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.
For Steve Jamison, looking good is feeling good.
Since 2007, the owner of Philadelphia’s Blue Sole Shoes men’s shop has been helping his customers discover the transformative power of fashion and a great looking pair of shoes — whether it’s a confidence boost before a big job interview or a fresh start after a breakup.
Jamison, who opened his store after 20 years spent learning the retail ropes at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and several local boutiques, caters to a high-end clientele with top-notch customer service and a thoughtfully curated mix of European and American collections including Magnanni, Mezlan, Roberto Cavalli and Jo Ghost. In a city known more for food and football, he’s bringing fashion to the forefront, one stylish shoe at a time.
What made you want to pursue a career in the shoe industry?
“I realized at a very young age the impact that wearing fashionable shoes and clothing has on your personality and other people’s perception of you. I remember as a child getting my first pair of fashionable shoes from my mom — brown and cream Pierre Cardin dress shoes — and how in awe I was of them. I would take them out of the box and just marvel at them. When I wore them for the first time, so many people complimented me on how great I looked. This made me feel so good, and I was hooked on that emotion. Growing up poor, that sensation elevated my sense of who I could become — someone who could afford to buy fine shoes and clothing. I’ve always known since I was a kid that I wanted to open my own boutique. I recently explained to one of my colleagues the importance of the work that we do. We don’t just sell foot coverings; we sell self-esteem. Men will often come into my boutique looking for something to make them feel better about themselves, whether it’s their wedding shoes which make them feel proud to wear, or their first high-end shoes that they’re now able to afford after years of college or climbing the corporate ladder.”
What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along the way?
“Convincing vendors to take a chance on me. I opened Blue Sole Shoes in 2007 at the height of this country’s greatest recession. It was a period when lots of vendors were skittish about extending credit to new customers, particularly newly established independent stores. Because of limited resources, I had limited access to footwear lines that were better suited to my vision for my boutique, which then hampered my ability to grow at my projected pace. I recall leaving several unanswered voice messages with a certain sales rep whose lines I was desperate to carry. It wasn’t until after I explained to the rep that if it were necessary for me to sell my home I would do it in order to meet my financial obligations, that a few of the companies agreed to sell me products from their lines. I then forwarded them a copy of a home equity line of credit statement to demonstrate how serious I was about my commitments.”
How did you overcome it?
“By establishing a reputation very early on for paying my bills in full on time. It required tremendous discipline, and I went a long time without a salary, instead drawing on my personal savings to sustain myself. Once you establish a good relationship with at least one prominent vendor, it allows you access to an infinite number of others.”
What advice would you give your younger self?
“Learn to accept defeat more quickly. It’s natural for anyone in my position to aspire to become a bigger and better version of who you were previously. That growth pursuit brings inherent risks, the results of which won’t always pan out in your favor. The sooner you’re able to identify what’s not working, the sooner you’ll be able to make adjustments and move on to what’s likely to be better for you. I heard a Super Bowl-winning NFL player once say, ‘Sometimes winning masks mistakes.’ Well, I’ve been winning at this game for a long time, but I’ve also had my share of mistakes.”
Best advice for other African-Americans looking to enter the shoe industry?
“Realize your position is a privilege afforded to an extremely small segment of our community. And like it or not, you represent us, the black community. People are going to look to you for inspiration and aspiration. So if you’re successful in this realm, do it with humility, realizing that your success won’t be accomplished solely by you nor wholly for your benefit. Discover ways that your success can be used for serving others. And should you fail, do so with dignity, knowing that you are bigger than any setback you could ever have.”
More From This Series:
Black History Month Spotlight: Rasheeda Frost
Black History Month Spotlight: K-Swiss Global Brands Marketing Director Patrick Buchanan
Black History Month Spotlight: Naturalizer VP of Design Angelique Joseph