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.
Clyde Edwards is a natural storyteller.
Before vlogging was the robust storytelling platform it is today, the Miami native widely known as “Sneakerbox Clyde” was doing it — documenting all facets of sneaker culture via his popular “Inside the Sneakerbox” channel on YouTube. (The videos live on via Vimeo today.) His work both in front of and behind the camera caught the attention of José Raij, owner of Mr. R Sports, who brought him on board to run the store — including the retailer’s social media duties.
And today, Edwards is based in Boston making moves at Puma, joining the athletic giant as a senior marketing manager in 2016, pushing the brand’s narratives across all of its communication channels.
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Here, the sneaker expert weighs in on the challenges African-Americans face in the workplace and presents an atypical idea to promote racial diversity in the industry.
What made you want to pursue a career in the footwear industry?
“Honestly, my goal was never to pursue a career in the sneaker industry. Since the beginning, for me, it’s always been about marketing and advertising. My passion was business, branding and storytelling. It just so happened I landed in sportswear. I’ve always felt like I could do what I’m good at for any major company or brand — even outside of sneakers. Since I can remember, I’ve always had a love for fashion and the arts. Sneakers kind of found me. My big cousin was a major influence on me as we were growing up. He was like my big brother. I rocked all his hand-me-downs — LA Gear, Nike, Pony, Travel Fox, Clarks — you name it.”
How did you land your big break?
“My break into the industry kind of just happened as well. It definitely wasn’t planned. In 2009 after watching a few Maestro Knows videos, I was inspired to start the ‘Inside The Sneakerbox’ YouTube channel. My objective was to film my friends talking about the shoes in their collections and document our opinions about design, and what was going on in the culture around us. This was when Franalations and Sneak Geekz were the only ones doing sneaker reviews. After a hand full of videos and pivotal content moments, the blogs started to show our channel and website lots of love and support. Fast forward a year or so later, we grew from doing sneaker reviews to interviewing shop owners, attending media trips and creating custom content for brands and retailers alike. It was then José Raij, owner of Mr. R Sports in Miami, asked me how much I was making working at Comcast — yep, you heard right, I was doing all of that and working a full time job at Comcast. It was then, I knew I had something. Two weeks later I resigned from a six-year career at Comcast to go run Mr. R Sports. Immediately I took on the buying, social media, marketing and the task of growing the business. Footwear News actually featured me in a 2012 piece titled ‘Miami Rhapsody.’”
Looking back on your career, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
“I’m proud of where I am overall, especially knowing where I started. If I had to narrow it down to the one thing that I’m most proud of, it would be putting myself in the position to take care of my family. Where I come from, there aren’t many success stories. A lot of the kids I went to middle school with aren’t around any more. I pride myself in making the decision to be successful in my own way, no matter what.”
As a minority, what has been the biggest obstacle you faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
“I’d say the biggest obstacle to date came early on for me. In the beginning it was hard to get fair pay for my work. In the past, retailers that I’ve consulted for knew my value and what I brought to the table yet still tried to low ball me when it came to pay, benefits and even kudos. It was frustrating watching everyone around you being taken care of and setup for their future. Eventually I overcame it because my work was undeniable and I became invaluable. It was either get with the program or lose me. Hard work pays off, I’m a true believer in that.”
What is the biggest challenge African-Americans face in the fashion and footwear industry?
“I don’t think these challenges are limited to just the sneaker industry. It’s every industry. We’re still not looked at as equal in a country we helped build. We’re so far behind due to years of systematic oppression, we’re not even a part of the conversation. For those of us who work our a** off to make it, some of us aren’t even recognized for our contribution to the industry or our influence on the overall culture. I also think it goes beyond just African-Americans. People of color in general statistically have it harder in the workplace. The constant built in pressure of not wanting to mess up your chance at success. The pressure to make it due to lack of privilege weighs a lot. We have to work harder, stronger and faster at everything.”
What is the best advice you would offer other African-Americans looking to break into the fashion and footwear industry?
“My best advise would be to work your a** off, prove yourself, document your influence and to utilize social media and the internet in order to create the life you want. It’s possible. You’ll be faced with challenges, but you have to stay strong and believe in your craft. At the same time, not every company sees color. Don’t operate with a chip on your shoulder. This goes for everyone. The advice isn’t color specific.”
What specific steps should footwear firms take to make their teams more diverse?
“I’d love to see companies open up satellite creative offices in the inner city neighborhoods. Boston, Portland, L.A. and New York are cool, but let’s get inside of Philly, Detroit and Chicago. These kids are too talented and they are future. We need to find a way to reach them and to provide opportunity. Imagine the change we could make by just providing opportunity and tools. A lot of these kids have never even been to the mall or outside of the five square mile radius surrounding their neighborhoods.”
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