. She eventually made the surprise move to footwear, landing a managerial position in children’s shoes at the former Brown Shoe Co. [now Caleres] overseeing a team of designers. Next on her footwear path was director of product development for Naturalizer, before her recent promotion to VP of design.
What made you want to pursue a career in the shoe industry?
“I was designing lingerie, and also had my own line of jewelry. I understood fashion, trends and how to dissect the customer. It was one of my strengths. I [eventually] had the opportunity to move into shoes with the former Brown Shoe Co. At first, I debated since I had no shoe background. But I thought it would be a great move to round out my career. I always wanted to start my own [business], and shoes were one industry I don’t know anything about.”
What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along the way?
“Having my voice heard by my peers — having them listen and apply what I was offering when it came to fashion direction. As an African-American and biracial woman, [I felt] my voice was not heard strongly enough. I put a lot of my [heritage] into my design work. I [see] things multiculturally and embrace all types of women. Sometimes, my peers or leaders didn’t understand that benefit. My challenge was getting [co-workers] to see we need to embrace diversity and understand we’re living in multicultural environment.”
How did you overcome it?
“First, I had to understand the [co-workers] I was talking to and what they were used to from their past experiences. Second, I had to get allies along the way — gaining the confidence of my peers and leaders so when I wasn’t around, they’d put in a good word for me. When I finally got the opportunity to do something I felt strongly about and it worked, I was a shoo-in. I was persistent and consistent over and over again. Brown Shoe Co. also participated in a program called St. Louis Business Diversity. It was an organization that recognized it was hard for people of color to get leadership roles. I was fortunate to be selected for participation. It helped me [understand] how to approach people at certain levels and use the right lingo. These are simple things you don’t think make a difference, but do.”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
“It took me a while to get where I am. There are people at other organizations that don’t look like me, who it didn’t take as long. It’s just as fact. It might have helped having more confidence in myself when approaching a project or situation, not backing down and being persistent.”
Best advice for other African-Americans looking to enter the shoe industry and/or fashion?
“Embrace your differences. It’s an asset. A lot of people of color try to fit in and assimilate with people around them. Throw your differences into your everyday approach. We have to recognize that encompassing and embracing different cultures and their needs is to our advantage.”
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