In honor of Black History Month 2019, FN is celebrating African-American movers and shakers in footwear and fashion by recognizing their accomplishments and inviting them to share insight into how the industry can make bigger diversity strides.
A career in footwear was never on Alife GM Treis Hill’s radar.
“I was going to be a financial analyst,” Hill told FN. “I was a finance major at Hampton University, and the plan was to always go into finance.”
Although his professional sights were set elsewhere, a stint at record label exec Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm clothing label in the early 2000s opened his eyes to never-thought-of opportunities, leading to his eventual stop at the pioneering streetwear retailer and brand Alife, where he still is today.
Here, Hill talks about setting trends and the need for more minorities in executive roles in the footwear industry.
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What made you want to pursue a career in the footwear industry? How did you break in?
“I was always into sneakers; however, I never intended to work in footwear. In 2002, I was working for Russell Simmons and Phat Farm when his Phat Classic shoe had taken off. Because I was the one in the office with different sneakers, I was tasked with overseeing and expanding the footwear business. While working with Phat Farm, I was able to travel and connect with many people whom I consider friends in the industry to this day like Edson [Sabajo], Gee [Guillaume Schmidt] from Patta in Amsterdam and Magdi [Fernandes] from Slammin’ Kicks, the pioneer sneaker shop in London.”
Looking back on your career, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
“I cannot solely take all the credit, but [with] Alife, [it’s] launching and breaking new footwear styles. [We were] one of the first in this space. No one in our space was thinking about Saucony’s until we launched them. We approached Saucony, they laughed at the style we wanted to release [Shadow 6000], said their experts thought [it] was dated. Ten years later, it’s still the strongest release they’ve done to date. Same goes for Crocs, which we launched last spring, and now every other brand has jumped on the Alife x Croc bandwagon.”
As a minority, what has been the biggest obstacle you faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
“I’ve been fortunate to not really face any obstacles based on race. This is at least that I was aware of.”
What is the biggest challenge African-Americans face in the footwear industry?
“It’s similar to that of any industry, there just aren’t many high level African-Americans in executive roles. However, when we look around the industry, all the influencers and tastemakers are mainly black or Spanish. But the people getting hired for the executive positions aren’t the minorities. I see it at all the meetings I attend — the diversity just isn’t there. It’s an unfortunate reality but I do feel it will begin to change for the better.”
What is the best advice you would offer other African-Americans looking to break into the footwear industry?
“The same I would give to anyone, really: Do more, keep your head down and be a sponge. Eventually you will know more than most and get your opportunity.”
What specific steps should footwear companies take to make their teams more diverse?
“It’s 2019; companies can no longer judge their success on profitability alone. Our world is literally falling apart in front of our eyes, executive men have been violating their positions and powers, and until recently, companies have turned a blind eye. We as companies have a responsibility to do more — that means spending more to save the planet, firing scumbags immediately and not covering it up, and hiring a diverse workforce.”
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